In the U.S. Congress, the Speaker of the House must have a higher salary than a junior Senator. The Speaker undertook to catechize the country ( http://www.catholicexchange.com/2008/08/26/113593/ ) on a question which the democratic nominee asked for more money before he would give an answer (http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20080818/pl_politico/12602 ).
Archbishop Wuerl has written to us priests, asking us to explain Church teaching on abortion at the Holy Mass this Sunday. It is pretty unusual for him to tell us what to preach on.
I thought it might be illuminating to try to break the matter down into discrete kinds of questions, so that we can see what is certain and what is not certain. There are two distinct kinds of questions involved. The first kind aim at things that exist; the second kind aim at the right thing to do.
When precisely did each of our lives begin? When did our souls come into existence? When we were in our mothers’ wombs, what happened? None of these are questions about what we ought to do or not to do. Some people might say these questions are just idle curiosity, needless philosophizing. They are speculative questions. They are not for everybody; most people do not worry about trying to answer speculative questions of this kind.
One reason for the unpopularity of these questions is: Getting an irrefutable answer to any profound speculative question is very difficult. “Is my dog asleep right now or awake?” is a speculative question; it can be answered just by looking at the dog. But “When does the human soul come into being?” is not so easy.
As Cardinal Egan and other Catholic leaders have pointed out since Speaker Pelosi’s confusing catechesis last Sunday, we have recently developed remarkable means by which to observe pregnancies. We can now see pretty well what is going on, and we can analyze the biological processes with great precision. All this gives us a clear answer to the following question (a question which perplexed people for many centuries): Is there a stage in the process of development when the guest of the womb changes from one kind of thing into another kind of thing, from an inanimate type of thing to an animate type of thing? Or: Is there a moment we can pinpoint when what does not appear to have been human now becomes human? The clear answer to these questions is: No. No such moment has ever been discovered. It would seem highly unlikely that it ever will be.
Still we have not touched the question of the soul, nor have we considered what ought to be done or not done.
Souls are invisible. Sonograms and other studies show us that what began as one cell eventually grows into a recognizable baby. Something makes this happen, some organizing power that keeps all the molecules from separating from each other into some kind of soup.
Speculative questions like this are endlessly interesting, so it is rather presumptuous for anyone to claim that he or she has the final answer. The Church does not settle speculative questions. When needed, She settles questions regarding what we believe and what we are to do or not do.
Sacred Scripture teaches us to believe that God has a plan for everyone to get to heaven, and that plan begins in the womb. God loves the occupant of the womb, and He will always provide for him or her. We believe this with certain faith. There is no doubt about it.
Now let us get to the practical questions. Should any pregnant woman ever have an abortion? Should anyone ever perform an abortion, or co-operate with an abortion in any way? When Rick Warren asked about when an unborn child acquires human rights, this was a somewhat convoluted way of leaving the speculative realm behind and transferring the debate to the moral realm. Someone who has rights cannot be killed. So Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum debate question really was: Must the law prohibit abortion?
Moral questions have to do with what you or I do or don’t do. Unborn children die in their mothers’ wombs all the time in miscarriages, but a miscarriage is not a moral matter; it didn’t result from what someone did or didn’t do. Moral questions are confined to you and me and what we choose.
Answering moral questions is generally easier than answering speculative questions, especially when the speculative questions involve invisible realities. Moral questions require moral certitude, because we either act or we don’t; we either do something or we don’t do it. For me to do something, I have to be sure that it is not gravely evil for me to do it. For the law to permit something, the legislator must be sure that it is not the slaughter of innocents. There is no doubt that it is morally wrong to take risks when it comes to the life or death of innocent people.
Moral questions are not beyond us, like some speculative questions are. We can always know what to do or not to do, either by reasoning things out carefully from basic principles like the Ten Commandments, or by submitting to the authority of the Church. We do not have to know everything about the situation; we only have to know what to do or avoid.
In the case of the moral questions here, there is no doubt whatsoever. It is never okay to have an abortion. It is never okay to co-operate in an abortion. It is never okay for the law to permit abortion.
One thought on “Not Above My Pay Grade”
Now I finally know why the priest who celebrated Mass for us last Sunday gave such an impassioned sermon on abortion! Thanks, Fr. White.