As we celebrate another Christmas, the political divisiveness of our times can actually help believers discover an essential dimension of Christmas.
America faces divisions that increasingly are not just about policies, but about the very principles upon which those policies should be based. Disagreements extend to the very questions of what America stands for, and beyond that to the question of whether or not there are any moral principles that we can know with certainty and which should guide our society.
Religious freedom and political freedom should always be safeguarded. Citizens can embrace whatever Church or political party they choose.
But what, in the midst of the diversity, holds society together?
The moral and religious tradition that we have all inherited from recent centuries and millennia, and that shaped America, tells us that we are capable of knowing right from wrong, and that for society to function, certain moral absolutes must be embraced by a people and their laws, no matter what their religious or political affiliation.
Society can’t function unless principles like you cannot kill the innocent and you can’t steal someone’s possessions are embraced by the citizens and enforced by law upon those who fail to embrace them.
But what does all this have to do with Christmas?
With the ringing of the Christmas bells and the preaching of the Christmas sermons, Christian Churches proclaim that God becomes visible in the Christ Child, who will grow up and preach and teach a substantial message that answers very basic questions about who God is, what He thinks of us, and how He expects us to live.
All the philosophers of all the ages, though coming to certain conclusions correctly because of the power of human reason nevertheless could not reach the fullness of the answers to all these questions. God needed to speak, and he needed to speak in human language.
So the Son who is the revelation of the Father has come, and Christmas celebrates that coming.
Christians proclaim that thanks to Christmas, we know who God is, what life is about, what God expects us to do, and what awaits us beyond the grave.
And that means that as we journey through this life, we know what is good not only for individuals, but for our human and political communities.
Yet in political debates we constantly hear a moral relativism and agnosticism that says all ideas about “right and wrong” are of equal value — and that all the matters in the end is the ability to enforce your preferred ideas by gaining political power.
In 2002, the Vatican issued a document with a special message to politicians and those who assist them. Called the “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life,” this document said:
“A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defense of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law. Furthermore, it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy. As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value.” (Paragraph 2)
Notice what is and isn’t being said here.
Religion does not offer model legislation. Legislators have to deal with complex and changing circumstances, and make prudential judgments that are not self-evident and on which people of equal moral conviction can disagree. That’s why it’s off-base for religious leaders to start becoming too dogmatic about particular solutions to problems like immigration. They should teach moral principles and then let elected officials do their jobs.
But it’s about the confusion over those most fundamental principles, and the denial that we can even know them, that the Church is concerned. Take, for instance, the problem of abortion. There is no room in a civilized society for the legal killing of children. The right to life is not just a policy; it’s a principle that needs to be beyond the reach of the political process to change. Legislators can’t reduce morality to “whatever the voters want,” nor take refuge in the old “I can’t impose my morality on others” argument.
And that is the problem that Christmas answers.
Why are Christians so joyful in celebrating this Feast? Because we really believe that God has spoken, and that the Word we receive from Child born in Bethlehem can guide our politics in such a way that while preserving its diversity and freedom, ensures that it is protecting the common good and the dignity of every human person.
Fr. Frank Pavone is one of the most prominent pro-life leaders in the world. He became a Catholic priest in 1988 under Cardinal John O’Connor in New York. In 1993 he became National Director of Priests for Life. He is also the President of the National Pro-life Religious Council, and the National Pastoral Director of the Silent No More Campaign and of Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry of healing after abortion. He travels to about four states every week, preaching and teaching against abortion. He broadcasts regularly on television, radio, and internet. He was asked by Mother Teresa to speak in India on abortion, and was asked by then-candidate Donald Trump to serve on his Pro-life and Catholic advisory councils. He has served at the Vatican as an official of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which coordinates the pro-life activities of the Catholic Church. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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