Resurfacing Bernardin’s “Seamless Garment”

The adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” seems an apt introduction to offering a few thoughts about being a Catholic during an election year.  Once again, the vitriol around what it means to be “pro-life” plays out in family conversations, church homilies and diocesan challenges.  I hesitate to even offer a few thoughts on this knowing the extremely strong feelings and opinions that are out there on this issue, but I feel compelled to dismantle a misconception, if I am able.  “Pro-life” cannot only be about overturning Roe v. Wade.  The teachings of Jesus and the Tradition of the Church advocate for an overarching valuing of life.

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, of beloved memory, reminded us in the 1980s that the Gospel message advocates for a consistent ethic of life, a “seamless garment” from the “womb to the tomb.”  This includes doing everything we can to diminish the number of abortions in our country, of course.  It also calls faithful people to recall the core of our Catholic social teaching which raises up the immense value of all life, particularly human life, and the inherent, unconditional dignity of all people.

If I am going to encourage a young woman to bring her child to term, I also need to imagine with her how she will support that child, economically, emotionally and in all other ways necessary for human thriving.  I must value the life of that unborn child when s/he is from a different country, of a different religion, economically disadvantaged, an immigrant, of a different race and even when s/he understands her/himself as “queer.”  I need to continue valuing that life when s/he is 15 or 20 years old and acts out of anger or hurt, falls into bad choices and maybe even ends up in jail or prison.  “I was in prison and you visited me” wasn’t a suggestion by Jesus; it was a command to love every person as a sister or brother, a daughter or son, made in God’s image.  Being made in God’s image does not end at birth but continues on to natural death, hopefully many years later.

I am not an economist, but I have read and heard it from many reputable sources that when our economy is on good footing, abortions decline.   Let’s work on ensuring that all people in the United States have what they need regarding nutritional food, safe communities, quality education, just wages and career opportunities that are fulfilling.  This way, ending an unborn life won’t even be considered but the child can be welcomed and supported by parents, family and community.

Beyond expanding our understanding of being pro-life, I’m very much hoping that people of different views can stop being demonized.  I’ve heard it from young people on Facebook and people working for the church that some vehemently and often judgmentally insist on a particular perspective and a particular interpretation of being “pro-life,” but again, a faithful Catholic values children, women, men, people of all colors and experiences, peaceful solutions (“put away your sword”), and creation.  Even if we have a different view, let us put away incivility and put on love, for God is love and we were made in God’s image.  I say it again: let us value and honor all life from the womb to the tomb in our decisions, political and otherwise, in the way we treat one another and live out each day.

About Dr. Christie Billups

Dr. Christie Billups is an assistant professor of Theology, Director of Pastoral Ministry, and Director of Service Learning at Lewis University. She has co-founded and co-directs the new Peace Studies Minor. She has been a practical, pastoral theologian in both academia and ministry in schools, jails, parishes, and hospitals. Some topics may include ministry with LGBT youth, juvenile justice, confronting racism, restorative justice and prison ministry.

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