And they seem to have lost a lot of mail as well. How many lay people, one wonders, have read any of the letters that popes have addressed to them over the years? For that matter, how many Catholics can give a sensible account of basic Church teachings on matters as close to them as the Eucharist and human sexuality, let alone the lay apostolate? If few can do so, it is not for lack of communications from Rome. Building on Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno, the fathers of Vatican II reminded the lay faithful that it is their particular responsibility “to evangelize the various sectors of family, social, professional, cultural, and political life.”
One might add in fall 2009, how many were confused about press interpretations of the latest papal encyclical and never bothered reading it in dismay? How many Catholics were disappointed and distracted or led astray by the prominent Catholic funeral celebration the late abortion advocate Ted Kennedy received?
Glendon went on to quote Pope John Paul II:
In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, to take just one example, he renewed the call to the social apostolate, emphasizing “the preeminent role” of the laity in protecting the dignity of the person, and asking “both men and women . . . to be convinced of . . . each one’s individual responsibility, and to implement — by the way they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions, and by personal commitment to national and international undertakings — the measures inspired by solidarity and love of preference for the poor.” He spelled out the implications of the lay vocation for contemporary Americans with great clarity in Baltimore in 1995: “Sometimes witnessing to Christ will mean drawing out of a culture the full meaning of its noblest intentions. . . . At other times, witnessing to Christ means challenging that culture, especially when the truth about the human person is under assault.”
The truth about human life is that some deadly choices have been made and continue to be. The truth about human nature is that in the years since the warnings of Humanae Vitae, much damage has been done to our understanding of our duties to human dignity.
Calling Mary Ann Glendon “a real confessor of the faith” in remarks before the opening prayer at the dinner, New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan emphasized that when it comes to the dignity of human life, “We are in grave peril, and we should know better.” With examples like Ambassador Glendon, who chose to do her part to build a culture of life, more will.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.