Bishop's Column

Only a Culture of Life can Confront a Culture of Violence

During 2012, a series of mass shootings shocked Americans into asking hard questions about our country and its violent culture. One of these atrocities occurred in the Archdiocese of Denver last July, during my time as auxiliary bishop, an experience that I will not soon forget.

Like the murders committed last month in Newtown, the Aurora movie theater shooting showed us what terrifying evil a person may commit, when he is estranged from God and lacks respect for human life. Such people may turn to violence, in a tragically misguided attempt to resolve their inner turmoil and desperation.

This kind of contempt for life is among the oldest human temptations. In the book of Genesis, God warns Cain against using violence to resolve the rivalry with his brother Abel. But this warning goes unheeded, and the crime of homicide enters the world.

It is easy to see that murder is wrong when it takes place in a school or a movie theater, or when one brother kills another out of rage. But humanity’s ethical compass is not always so clear.

Without God’s grace and moral guidance, we can easily be deceived into seeing violence as a quick fix for difficult problems. Individuals, and whole societies, may decide that they have a "right" to destroy any threat to their perceived happiness and security.

Thus, many Americans have come to believe that murder is sometimes an acceptable solution to the problem of an unwanted child. Forty years ago, on Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court enshrined this view in U.S. law, making it legal to kill unborn children.

Modern America, however, is not alone in its cultural and legal acceptance of murder. History furnishes other examples of societies that saw death as a simple answer to complex problems.

During its early centuries, the Catholic Church faced persecution from Roman authorities who felt threatened by believers worshipping Christ instead of the "divine" Emperor. State officials thought death would resolve this political rivalry. Consequently, many Christians were arrested and killed for their faith.

There is a profound similarity between the victims of abortion and the early martyrs. Both are victims of a society’s attempt to solve its problems by putting people to death. They show us that even an "advanced" and "civilized" culture may commit itself to evil policies and laws.

One of the best-known martyrs of the early Church, St. Agnes, has her liturgical memorial on Jan. 21 – the day before the Roe decision’s 40th anniversary. I believe the alignment of these two dates is deeply significant.

Agnes’ radical faith was disruptive to Roman society. Born around 290, she was a young woman of beauty and grace, but chose not to marry. Instead, she consecrated her life and virginity to Jesus Christ at a time when it was dangerous to serve the Lord openly.

When brought before a judge, Agnes refused to renounce her faith or break her vow of virginity. Instead she went bravely to her death, joining a great multitude of fellow martyrs killed under the Emperor Diocletian.

Less than a decade after Agnes’ death, God delivered the Church from persecution, through the conversion of the Emperor Constantine and his decree of religious freedom. The prayers of the martyrs brought down the system that had tried to suppress their faith with violence.

Our nation, on the other hand, still awaits the end of child killing and the overturning of the decrees that have made it legal. In the meantime, however, there is much we can do to promote life-affirming solutions to unwanted pregnancies.

Options like adoption and foster care deserve our generous support, by means of donation, volunteering, or taking a child into our own home. Crisis pregnancy centers, likewise, are an essential resource for mothers, fathers, and their unborn children, places like our own Saint Gianna’s Women’s Homes in Lincoln. These centers need our help meeting their expenses and carrying out their life-saving work.

Murder, the deliberate and willful taking of innocent life, is never the solution to a problem. Killing cannot resolve the difficulty of an unwanted pregnancy – just as it cannot fix a psychotic compulsion, a deep-seated spiritual malady, or a rivalry between the Church and state.

A culture of violence cannot be legislated out of existence. It must be fought through the building of a consistent, comprehensive Culture of Life. If we want to rid our country of violence and injustice, we must open our eyes to the ongoing violence against the unborn.

True and lasting solutions to violence will only be found when we recover a sense of each person’s inherent, inviolable dignity. Only then – in the words of the Church’s daily prayer – will the light of truth "shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death," and "guide our feet into the way of peace."

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