Pastor’s Letter: Oct. 22, 2017: The Dignity of the Human Person

Dear Parishioners,

Bishop Robert Barron, perhaps the most sought-after Catholic speaker in America, is a clear thinker and excellent communicator and I have great esteem for the work that he his doing in the effort to evangelize and explain the faith in an understandable way.

Since I am on my walk from Assisi to Rome as you are reading this I thought it might be beneficial to feature Bishop Barron over the next few weeks. October is Respect Life month and Bishop Barron does a good job explaining the pro-life/social justice split in the Church and how it is a tragedy for the church, as excerpted from his interview in Northwest Catholic, October 2017.

[Note: Bishop Barron’s remarks have been edited to incorporate the questions by the interviewer.]

The relationship between Catholic social teaching and the church’s mission to evangelize is huge, [says Bishop Barron]. And I’m with John Paul II when he said that essential to the New Evangelization is the church’s social teaching. So I think it has a huge evangelical impact, and here’s why: We can talk about the teaching of the church on God and Jesus and the Trinity and the Eucharist and so on, but it’s seeing the church in action that often evangelizes people. And then go back to the early centuries — “how these Christians love one another” — that’s what grabbed the attention of a lot of pagans. And then I think up and down the centuries, it’s people living the Christian life in its radical form that has a huge evangelical power.And I don’t think John Paul would mind this at all when I say he was the second greatest evangelist of the 20th century — because the first, in my mind, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. That no one evangelized more effectively than she because of this radical commitment to the church’s social teaching. So it has a huge impact for evangelization, which is not just a matter of ideas but often a matter of witness.

A commonality between “pro-life” and “social justice” is the dignity of the human person and the specifics of poverty and everything from euthanasia to abortion that threatens that belief. But perhaps the greatest threat is this idea that we invent our own value system. I think that’s the most abiding ideology today, is that my will determines what’s good and right. To give it its formal name, it’s voluntarism — the dominance of the will over the mind, or of my desire over truth. And see, what that does is then it brackets the essential dignity of the other. If I’m making up values as I go along, then as people get in the way of that, well, they become expendable. It becomes, as Nietzsche said, the will to power. I think that’s the abiding and underlying problem, is this sort of Nietzscheanism, this voluntarism — that I invent my own values.

What’s key to the Catholic thing is that values confront us, we don’t invent them. Great values confront us, and we conform our lives to them. And the supreme value, at least as it appears in the world, is the value of a human life. If I start making up as I go along, there’s your Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision from 1992: It belongs to the essence of liberty to determine the meaning of my own existence. Well, if that’s true, then human dignity is going to be out the window pretty quickly. To me, that’s the greatest threat to the dignity of the human person.

[The full article may be found at http://www.nwcatholic.org/features/nw-stories/ northwest-catholic-october-2017-edition.]