Powers and principalities have always held human life cheap, and throughout history the Catholic Church has passionately, correctly, and consistently preached on the sanctity of life, at every stage. In an age where the human embryo is exploited in the name of science, where enlightened conceit presumes to judge another’s “quality” of life and socialized medicine betrays an instinct to put a healthy bottom line before a struggling life, the church’s unwavering insistence for life could stand to be voiced anew and heard with fresh ears. The publicity surrounding Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama is gifting the church with a teachable moment; smart churchmen and women should take this opportunity to speak the pro-life position in a loving and pastoral manner that depends less on intense sloganeering and more on patient exposition.
Who lives and who dies, the intrinsic value of human worth, and the undeniable force of love that exists within the mystery of a life wholly lived should never have become — for nearly 40 years — the stuff of placards and bumper-sticker speak; the matter is too profound and too exquisitely messy for such reduction. Abortion rights supporters stopped listening to the argument for life after they saw their hundredth “Abortion Kills Children” sign, and eyeroll-inducing demands that rosaries be taken off of ovaries never did persuade a pro-lifer away.
The argument for life, though more urgent than ever, has grown stagnant for too many, and both battle-weary sides are too pinched and irritable to tolerate more of the same.
Neither Notre Dame nor Barack Obama should claim surprise at the resistance to his speaking there — and an argument could be made that a president who wholeheartedly endorses bench-created law is a dubious choice for an honorary law degree. But the Catholics and bishops who are registering their disapproval have before them a chance to work with the Holy Spirit, by trusting that same Spirit to use events in ways we may not immediately understand — for God’s purpose — and by praying for wisdom, guidance, and, yes, a loving temperament to their instruction.
This event is not the end of the world and it is not the end of the story — as we see in Deuteronomy, the battle for life over death has been raging for 4,000 years — but perhaps Obama at Notre Dame could be the beginning of the pro-life Catholic Church articulating its authoritative teaching in a manner so calm, so pastoral, and so attractive that others may be enticed to finally listen and that hearts may begin to turn. I pray that it is so.