If culture is all about babies, as the cardinal proposes, then many of our most uncivil and controversial debates might benefit from our confronting the baby in the room, and our relationship to and responsibility for him or her.
That baby has a dignity that does not come from his mother’s will, or his father’s engagement, or a doctor’s signature. It is inherent. The differences between men and women, which are worthy of embracing and even celebrating, might just speak to us of an order that predates our country, but which we have a stake in supporting, protecting, and encouraging. That order is marriage. It’s for the baby. Who needs us and whom we need.
If we’re willing to reconsider the popular understanding of freedom — which all too often is defined down to license — this is all quite liberating. We’re not made for ourselves. We’re not in this alone.
In How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt observes: “Family and faith are the invisible double helix of society, two spirals that when linked to one another can effectively reproduce, but whose strength and momentum depend on one another.”
She concludes: “It appears that the natural family as a whole has been the human symphony through which God has historically been heard by many people — not the prophets, not the philosophers, but a great many of the rest; and the gradual but now recognizable muffling of that symphony is surely an important and overlooked part of the story of how certain men and women came not to hear the sacred music anymore.”
We want that music playing. Even if we’re in the quiet car, there’s a peace that comes from knowing that it is playing elsewhere, and that we can join the concert already in progress. We need to know it’s there. People can’t quite always hear it, and increasingly, when they do, they are hearing only some pop remix that doesn’t quite reveal the same beauty. Some of us feel called to write chords. Some, to be instruments. Others, patrons. Still others, the supporting audience, drinking the creation in.
The baby. With a dignity, with an actual right to life. What a gift to play a role in his flourishing!
As Eberstadt notes, “Because of the experiences so many have had, it’s hard for an individual to see how exactly any rules have any relevance, how they are anything other than unnatural restrictions and impositions on freedom.” But how about listening to some re-proposals?
John Paul II said that true faith produces culture. In the recently translated On Heaven and Earth, Pope Francis says: “No believer can limit the faith to himself, his clan, his family, or his city. A believer is essentially someone who goes into an encounter with other believers, or non-believers, to give them a hand.”
We need religious liberty because we need people to give us a hand in the renewal of culture. We need people who see clearly and who hear the symphony, who are inspired by the Maker of it all. We might start with Cardinal Dolan’s exclamation points.