Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

'Be not afraid!'

Advent: Time of consolation and encouragement

We begin a new Liturgical Year with the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent.Fittingly, we begin the Church Year with four Sundays of preparation for Christmas, the celebration of the great mystery of the Incarnation.The two principal celebrations of the mystery of the Incarnation are the Solemnity of the Annunciation (March 25), in which we recall the conception of God the Son in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit; and the Solemnity of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (Dec. 25).

Advent means, literally, coming or arrival, namely, the coming or arrival of God into our midst with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son made man. In truth, Christ first arrived in our midst at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, at the Annunciation.At Christmas, we celebrate the first fruit of His conception, His birth at Bethlehem.

The Advent Season is a time of great consolation and encouragement for us.It is a time of consolation, for it reminds us of how much God loves us.God loves us so much that He has made His home with us first at Bethlehem and now in the Church.It is a time of great encouragement, for it brings us the grace to live more intensely in the company of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Preparation for Christmas

Advent is the season of preparing for Christ's coming, but what do we mean by Christ's coming? We mean, first of all, His birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Bethlehem.If we do not prepare well for the annual commemoration of our Lord's birth, then surely we will not understand the meaning of our Christmas celebration.No matter how many times, over a lifetime, we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, it always seems new to us.The mystery of the birth of God the Son in our human flesh can never be fully comprehended by us. We never cease to wonder at the great mystery of God's love for us.

Preparation for Christ's coming in the Church

We also mean Christ's coming to us in the Church or, better, His dwelling with us always in the Church.The Advent Season reminds us of the many ways, most of all, the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ, Who first came into the world at Bethlehem, now remains with us in the Church, until He returns in glory on the last day.Through our observance of Advent, we overcome the tendency to reduce the life of Christ within us to an idea or sentiment, and we come face to face with the truth that, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are alive in the same Christ Who was born at Bethlehem and Who died for us on Calvary.

Preparation for Christ's coming on the last day

Lastly, the coming of Christ, for which we prepare during Advent, is His final coming at the end of time.Christ, born at Bethlehem and alive for us in the Church, will bring to fullness His saving work, when He returns in glory to restore us and our world to God the Father.As Advent brings us more fully into the company of Christ, it also strengthens us for the pilgrimage of this life, which will reach its fullness, on the last day, when we, body and soul, will be with the Lord in the heavenly kingdom.

Preparing by growing in knowledge

How do we prepare for the coming of Christ?Fundamental to our preparation is a deeper knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation through studying the Word of God, above all, the Gospels, and the teaching of the Word of God in the Church, above all, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I recommend that your Advent observance include a daily reading from the Gospel according to Luke and the study of nos. 456 to 478 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Preparing by growing in prayer

Hand in hand with the growing knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation is the experience of the mystery in prayer and through participation in the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.I recommend receiving the forgiveness of your sins in the Sacrament of Penance, both at the beginning of Advent and again as Christmas draws near.

Frequent participation in Mass during the week, daily, if possible, is also an excellent means of observing Advent.The experience of our Lord's dwelling with us in the Holy Eucharist is profoundly deepened through visits to the Blessed Sacrament and adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.We are blessed with so many chapels of eucharistic adoration in the archdiocese.

If you do not already have a regular hour of adoration each week, why not make Advent the time to begin spending a weekly hour with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?Why not read the Gospel according to Luke and study the mystery of the Incarnation, as it is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, during your eucharistic adoration?

Advent is also an excellent time to renew devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary" (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and "pierced by our sins and for our salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 478).If you have not enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home, why not request the booklet for the Enthronement from the Office of Sacred Worship?

The rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an excellent Advent prayer, helping us to meditate on the richness of the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.Especially, when the inviolability of human life is under such severe attack in our society, why not join in the Rosary Crusade for the Safeguarding of Embryonic Human Life.What better way to prepare for the coming of Christ Who gave His life to save all men, without boundary or exception!

Lastly, deepening our knowledge of Christ's Coming and our experience of His coming, we are led to witness to Christ's dwelling with us and to draw others to Christ.In our totally secularized society, the need of the new evangelization - the living of our Catholic faith with new enthusiasm and new energy - is more urgent than ever.May the Advent Season also be the time for us all to give Christ to others through the outpouring of pure and selfless love, in our homes, and through the educational, charitable and missionary works of the Church.

Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.

'Be not afraid!'

Christ the King

On this coming Sunday, we conclude the Liturgical Year with the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.Pope Pius XI established the solemnity in 1925, but the reality to which it points has always been celebrated by devout Christians.

Christians have always honored our Lord with the title "King" to express the great and lasting victory over sin and everlasting death, which He won for all men by His Passion and Death, culminating in His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, where He is seated in glory.His enthronement as King at the right hand of the Father is not, however, a static reality, for His glorious royal Heart is pierced and, from His open side, He never ceases to pour out upon us the grace of the Holy Spirit, to purify our hearts of sin and to inflame them with His divine love.And there is more.As King of Heaven and Earth, He will return in glory to bring to fullness His redemptive work.We, His faithful stewards, await His coming with humility and confidence in the eternal life He has made our inheritance.

King, an outdated title?

Today, some say that attributing kingship to our Lord Jesus says nothing to the contemporary mind and heart.Our response to such an observation must be twofold.

First of all, the divinely inspired Word of God repeatedly refers to our Lord as King.For example, when Gabriel announces to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she is to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Savior, he tells her that her Son "will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32).As this year’s Gospel for the Solemnity reminds us, our Lord Himself, brought before Pilate to be tried and condemned to death, did not deny the title of "King" and spoke of His saving work, as He had done throughout His public ministry, as the establishment of a kingdom in which divine truth and love reign (John 18:36-37).In his vision of the Final Coming, St. John the Evangelist sees our Lord Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, reigning over heaven and earth, in virtue of His Passion, Death and Resurrection (Revelation 5:12-13; 7:9-17; 14:1-10; 17:14; 19:7-9; and 22:1-3).As Christians, we do not set aside scriptural images in favor of some passing fancy.We, rather, strive to understand the image, overcoming any obscuring of the image by our culture.

Secondly, it is not true that kingship is an out-of-date image.How frequently we use the title "king" to honor a person! How frequently we use the adjective "royal" to describe what is most pure and noble!In a very particular way, for the faithful of St. Louis, the title "king" has a powerful meaning.Our patron saint, King Louis IX of France, was heroic in faith, hope and charity, as a husband and father, and as a king.We see in his life the practice of the virtues which make a person truly royal, according to the mind and heart of Christ the King.

We are kings in Christ the King

Our life and mission in Christ is described by three titles of our Lord: Prophet, Priest and King.Our life and mission is prophetic at its foundation, for we are called to know God in Whom we believe and to give an account of our faith to others.Our life and mission is priestly in its highest expression, for we are called to make ourselves and our world holy through prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Finally, our life and mission is kingly or royal, for we are called to open our hearts like the Royal Heart of Jesus in loving service of others.It is from the Heart of Jesus that we draw the strength to love as He loves.Our royal life and mission is the fruit of our prophetic search to know God and of our priestly communion with God in prayer and the sacraments.

I suspect that we are not often inclined to think of ourselves as spiritual royalty, but indeed we are.It is important, in fact, for us to reflect daily upon our royal life and mission.The servant of God Pope John Paul II, in his first encyclical letter, reflected, in a striking way, on our royal mission in Christ. He noted that our sharing in the kingly mission of Christ is one of the richest elements of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium (On the Church)." He describes our kingly nature in simple words which indicate that we are kings in Christ the King: "This dignity is expressed in readiness to serve, in keeping with the example of Christ, Who ‘came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20:28)" (Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis, "At the Beginning of His Papal Ministry," March 4, 1979, n. 21a).

Pope John Paul II continues his reflection by reminding us that life in Christ the King means becoming truly a servant and that becoming truly a servant means acquiring the royal virtue of self-mastery.He reminds us that "our sharing in Christ’s kingly mission ... is closely linked with every sphere of both Christian and human morality" (Redemptor hominis, n. 21a).Our daily taking up of the royal mission of Christ means for us daily conversion to Him, that is, cooperating with His grace to conform our hearts more and more to His own Royal Heart.

Christ the King wins our hearts

I close my little reflection on the Solemnity of Christ the King by drawing your attention to a wonderful passage in Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter.Pope Benedict underlines for us both the distinctiveness of our Christian faith, which is found in the love of God Who enters our history to save us, most wonderfully by the Incarnation of God the Son.He also underlines the distinctiveness of our Christian calling to love as God loves.He further reminds us that our high calling is not some remote ideal but our deepest identity, for God dwells within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father’s own words best express the truth that God the Son, Christ the King, desires to win our hearts:

In the love story recounted by the Bible, (God) comes toward us. He seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of His heart on the Cross, to His appearances after the Resurrection, and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, He guided the nascent Church along its path.Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: He encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect His presence, in His Word, in the Sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist.In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive His presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.He has loved us first and He continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter "Deus caritas est (On Christian Love)," Dec. 25, 2005, n. 17).

Christ the King reigns in our midst, He reigns in each of us, by the outpouring of divine love from His pierced Heart into our poor, doubtful and sinful hearts.We, therefore, can love as He loves.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, may He win each of our hearts more and more for Himself. Our hearts, one with His Royal Heart, will love our neighbor, purely and selflessly, as He has always loved us and never ceases to love us.

Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on us.

Be Not Afraid!

Thanksgiving for life and faith

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, our thoughts turn to the many blessings we have received from God.Even if, for some reason, we cannot be with family members, our thoughts turn especially to our family, both the living and the dead.In the context of recalling the many gifts which God has given to us in our family, two gifts stand out as most to be treasured: the gifts of life and faith.

Our very life is a gift which God has given us through the cooperation of our parents.How wonderful to consider that God has called us into being!How grateful we must be to our parents who cooperated with God in our conception, birth and early education.
How even more wonderful to consider that God has chosen us to be His own dear sons and daughters through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls. What would life mean to us without faith?For many of us, the gift of Catholic faith, like the gift of life, was given to us in the home, through the cooperation of our parents with God’s grace.

Thanksgiving for the land, plants and animals

Closely connected to our gratitude for the gifts of life and faith is our gratitude for the land in which we live and upon which we depend for the necessities of life.Growing up in a rural area, it was natural for me, on Thanksgiving Day, to thank God for His great gifts of the land and of the harvest gathered from it.

Gratitude for the land is also gratitude for our fellow creatures, the plants and animals who live and flourish on the land, providing us with food and clothing. Today, sadly, we easily forget the origin of our food and clothing in the cultivation of the land and the care of the animals.As a result, we lose respect for our essential relationship with all of nature, in its God-given order and harmony. Thanksgiving Day, on which we bring forth our most delicious food, should remind us to consider the source of the food and drink which nourishes us and which we enjoy sharing with each other.

Thanksgiving, respect and care

Considering all of God’s generous gifts to us, we are inspired to respect and care for these gifts, in their integrity, that is, as they come to us from the hand of God. We pray to know God’s plan for us and all His other creatures, a plan in which we relate harmoniously with nature and in peace with each other.A thankful heart does not manipulate and misuse God’s gifts but rather respects them in the manner of a good steward.

Today, our care for God’s gifts to us faces a new and difficult challenge. Last year, in my column for Thanksgiving Day, I wrote about the challenge of an initiative to legalize the cloning of human life for the purpose of its destruction to obtain embryonic stem cells. Most sadly, just days ago, the citizens of Missouri made that initiative constitutional law for our beloved state.

I must say that it is frightening to live in a state which constitutionally guarantees the right to human cloning and the destruction of human embryos. When the integrity of the procreation of human life and the inviolability of human life at its very beginning are attacked by constitutional law, who can feel completely at home?

I cannot, however, dwell on the security and peace stolen from us by the passage of Amendment 2, but, rather, in thanksgiving for all that God has given us in our beloved state. I must commit myself to work ever more diligently to free our society from the grave evils of human cloning and the destruction of embryonic human life. Thanksgiving Day reminds me that care for all of the gifts which God gives me in our State of Missouri means working to restore security and peace for all.

Thank you!

It is my hope to spend Thanksgiving Day with my family in Wisconsin, but my thoughts, especially as I celebrate the Holy Mass, will be very much with all of you whom I am blessed to serve in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and who help me, in innumerable ways, to fulfill the Good Shepherd’s care of the Church in the archdiocese. Your most generous response to the Annual Catholic Appeal is an outstanding example of your selfless stewardship of God’s gifts, so that the Church may serve the good of all.

In closing, I express a particularly heartfelt thanks to so many who, in a variety of ways, helped our fellow citizens to understand the truth about Amendment 2 and urged them to vote for the family and human life.Even though our efforts did not achieve the ultimate goal of defeating Amendment 2, they helped nearly half of the voters, at least, to vote for the truth.I am convinced that, when more of our fellow citizens understand the truth, they will actively oppose the law which Amendment 2 has enshrined in our state constitution.

We must work ever more diligently to restore the respect for the integrity of procreation and for the inviolable dignity of all human life. We must work to contain, as much as possible, the grave evils which Amendment 2 permits. This year, Thanksgiving Day for us must mean a new commitment to safeguard the integrity of the origin of human life through procreation and the dignity of all human life, without boundary, from its embryonic beginning to natural death. As we thank God for His many and wonderful gifts, I ask you to continue the Rosary Crusade Safeguarding Embryonic Human Life, invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

‘Be not afraid!’


Our life in the Church unites heaven and earth.We see the union of heaven and earth before our eyes, in the most striking way, when we participate in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father in eternal glory, descends to earth, renewing the outpouring of His life for us on the Cross.From His glorious pierced Heart, He offers us His Body and Blood, the heavenly food and drink which sustain us along the way of our life pilgrimage to our lasting home with Him in heaven.

Another wonderful way in which our life in the Church unites heaven and earth is our relationship with the saints in heaven and the poor souls in purgatory, who are undergoing the final purification of their lives in preparation for entrance into the company of the saints in heaven.When someone dies, we lose the gift of his earthly company, but we certainly do not lose our relationship of love and communion with him in the Church.In the Church, we are brothers and sisters of the saints, and of the souls in purgatory.

During the month of November, we cultivate, with particular attention, our relationship with our brothers and sisters in purgatory. To be more closely united with them in love, it is important for us to understand their condition.

Purgatory and temporal punishment due to sin

Each day of our lives, we are preparing to meet our Lord and to be with Him for eternity.Preparation to meet our Lord consists in overcoming sin and doing God’s will with a selfless and generous heart.Overcoming sin means the purification and elevation of our thoughts, words and deeds so that they express love of God and neighbor. It is also the remission of the temporal punishment which, in justice, is due to the sins which we have committed and for which we have received forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

The temporal punishment due to our sins is not imposed by God in anger at us. Rather, it is the consequence of our sins, namely, a wrong attraction or attachment which must be purified with the spiritual tools of prayer and penance so that we can enjoy full communion with our Lord and all the saints.God, in His all-merciful love, remits the eternal punishment due to mortal sin through the Sacrament of Penance, but the temporal punishment remains to be remitted.

Only when we have undergone the purification of our sinful attractions and attachments, connected with both mortal and venial sin in our lives, will we be ready to meet our Lord and enjoy His company forever.When we reflect on the conversion of mind and heart to our Lord, which we all desire and seek through prayer and penance, then we realize how immensely good God is in providing purgatory, a state in which, after death, we undergo the purification which was lacking during our days on earth (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1472-1473).

Loving the dead

Conscious of our own need to be purified of sinful attractions and attachments, we want to assist our deceased brothers and sisters to satisfy the temporal punishment due to their sins, so that they may enter the eternal joy of heaven.We know that death has deprived us of their earthly presence butcannot deprive us of spiritual communion with them.We continue to show our love for them by offering prayers and sacrifices for the remission of the temporal punishment due to their sins.And they continue to love us and to assist us by their prayers.

Sometimes, members of the faithful express the hope that they can avoid purgatory and go straight to heaven.Of course, we all want to be with our Lord immediately.At the same time, purgatory is a good state in which to be, when we are not quite ready for heaven.It is filled with the sure hope of being with our Lord and with the comfort of being prepared to enter His company.What we count upon at our death is the prayers and sacrifices of those who love us so that we can pass through purgatory and arrive at our final destiny of heaven.

If we love those who have died, we will have Masses offered, and will pray and do penance for their eternal rest. One of the greatest disservices which we do to the dead is to presume that they are already in heaven and, therefore, fail to pray and offer sacrifices for them.None of us knows the temptations and trials which another, even a person of great holiness, has undergone in life.We know that the great saints often expressed sorrow at their imperfect love of God and neighbor.It is part of our sinful condition, inherited from our first parents, to need constant conversion of mind and heart, constant purification of sin in our lives.The souls in purgatory depend upon us, upon our loving prayers and acts of penance, so that the purification of sin may be complete in them.

‘Be not afraid!’


Within a few days, the citizens of the State of Missouri, by their vote on Amendment 2, will make a decision which profoundly affects both the integrity of the procreation of human life in the family of husband and wife, and the inviolable dignity of every human life from the moment of its inception. The decision regarding the establishment of a constitutional right to clone human life and, then, to destroy the cloned human embryo to harvest its stem cells will rest with you and me, not with the legislature and not with the judiciary.Our responsibility is most weighty.It is the responsibility, first of all, to vote, and, secondly, to vote for both the integrity of procreation within the family and the inviolability of embryonic human life.

Duty to vote

Citizens in a democratic form of government exercise direct responsibility for the common good by voting.For the Christian, voting is not only a civic duty but also the exercise of virtue.Every citizen recognizes his responsibility to give direction to the government by voting. The Christian citizen is further urged by the love of Christ to vote for what promotes the common good.When the Christian enters the voting booth, it must be the unconditional love of Christ which governs his choices.

The duty to vote is most serious, especially in an election which could introduce into the constitution of the state provisions which are a direct attack on the integrity of human procreation and the dignity of embryonic human life.Failing to vote is failing to exercise the virtue of love on behalf of the whole of society.Failure to vote is failure to vote for the truth which will serve the greatest good of all in society.
We may know family members or friends who, for whatever reason, have decided not to vote. It is important to urge them regarding the importance of their vote. Also, if there are family members or friends for whom it is a hardship to get to the polling place, we should help them, so that they may fulfill their civic duty and exercise Christian love.

Obedience in voting

Often enough, when the Church’s teaching on an issue before the electorate is enunciated, I hear it said: "No one is going to tell me how to vote!" While it is true that voting is an exercise of free will, if the act is to be truly free, it must be informed by the truth. The truth tells us how to vote, and we must be obedient to the truth.

Living in a society which thrives on relativism and exaggerated individualism, we like to think that we can decide whatever we want.For instance, our Supreme Court has told us that we have the right to decide upon our own definition of the meaning of human life and human sexuality. If that be the case, we soon find ourselves in a tyrannical society in which whatever group of citizens achieves political power decides who will enjoy the protection of the fundamental right to life and redefines the very foundation of society, the family, according to its likes and purposes.

There is objective truth.The family and human life have integrity, as they have both issued from the hand of God. Only by obedience to the truth can we do what is right, what serves the good of our neighbor, what makes us all free.If we do not have the humility to submit ourselves to the truth, then we are like Adam and Eve who, notwithstanding all of the many blessings with which God had created them, insisted on eating the fruit which God had forbidden them to eat.

Adam and Eve took the posture that no one was going to tell them what to do. In their pride, they destroyed the order and peace of creation for the sake of doing what they pleased. Pope Benedict XVI put it so well in his recent address to a conference on stem-cell research: "In the face of the actual suppression of the human being there can be no compromises or prevarications. One cannot think that a society can effectively combat crime when society itself legalizes crime in the area of conceived life" ("‘No one can dispose of human life’, Pope states," L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, Sept. 27, 2006, p. 3).


It is truly frightening to think that the citizens of our state may grant constitutional guarantees to the agents of human cloning and of the destruction of embryonic human life.We must pray with particular fervor in the next days, asking God to deliver our state and our nation from the deadly evils of human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. I ask you especially to join in the Rosary CrusadeSafeguarding of Embryonic Human Life.

Please vote for the truth.Please encourage others to do the same.

I close with the prayer which I offered at the Rally for the Defeat of Amendment 2, held at St. Alphonsus (Rock) Church on this past Oct. 28:

"Almighty God, we come to You in our great need. You have made us the stewards of your manifold gifts. Above all, you have made us stewards of your greatest gift, human life created in Your own image and likeness, and redeemed by Christ, Your Son, on the Cross. Our stewardship of Your gift of human life, at its very beginning, today stands under a great challenge.Without Your help, we know that we will fail to safeguard our tiniest brothers and sisters.With Your help, we are confident that we can safeguard and foster all human life, especially the lives of our brothers and sisters who are under deadly threat. Enlighten our minds with Your truth and inflame our hearts with Your love, that we may be wise stewards of human life, and courageous defenders of our innocent and defenseless brothers and sisters. We beg You to grant the grace of conversion of mind and heart to those who would offend You most gravely by attempting to generate human life artificially and by destroying the embryonic human life which they have generated. Grant to us all the conversion of mind and heart which will enable us to speak the truth and to do the truth with Your divine love which knows no boundary or limit.We ask this, all-loving Father, through Christ, Your Son and our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.Amen."

‘Be not afraid!’


The heart of the discussion regarding Amendment 2 and the common good centers around the question: When does human life begin?Proponents of Amendment 2 argue that it does not involve human cloning and, therefore, human life for one of two reasons.First of all, some say that the being created through somatic cell nuclear transfer or cloning is not human because male sperm is not involved in the process of its generation.Secondly, some say that the artificially generated human embryo is not a human being until the embryo is implanted in the womb, the endometrium, of a woman.Clearly, if you hold that human life can be generated only by the fertilization of the egg of a woman by the sperm of a man, the question of the implantation of the artificially generated being becomes irrelevant to answering the question of the human identity of the embryo produced through somatic cell nuclear transfer or cloning.The question, however, remains: If the cloned embryo is not human, what is it?

At the same time, the proponents claim that those who hold that the artificially generated being is a human embryo and, therefore, a human life are following a religious definition of the beginning of human life and trying to impose upon the general population a particular religious belief.Former Sen. John Danforth, one of the most prominent proponents of Amendment 2, in his recently published book, "Faith and Politics," declares: "Calling these blastocysts (5-to-7-day-old human embryos generated through cloning) human life can only be understood as a statement of religious doctrine, and advancing legislation to protect them can only be understood as attempting to enforce religion by resorting to the criminal law" (p. 93).

Beginning of human life and respect for human life

Mr. Danforth and others who accuse the Church of attempting to legislate religious doctrine by her stand in opposition to Amendment 2 have confused the natural law regarding the respect owed to all human life from its inception with the scientific definition of the beginning of human life.The natural law which is written by God on the human heart and is, therefore, taught by the Church, tells us that we are to safeguard and foster all human life, but it cannot tell us when human life begins. We depend upon science to tell us when human life begins.The natural law teaches us to respect every human life from that moment.

In teaching the natural law, the Church relies upon science, specifically the science of human embryology, to define when the identity of a new human life has been established, namely, when the 23 matched chromosones which constitute the identity of a new and distinct human being are present either through the fertilization of the female egg with the male sperm, or through cloning.The natural law teaches us our first moral duty, namely, to safeguard and promote all human life. In order to fulfill our sacred responsibility, we depend upon science to identify the beginning of human life for us.

Has the Church’s teaching changed?

During the current debate regarding Amendment 2, some proponents have declared that the Church has changed her position on the beginning of human life.They cite the teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that a new human life becomes present in the womb some 40 days after sexual intercourse.What Amendment 2 proponents fail to note is that St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were following what the science of the time told them about the beginning of human life.In Aristotelian biology, which St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were following, human conception was thought to take place through the mixing of the semen from the male with blood secreted within the female.It is important to note that ovulation had not yet been discovered.The mixing involved a process of gradual transformations from the vegetative state to the animal state to the rational state, at the conclusion of which the body was sufficiently organized to receive the human soul.

If St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were alive today, they would accept the findings of contemporary embryology.Having the evidence from science that the 23 matched chromosomes — the complete genetic identity of a human being — are present from the moment of fertilization or at the moment of the artificial stimulation of the denucleated ovum, into which the body cell of a person to be cloned has been inserted, they would hold that from that moment, true to the natural law, human life must be safeguarded and fostered.In other words, they would hold to the consistent teaching of the Church that, once human life has begun, then it has inviolable dignity.To be clear, the Church’s teaching has not changed, but science has developed to teach us more precisely when human life begins.

For an excellent and helpful discussion of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in the matter of the procreation of human life, I refer you to pages 13 to 21 of the book of the eminent theologian John Saward, titled "Redeemer in the Womb," published in 1993 by Ignatius Press in San Francisco.


Mr. Danforth and other proponents of Amendment 2 believe that human life begins with the implantation of the embryo in the womb of a woman, denying the identity of human life to the embryo before implantation.But what is the human embryo before implantation, if not a human being?Implantation adds nothing to the identity of the being, it only provides the natural place for the next stages of its development.The standard textbooks of embryology define the beginning of human life at fertilization or artificial generation by cloning.

Following the logic of Mr. Danforth, I suppose, Amendment 2, which claims to prohibit human cloning, actually prohibits the implantation of the embryo produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer or cloning in the womb of woman.Why?The obvious answer is: Because it is a human life which, once implanted in the womb, will simply continue its growth, in accord with the full identity which it already has.

The scientific truth is that somatic cell nuclear transfer or cloning generates human life.The moral truth is that human life is to be safeguarded and fostered from the moment of its generation.In his address to the participants in a congress sponsored by Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Federation of Catholic Doctors’ Associations, on this past Sept. 16, Pope Benedict XVI declared that "somatic stem-cell research also deserves approval and encouragement when it felicitously combines scientific knowledge, the most advanced technology in the biological field and ethics that postulate respect for the human being at every stage of his or her existence."Going on to speak about embryonic stem-cell research, he explained the reason in natural law for the Church’s opposition: "If there has been resistance — and if there still is — it was and is to those forms of research that provide for the planned suppression of human beings who already exist, even if they have not been born.Research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results, is not truly at the service of humanity" (Pope Benedict XVI, "‘No one can dispose of human life,’ Pope states," L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, Sept. 27, 2006, p. 3).

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