Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting and our Duty to Social Justice

This powerful and timely homily is by Fr. Anselm Ramelow, O.P.

Fr. Anselm is a Dominican Priest and Professor of Philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology here in the Bay Area.

Homily for St. Martin de Porres’ Feast day


Today we celebrate St. Martin de Porres, one of the 3 great Dominican Saints in Lima, Peru in the 16./17. century. He was a simple lay brother, caring for the poor and sick and even animals. So, he was someone who had a heart for what you may call the “underdog” or disadvantaged. He himself was one of those. Being the son of a Spaniard and a black woman, he had to struggle with racial prejudice. While skin color is no reason for either rejection or election, he certainly knew about discrimination. And with all of that he can be seen as a patron of social justice.


But there are other aspects to his life. He had a great love for God in the Eucharist, and he spent long hours and nights in prayer, especially for the souls in purgatory. That is, his sense for social justice was not only of one dimension. It also was giving God his due by worshipping him, and making the just reparations for those who had not given him his due, i.e., by praying for the souls in purgatory.


So let us pause and ask for a moment: what is justice? Justice is to give everyone “his or her due” (suum cuique, as the Latins say). We owe things to our neighbor, and we owe things to God as well. God and neighbor have both rights that we need to respect and serve.

But how do we acquire those rights that make, in justice, claims on others?

Mostly through work: if I do work for an employer, I deserve a just wage. If I plough a field, I have a claim to its fruits. If I make an artifact, I have the rights to it, including things like copyright. If I pick wild berries, they are mine.

But it seems that not all rights are of the kind that is acquired by work. What about the right to health or, most fundamentally, the right to life? This is most fundamental, because, if we do not live, i.e. if we do not exist, we cannot work either, or acquire rights to other things.

So where do we get that right from?

I would suggest that it is actually not we who have the right to our life, because we are not the one who have worked for it. It is God, who worked for it, when he created us. He has the right to our life, and nobody else, neither we ourselves nor the government nor anyone else. That is why murder and suicide are equally a violation of the right to life.


There is a perpetual temptation to undermine this right by playing God ourselves. That might be one of the reasons why people are so intent on making human beings in their image and likeness, by cloning, by IVF, or by genetic engineering. Because, if it seems that you have made it, then it is yours, and you can also unmake, i.e. kill it, whenever you like. It would be your property after all, and you have the rights to it.

This is only one way in which particularly the culture of our age has started to invade and challenge the most fundamental right, the right to life, something that is owned by God and therefore sacred.

If you can challenge this right, you can challenge all the other rights as well. If you think it legitimate to let innocent children die, who survive abortion, what reason can you give, not to torture non-innocent adults or submit them to the death penalty? If you can kill defenseless children, why not armored soldiers even in an unjust war?

That is why being pro-life is not just one issue among others, but the foundation of all of them. This is also why the U.S. bishops list the issue of abortion first in their list of priorities for tomorrow’s election. That is, why the Declaration of Independence lists them in this order "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. You cannot have liberty and happiness unless you have life first. It is also why the bishops ask us to protect the place where this life emerges, marriage and the family; the place where sacred life begins is itself sacred. This is why the bishops urge you to vote Yes on Proposition 8 tomorrow.


It is sometimes said that one should not make one issue decisive, and that there is life after birth as well. And that is certainly true; nobody will deny that. But even many issues after birth are dependent on this right to life. What happens, for example, if a Freedom of Choice Act abolishes the right to conscientious objections for health care personal? Doctors and nurses will have to choose between their job and the eternal salvation of their immortal soul. That, too, is at stake.

But more fundamentally: no, actually, there is no life after birth, if there is no life before birth first! The right to life is and remains the most fundamental right, because without it there are no other rights.


We have a right and duty to speak out on these matters. One cannot accuse the Church (or Pius XII) of not speaking out enough against the genocide of the Nazis (when it was dangerous to do so) and yet ask the Church to be silent (while we still have the right of free speech) in the face of 40-50 millions of abortions since Roe vs. Wade.

These are our brothers and sisters who are killed. We might meet them some day in heaven, and they will ask us, what we have done to protect them, or whether we have rather helped those who kill them.

Don’t think that it is easy for me to say these things; I would rather not have to do it. But I would have to answer these questions myself one day, if I didn’t.

St. Martin de Porres, had he lived today, would have spoken out against it. He would have known that the abortion industry of Planned Parenthood purposefully targets minorities and people of color; he would have known that the abortion rate among black people is disproportionately high. In countries like India and China especially girls are targeted, but always it is the weak, the minorities the disadvantaged and disabled who are targeted. It is for these that St. Martin de Porres would speak up. It is itself a matter of social justice.

It is the blood of our brothers and sisters that is flowing, and it is crying out to heaven – to God, who is the creator and owner of all life. It is the blood that is common to all of us who are children of God, regardless of skin color or age. It is the blood that God not only created, but which he purchased at a great prize by giving for it his own blood on the cross. It puts on us the obligation to defend it, because it is the life of those who God, through his labor, created and redeemed; and it belongs to God alone.


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Anonymous said...

Great homily. A son of St. Thomas!