'God will ensure
the victory'

Individual witness to sanctity
of life 'powerful,' leaders told

Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., delivered the following address to 150 pro-life leaders who gathered in Denver July 25-27 for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual pro-life directors conference. The address has been adapted for publication. Part II follows. For the unedited, complete address, click here.

Some years ago a brother bishop wrote that "if it is once accepted that people have the right to kill `unproductive' fellow human beings — and even if it only initially affects the poor defenseless mentally ill — then as a matter of principle murder is permitted for all unproductive people; in other words, for the incurably sick, people who have become invalids through work or war, and for all of us when we become old, frail and therefore unproductive . . . None of our lives will be safe . . . [And] who will be able to trust his physician anymore?"

Here's problem three: our inability to imagine and hope. Americans have never been ideologues. We're pragmatists and tool-makers. We respect results. Therefore it's no surprise that we have the strongest economic machine in the world, and that we excel at science and technology, and that these disciplines enjoy such esteem in our culture. But as the writer Edward Tenner once observed, technology always carries with it a "revenge of unintended consequences" — and one of the unintended consequences of our science is that we've now become its objects and its victims. One of the costs of our science has been a decline in our vocabulary of the soul, a rise in a purely materialist, determinist view of the world, and a decline in our sense that humanity is somehow unique in creation. Hope and imagination flow out of a belief in a higher purpose to our lives. If all we are is very intelligent carbon, then hope and imagination are just quirks of the species. And so is any talk about the sanctity of the human person.

Problem four: our inability to live real freedom. Freedom is not an endless supply of choices and options. Choice for its own sake is just another form of idolatry. Freedom is the ability to see — and the courage to do — what is right. But if, as a people, we begin to doubt that any absolute principles of right and wrong exist, then how can we even begin to discuss things like freedom, truth and the sanctity of the human person in a common vocabulary? How can we agree on which rights take precedence, and who has responsibility for what?

What we get in place of freedom is a kind of anarchy of conflicting pressure groups and personal agendas held together by just one thing: the economy we all share . . . and that's not the basis of a community or even a useful conversation. In fact our economy, more than anything else in modern American life, teaches us to see almost everything as a commodity to be bought or sold. This is what Jeremy Rifkin warns about when he describes American culture as increasingly a "paid-for experience" based on the commodification of passion, ideals, relationships and even time. If we want freedom, we buy it by purchasing this car or that computer; if we want romance, we buy it by purchasing this cruise or that hotel package.

The trouble is, the more our advertising misuses the language of our dreams and ideals to sell consumer goods . . . the more confused our dreams and ideals themselves become. We delude ourselves to the point where we no longer recognize what real love, honest work, freedom, family, patriotism — and even life itself — look like.

Now these four problems we've just outlined act as a kind of background noise in American culture that can screen out much of the work pro-lifers do. And . . . that can be discouraging. The Prophet Jeremiah certainly struggled with discouragement when God sent him to preach repentance to his people. He was treated with contempt and disbelief, and I know that pro-lifers are as well. But he was faithful — and because he was faithful, the truth was served and God remained alive in the hearts of the Jewish people. Mother Teresa once said that we're not called to be successful, we're called to be faithful, and in due time, God will ensure the victory.

We need to remember that. But we also need to take joy and confidence in the fact that, in the long run, right makes might, not the other way around. A friend once shared with me the unofficial motto of the Texas Rangers. It's in Texan, not English, but it goes like this: Little man whup a big man every time if the little man's in the right and keeps a-comin. I probably like that because I'm short — but I also believe it's true.

All of us have a freedom given to us by God, so in the near term, no one can stop an individual or even a nation that consciously chooses to die. But in the long run, life always wins; right always wins; God is always glorified — and nothing is more beautiful or more powerful than the simple, single person who witnesses the sanctity of life even in the face of his or her own destruction. Nobody remembers the party hacks or police thugs at Tienanmen Square. But we all remember the single young man who blocked the line of tanks.

The biggest lie of the modern age is that individuals can't make a difference. But it's exactly individuals who do make a difference, men and women who refuse to cooperate with evil and insist on doing good. Human beings make history, not the other way around, and we do it day in and day out, one by one, in our choices of whom and what we love, what we build, what we live for, and what we fight for.

I began my remarks by quoting a brother bishop. His name was Clemens August von Galen. He was quite an extraordinary man because he was one of the very few German religious leaders who publicly, forcefully and courageously condemned the Nazi regime at the height of its power for murdering the mentally and physically handicapped. Bishop von Galen delivered his homily almost exactly 60 years ago this week — August 3, 1941 — and his message is just as urgent today as it was then.

The difference between 1941 and 2001 is that America, perhaps unlike Germany at that time, still has a deep reservoir of goodness in its public life. The struggle for the soul of our country can still be won, and pro-lifers are all von Galens. They are working to create something better and more humane — a future worthy of the human person as a child of God. And in John Paul's "The Gospel of Life" and the American bishops' "Living the Gospel of Life" we have tools that can guide us in the task.

Little man whup a big man every time, if the little man's in the right and keeps a-comin. Be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. And know that in saving one child, you save the world.