Lex Cordis Caritas
The Law of the Heart is Love
Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
A priest on pilgrimage in the Holy Land described how he watched two shepherds talking together while their sheep milled around them in the valley beneath him. The sound of their voices carried up to him on the hillside. After a while, the shepherds parted and went off in opposite directions, all the while keeping up a “kind of conversation” with the sheep. To the priest’s astonishment, the sheep separated from one another and sorted themselves out into two flocks, each one going after its own shepherd. It was a perfect illustration, the priest said, of sheep recognizing the voice of their shepherd and following him. We can only marvel at the instinct by which the sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd and did not follow the other one. We see the same instinct at work among penguins, who in a crowd of thousands manage to find their own offspring.
In the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus observes that “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). He is making a claim that we can verify. Every human being, young and old, good and bad, has a conscience. Conscience is, as St John Henry Newman taught, “the voice of God.” For Newman, conscience is a proof of God’s existence. “Every human being has a certain commanding dictate,” he said, “an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others.” If we want to know whether we should do a certain thing we only have to ask ourselves and our conscience will give us the answer. Often enough our conscience prods us before we ask it, warning us not to go down this way or that. More positively, it will lead us where we should go.
Furthermore, what our conscience tells us is confirmed in scripture. The scriptures are the revealed word of God. “The word of the Lord,” the reader proclaims at the end of each reading. There can never be a conflict between what God tells us in our conscience and what God tells us in the scriptures. It is the same voice speaking in two different ways.
But there is what we might call a “false conscience” or an “erroneous conscience,” persuading us that our conscience is nonsense; that the scriptures are untrue; that our faith is unfounded; that we can do whatever we feel like doing. A man once told a priest that he thought God was telling him to leave his wife and marry another woman who was a more devout Catholic. The priest reminded him of the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” What the man thought God was telling him could not have been from God, but was only his own fantasizing.
In this regard, as the national debate rages across our country in light of the malicious leak of the draft of a Supreme Court decision that will apparently overturn the disastrous 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion activists and pro-abortion politicians are trying to convince themselves that abortion is not wrong. For example, President Biden recently contradicted Catholic teaching by asserting that no “mainstream” religion claims to know when human life begins. He stated, “Roe says what all basic mainstream religions have historically concluded, that the existence of a human life and being is a question. Is it at the moment of conception? Is it six months? Is it six weeks? Is it quickening, like Aquinas argued?”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made similar arguments, claiming that, “over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition” [of when human life begins], arguing that St. Augustine said that ensoulment does not occur until 46 days after conception. Biden and Pelosi fail to mention, however, that both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine were opposed to abortion.
Reacting to the news that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin issued a statement referring to abortion as “a critical constitutional right” and calling for legislation to “enshrine into law” the right to choose to have an abortion. While Biden, Pelosi, and Durbin are Democrats, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both Republicans, have introduced their own bill seeking to codify current abortion protections into federal law. These pro-abortion politicians, all of whom are baptized Catholics, but who do not speak authoritatively for the Church, are deluding themselves and their consciences, since the Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as gravely sinful since the earliest times of Christianity. They are listening to the wrong voices. A well-formed conscience, on the other hand, recognizes that human life begins at conception. Modern technology shows us plainly through ultrasound imagery that a fetus is indeed a human baby.
In response to those who say the Church’s teaching on abortion has changed or is of recent origin, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities has issued a fact sheet, noting that “knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time, based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers. Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from a woman's womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely from the man – the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic biology, was unknown. However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church's common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage.”
Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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” (no. 2271).
Many voices speak to us today, very often through the media. But even the most intelligent people can be wrong: not all the opinions we hear are right, so we test them by faith. Saints recognize the inner voice of God with clarity because they habitually listen to it. They are not easily deceived or misled. They trust the teachings of the Church, meditate on the scriptures, and pray, listening to the voice of Jesus, who leads us to the truth and to eternal life. May God give us this grace. Amen.