What is a catechism? A catechism is a compendium, that is, a collection of the doctrine or official teaching concerning faith and morals. For Catholics such a collection is known as the Catechism of the Catholic Church in which we find the compiling of a reference text containing Catholic beliefs. What is a catechist? A catechist is a witness to the Catholic faith who through teaching and way of life hands on the principles of the Catholic faith to others.
As we celebrate Catechetical Sunday this Sunday, Sept. 19th, it is important for us to recall the importance of molding and fashioning our lives on God’s Word as expressed in our adherence to the Scripture and Tradition of “The Church, Our Mother in Faith” (see Vatican II –Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #s 6, 14, 15, 41, 42). Pope Francis in his General Audience catechesis on Sept. 11, 2013, teaches: “A Christian is not an island! We do not become Christians in a laboratory, we do not become Christians alone and by our own effort, since the faith is a gift, it is a gift from God given to us in the Church and through the Church. And the Church gives us the life of faith in Baptism: that is the moment in which she gives birth to us as children of God, the moment she gives us the life of God, she engenders us as a mother would.”
Like a mother, the Church is also called to nurture her offspring through the Sacraments and to help form them in the Divine Image in which she or he is created. As Pope Francis further notes in the above-mentioned General Audience:
“A mother does not stop at just giving life; with great care she helps her children grow, gives them milk, feeds them, teaches them the way of life, accompanies them always with her care, with her affection, with her love, even when they are grown up. And in this she also knows to correct them, to forgive them and understand them. She knows how to be close to them in sickness and in suffering. In a word, a good mother helps her children to come of themselves, and not to remain comfortably under her motherly wings, like a brood of chicks under the wings of the broody hen. The Church like a good mother does the same thing: she accompanies our development by transmitting to us the Word of God, which is a light that directs the path of Christian life; she administers the Sacraments. She nourishes us with the Eucharist, she brings us the forgiveness of God through the Sacrament of Penance, she helps us in moments of sickness with the Anointing of the Sick. The Church accompanies us throughout our entire life of faith, throughout the whole of our Christian life. We can then ask ourselves other questions: What is my relationship with the Church? Do I feel like she is my mother who helps me grow as a Christian? Do I participate in the life of the Church, do I feel part of it? Is my relationship a formal or a vital relationship?”
This image of a mother’s care sets the image for my own attempt as a bishop of the Church to offer catechesis in response to recent erroneous statements by political leaders professing to be Catholic concerning the conception of life and the practice of abortion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches clearly that:
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.
This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves.
Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: Abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.
2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation: “The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin.
Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Sisters and brothers, in summary fashion the above is the Catholic Church’s teaching on the beginning of life and the prohibition to do the child being fashioned in the womb harm for any reason. Contrary to popular belief, once life has been conceived in the womb the reproductive rights belong not to the parents, but to the life they have created! The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is not simply a religious doctrine. It is the Church as a parent rallying to protect: the sanctity and dignity of human life, the fundamental rights contained therein by the creation of life, and the human rights that were recognized by the Founders of this nation.
What saddens me is that there will be Catholics and non-Catholics alike who will want to dispute with me over what I have just stated. However, for me what I have said is none other than a basic recognition of what it means to be a follower of the Way (cf. Acts 9:2 & 24:14)—a Christian. I believe that any discord arises from an unhealthy focus we have on “me” today. Even in addressing the current pandemic, one hears the theme: “my rights.” Yes, as I have just stated, as human persons made in the Divine Image we do all have rights. Yet, what we forget is that they are not independent of the rights of our neighbor.
That is why I would be the first one not to deny the pressures that can lead a couple or an individual to consider an abortion, and the constant need to be supportive and offer alternatives to women and men facing such demands.
Also, I cannot forget those who in desperation may have felt that an abortion was the only answer and now in hindsight are coming to realize its true meaning. To these individuals and couples— you may feel like the prodigal son or daughter—yet, you need to know that the doors of the Catholic Church (especially in the Diocese of Syracuse) are always open to you as a loving mother and also as a merciful and supportive father.
Last week, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby published a “Joint Message for the Protection of Creation.” Its opening paragraphs set the scene for where we, as a society, are today, and why things need to change. I close my column this week with their words and invite us to pray for the greater respect for life they are challenging us to as Christians and as a world community:
“For more than a year, we have all experienced the devastating effects of a global pandemic—all of us, whether poor or wealthy, weak or strong. Some were more protected or vulnerable than others, but the rapidly-spreading infection meant that we have depended on each other in our efforts to stay safe. We realised that, in facing this worldwide calamity, no one is safe until everyone is safe, that our actions really do affect one another, and that what we do today affects what happens tomorrow.
These are not new lessons, but we have had to face them anew. May we not waste this moment. We must decide what kind of world we want to leave to future generations. God mandates: ‘Choose life, so that you and your children might live’ (Dt 30:19). We must choose to live differently; we must choose life.”