“Respect for the human person considers the other ‘another self.’ It presupposes respect for the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1944.
“The differences among persons belong to God’s plan, who wills that we should need one another. These differences should encourage charity.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1946.
Of the many memorable moments in the Oscar winning film, Titanic, one in particular came to mind this week. It is the scene following the sinking of the ship and the people in the lifeboats listening to the cries for help coming from the cold dark night on the Northern Atlantic. Those lucky enough to be in a life boat convince themselves that taking on any more from the icy waters would be dangerous and ill-advised. There may be too many, it may jeopardize their own safety; there are other rational reasons. As the night goes on, the cries subside and then stop.
The reason this scene came to mind was the occurrence of two important events over the past weekend: the March for Life and the Administration’s executive order temporarily limiting some refugees. Both relate to issues that affect scores of vulnerable human beings.
The March for Life occurs every January, marking the Roe vs. Wade decision which made abortion on demand legal in all 50 states throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy. As technology and science advance, it is no longer arguable that when an abortion takes place a child is killed. When an ultrasound picture shows the face of the baby in the womb smiling and sucking her thumb, when the beating heart is noticed only several weeks after conception, it is hard to argue otherwise. The only argument left is one of power, fear, and self-interest. Will the unborn child be allowed into the lifeboat?
The actions regarding refugees are similar. They are fleeing unimaginable violence and terror, arguably some of which was precipitated by America’s poor foreign policy decisions. They seek a safe harbor for themselves and their children. The decision to turn away refugees and to close the door to those who are fleeing persecution is wrong. The fact that they are Muslim should not impede us from providing help. Welcoming the stranger, the migrant, the immigrant and the refugee has long been a hallmark for the best that is America and is rooted in our Christian convictions. Likewise, as Catholics we believe it is our responsibility to care for the most vulnerable who come across our path needing help. Will the refugee be allowed into the lifeboat?
Fear and self-interest are real parts of the human condition. We are not wrong to want security and safety, which is why we have laws and law enforcement. Nations need borders for security much as our homes need locks for the doors. And yet, there is another good to be considered when we meet others in danger and needing help. Jesus captures this in what has come to be known as the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 6:31). Catholic Social Teaching develops and applies this even further, explaining that every human person has an inviolable dignity and is created in the image and likeness of God. As members of the human race, we are also in solidarity with all other persons. God has made us dependent on one another as well as Himself. We share a common home, the planet Earth, given for the good of all.
As the vulnerable in the womb and of the world turn to us for help, let us resist the temptation to see their plight through a polarized political lens, or to respond out of fear and self-interest. Rather, let us realize we are blessed to be in the lifeboat. When we hear a cry for help, will we allow another in?
–Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
Catholic Key, February 3, 2017 issue