By: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, columnist for The Leaven Catholic Newspaper
Originally published in The Leaven on October 6, 2023
One of the most exquisite artistic features of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, is the stained-glass windows. The seven windows high on the back sanctuary wall depict biblical events that are relevant to the meaning of the celebration of the Eucharist.
One of the biblical scenes portrayed is an angel preventing Abraham from slaying and sacrificing his son Isaac. This event found in the Book of Genesis is shocking. God had promised Abraham that a great nation would come from his descendants. It was in their old age that Sarah and Abraham had finally conceived a child. Why in the world would Abraham ever consider killing his long-awaited son? Why would he think this could somehow be pleasing to God?
You will recall that God asked Abraham to leave his native land and come to what we today call the Holy Land. It includes modern-day Palestine, Israel and parts of Jordan. The Canaanite tribes that inhabited the land worshiped pagan idols, such as Moloch or Baal. Their religions encouraged promiscuous sexual behavior that in its extreme was exemplified by the immorality of the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Human sacrifice was an integral part of their religious rituals — in particular, the sacrifice of children.
God sent his angel to stop Abraham from following the common cultural practice of child sacrifice to make clear that the one, true God does not desire human sacrifice, but abhors it. Part of the mission of the descendants of Abraham was to cleanse the land from the immorality and iniquity of the fertility cults.
The execution of Jesus on Calvary revealed the depth of God’s merciful love for humanity. What God never asked of us, our sin demanded from our heavenly Father — namely, the sacrifice of the Son of God. The amazing love of God for us demonstrated in the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary is made present to us at the celebration of each Mass.
For more than 50 years, the Catholic Church in the United States has designated October as Respect Life Month. During October, we are reminded that each and every human life is sacred because we are made in the divine image.
Just gaze upon a crucifix if you want to see a visual portrayal of the value that God has placed upon every human life — no matter age or stage of development, no matter the level of intellectual or physical abilities, no matter race or ethnicity, no matter rich or poor. In God’s eyes, the embryo in the womb has the same dignity as the elite athlete; the elderly person with dementia is no less valuable than the Rhodes Scholar; the child with Down syndrome has no less worth than a child prodigy. Each and every human life is sacred, not because of what we can do or produce, but because we are a child of God.
Sadly, a form of human sacrifice has arisen in Western secularized society. Children are not sacrificed to a tyrannical god, represented in a pagan idol. We have not returned to fertility cults per se. In fact, in many ways, secular materialism is hostile to fertility, actually fearing there are too many children.
Child sacrifice has returned. We have formed a couple generations of young people to believe sexual intimacy is about pleasure and not an expression of faithful and committed love or embracing the responsibility of caring for a child. We have raised a generation of men who believe that their only responsibility to a child they have fathered is maybe to help pay for the child’s abortion. We have taught a couple of generations of young women that giving life to and nurturing a child is a waste of their talents and energy.
Our hedonistic culture relentlessly pursues many forms of pleasure, especially sexual ecstasy, while denying the meaning of sexual intimacy — the complete physical giving to another that can only be honest when it corresponds to a complete giving of one’s life to the other in the marriage covenant. God designed this most beautiful and sacred form of human love as also the means for a man and woman to be co-creators with God of new human life.
The Creator designed this most profound expression of human love not to be trivialized, as it sadly is today in our hookup culture saturated with pornographic images. The optimum nurturing environment for a child’s growth and maturation is when she has the gift of a mother who loves her father and a father who loves her mother and who together love the child that is a fruit of their love.
Sadly, much of the senseless and oftentimes violent crime in our streets is the result of children growing up without a father to protect and care for them. Children need the example of a virtuous, nurturing father and mother. I grew up in a single parent home. I have great respect for single parents, but this should be the exception, not the rule.
A little more than a year ago, the people of Kansas failed to pass the “Value Them Both” amendment and thus allowed an absurd ruling of the Kansas State Supreme Court to remain. The Kansas Supreme Court asserted that more than 150 years ago, the authors of the Kansas Constitution intended to grant a right for a mother to kill the child in her womb up to the very moment of birth.
What were the consequences of the defeat of “Value Them Both”? The most recent abortion statistics from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed what supporters of “Value Them Both” projected and feared. Kansas now is a Midwest abortion destination state. Overall, abortions in Kansas increased by 57%. Abortions performed on minor girls increased by 49%. Chemical abortions, which are dangerous for the physical, mental and spiritual health of women and lethal for the unborn child, increased by 38%. Abortions on out-of-state residents more than doubled, increasing by a whopping 117%.
Many people from other parts of the country have asked me: How is it possible that Kansas failed to pass the “Value Them Both” amendment and has allowed itself to become the Midwest mecca for unregulated and unlimited abortion? The answer is complex.
Next week, I will attempt to at least partially answer this question, as well as propose a path forward.
Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.