Prof. Michael Baxter of Notre Dame's Theology Department gave the opening remarks for last night's Bread of Life dinner in the Oak Room of the South Dining Hall, sponsored by the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life and organized by the Center for Ethics and Culture. Hosted each semester since the spring of 2009, the dinner welcomes both students who are already committed to the Church's teachings on beginning of life ethical issues, and students who are on the fence or uncommitted to the Catholic Church's position, for frank discussion after a short address by a faculty member.
Prof. Baxter's reflection was entitled "Ethics, Culture, and Life at Notre Dame: A View from the (true) Center" and considered the consistent and holistic approach Catholics must take to all ethical issues, given the fact that we worship Jesus Christ who is both Author of Life and Prince of Peace. He said that the pro-life movement loses credibility if it does not also condemn harm done to innocents in war, xenophobia towards immigrants, torture, and the death penalty. He challenged the students to take such a consistent approach to their social and political positions, and to resist the tenor of our contemporary political discourse that generates false dichotomies of ethical commitment and tries to divide citizens between the boxes of 'liberal' and 'conservative.' He also urged everyone to become more open to the claims that others make upon their lives, particularly the moral claim that every child in the womb makes upon his or her mother's life to be nurtured and protected. Citing the influence of Fr. Jim Burtchaell, CSC, and Stanley Hauerwas, both former Notre Dame professors, he told the story of his own conversion to becoming convinced of the right to life, saying that the obviousness of the fact that life begins at conception and is an undeniable gift from God finally won him over: no pregnant woman says "my fetus kicked me," when she feels her child moving in the womb, but rather "my baby kicked me."
He also told three beautiful stories that students in his classes had shared with him, in which they or one of their brothers or sisters were threatened with abortion. In each case, their mothers chose to carry their babies to term, even though it meant a significant risk to the life of the mother; one mother even sadly lost her life to cancer while refusing chemo drugs in order to safe the life of her child; her child was born healthy while she herself died two months later. For these students, it was unthinkable that they or their siblings might never have been allowed to be born, and they could recognize organically, without any polarizing political debate, that welcoming the life that God blesses us with, no matter what the cost, is what we are called to embrace as human beings.
The students left with copies of Evangelium Vitae and much to think about as they engage in the most complex political and moral debates of our time.