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Well Grounded

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

Pope John Paul’s encyclical The Gospel of Life, released on 30 March, contains both an impassioned plea for respect for human life, dignity and rights and a clear exposition of absolute and unnegotiable values which must be the basis for all practical moral judgments.

Immediately some people reacted to the Pope’s teaching by saying, “Well, that’s his point of view, but I don’t agree.”

That, of course, is exactly what the encyclical was all about. The Holy Father was teaching strongly that not everything is relative.

God made us to be free, so we’re free to make whatever choices we wish – but, not all choices are equal. Some choices are right and some choices are wrong.

In the contemporary world, what seems preeminently acceptable is to build your life on shifting sands. The one who chooses to stand on certain and solid ground is criticized as rigid, old-fashioned and closed-minded.

The book of Exodus tells how, when Moses first came to Mount Sinai, God appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As Moses approached, God told him “the place where you stand is holy ground.”

It was later, at that same mountain, that God made a covenant with Moses and the children of Israel and gave them a code to live by – the Ten Commandments.

Before Sinai, the value of human life and respect for human dignity and rights was a matter of the customs of each society or of the will and decisions of each ruler.

After Sinai, the value of human life and respect for human dignity and rights was a matter of the revealed will of God.

Now, as we confront anguishing decisions involving respect for human life, dignity and rights – whether they concern mothers at risk or unborn children, threatened regimes or oppressed peoples – we have certain, solid and holy ground on which to take our stand.

To be well-grounded does not give us automatic or infallible solutions to all problems. But, it does give us clear and sure principles to utilize in the search for those solutions.

I don’t know how best to overhaul the American welfare system, but I do know that you and I may not be indifferent to the stranger in great need whom we encounter on our path.

I don’t know how best to achieve peace in Bosnia or Azerbaijan, but I do know that to violate, maim or kill any innocent man, woman or child is certainly and always inadmissible.

Even if we have no solutions to offer we shouldn’t be afraid to witness to the principles which guide us in finding them.

When Moses led the people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, he brought them to the holy ground that had been revealed to him.

On that holy ground they discovered the rules which would ensure their freedom and found the principles to shape their lives.

We are their heirs. That is our inheritance.

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



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