By the Committee on Education and the Committee on Catechesis of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
CATECHESIS FOR LIFE IN CHRIST (Pages 160-2; 175-6)
B. Some Challenges to the Dignity of the Human Person
The moral situation in the United States today poses some serious challenges to the Church's catechetical mission. Although religious faith is a strong force in the lives of many, the country's dominant secular culture often contradicts the values on which this nation was established. There is a tendency to privatize religious faith, to push its considerations to the margins of society and to banish its concerns from the public conversation in which social policy is formed.
At the center of the moral vision contained in this nation's founding documents are two basic principles: (1) the recognition of the dignity and rights of the human person as endowed by the Creator and (2) liberty and justice for all. While the people of the United States can rightly be proud of what we have achieved in pursuing those noble principles, unfortunately they are sometimes contradicted in practice and even in law.
In a society that publicly proclaims that life is an inalienable right and affirms the value of life, the inherent dignity and incomparable value of every human person is being threatened: "The very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death." (532) Abortion and euthanasia directly attack innocent life itself, the most fundamental human right and the basis of all other rights. They attack the weakest and most defenseless members of society, the unborn and the sick. "Such direct attacks on human life, once crimes, are today legitimized by governments sworn to protect the weak and marginalized." (533) Without the benefit of carefully considered ethical analysis, some current biological and technological developments undermine the dignity of the human person and even attempt to create human life itself by artificial means.
In addition, the treatment of immigrants, of illegal aliens, of those in prison, and of criminals and their victims must be shaped by this recognition of the inherent dignity of every human person.
The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. "I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary." (534)
In a society that publicly proclaims that liberty is an inalienable right, freedom has come to mean an unlimited individual autonomy in which many people find their ultimate sense of fulfillment in the exercise of unrestricted personal choice. Individual freedom becomes the absolute and the source of other values. Such an excessively individualistic notion of freedom distorts the true meaning of freedom, pits the individual person against society, and empties social life, even family life, of its significance. "Yet between life itself and freedom there is an inseparable bond, a link. And that link is love or fidelity." (535)
In a society that values power, utility, productivity, and profit, the helpless, the weak, and the poor are seen as liabilities. The unprecedented economic and military power of the United States has sometimes led to grave injustices both at home and abroad.
At home, it has fueled self-absorption, indifference and consumerist excess:
"Overconfidence in our power, made even more pronounced by advances in science and technology, has created the illusion of a life without natural boundaries and actions without consequences. The standards of the marketplace, instead of being guided by sound morality, threaten to displace it. We are now witnessing the gradual restructuring of American culture according to the ideals of utility, productivity and cost-effectiveness. It is a culture where moral questions are submerged by a river of goods and services and where the misuse of marketing and public relations subverts public life." (536)
The gradual erosion of the principles on which this country was founded contributes to a growing secularism, materialism, and an "ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life." (537) In a secularist society there is a grave danger that people will live as if God did not exist. When the sense of God is lost, the sense of humanity is lost as well. In a materialist society there is a grave danger that people will begin to believe that they are what they have. "In a widely dechristianized culture, the criteria employed by believers themselves in making judgments and decisions often appear extraneous or even contrary to those of the Gospel."(538) People wonder if they should hold any truths as sacred. Their ability to make moral decisions based on objective criteria is severely diminished or eliminated altogether. "In turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God's living and saving presence." (539)
In general, dioceses and parishes should offer catechesis on Christian morality that
• Upholds the right to life from conception to natural death
•Presents the distinctively Christian understanding of human freedom
• Teaches that freedom reaches its authentic goal in love of the weak and defenseless and in defense of their rights
• Promotes the public expression of the Christian faith in the formation of social policy
• Encourages concern for the lives of the poor, the weak, the disabled, and the sick, as well as action on their behalf
• Helps the faithful to make practical moral decisions in the light of the Gospel
• Encourages the faithful to understand that power, wealth, utility, and productivity must be subordinated to and guided by higher moral values
42. MORAL FORMATION IN CHRIST
Christ is the norm of morality. "Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church." (540)
Christian moral formation involves a journey of interior transformation in light of Christ's Paschal Mystery, which brings about a deep personal conversion to Christ. Conversion to Christ involves confession of faith in him, adherence to his person and his teaching, following in his footsteps, taking on his attitudes, and surrendering the old self in order to take up the new self in Christ. "The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus takes up the Decalogue, and impresses upon it the spirit of the beatitudes, is an indispensable point of reference for the moral formation which is most necessary today." (541) Moral catechesis involves more than the proclamation and presentation of the principles and practice of Christian morality. It presents the integration of Christian moral principles in the lived experience of the individual and the community. This moral testimony must always demonstrate the social consequences of the Gospel." (542)
E. The Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill.
Catechesis on the fifth commandment fosters respect for human life and an understanding of the sacredness of human life, recognizes the complexities involved in the moral analysis of life issues, yet provides specific guidelines for that analysis. Such catechesis
• Teaches that the human person has the right to life from the moment of conception and that, according to church teaching, any form of direct abortion is a crime against life (569) and is gravely contrary to the moral law; so serious is this sin that involvement in a deliberate act of abortion can result in automatic excommunication
• Explains that the human embryo is a person at every stage and "must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed like every other human being" (570)
• Teaches that the production and cloning of human embryos as disposable biological material, even in the name of scientific advancement, for the purpose of exploitation, experimentation, or research is gravely immoral
• Explains that euthanasia and assisted suicide-no matter what forms they take or for what reasons they are undertaken-are morally wrong because they are gravely contrary to divine law and the dignity of the human person; that suicide is a grave moral evil; and that those who are disabled or sick "deserve special respect" and "should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible" (571)
• Includes instruction on legitimate personal and civil defense, proportionate punishment for crimes, and the fact that non-lethal means for defending society from criminals are to be preferred as being "more in conformity to the dignity of the human person" (572)
• Explains "the evils and injustices that accompany all war," (573) "the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force," (574) the immorality of indiscriminate use of weapons, the danger of the excessive accumulation of armaments, and the risk of unregulated production and sale of arms
• Includes instruction on the integrity of the person, the moral evil of creating scandal, the responsibility for one's own health and the health of others, the contributions and dangers of scientific research, and the proper treatment of the dead.
532 John Paul 11, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) (EV) (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1995), no. 18.
533 Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5.
534 John Paul II, Mass at St. Louis, Mo. (January 27, 1999).
535 USCCB, Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1995), 9.
536 Living the Gospel of Life, no. 3.
537 VS, no. 101.
538 VS, no. 88.
539 EV, no. 21.
540 VS, no. 119.
541 GDC, no. 85.
542 Cf CT, no. 29.
569 CCC, no. 2323.
570 CCC, no. 2323
571 CCC, no. 2276
572 EV, no. 56, citing CCC, no. 2276.
573 CCC, no. 2307.
574 CCC, no. 2309.