The Seamless Garment
As I write this article, the intensity of Holy Week and the awesome mysteries of Easter continue to come to light in my mind and heart. I was blessed to spend Good Friday praying with many others on the Justice Walk in Chicago as we walked through the city and stopped to pray at various Stations of the Cross set up at the Board of Trade, Daly Plaza and other locations and to spend Holy Saturday in a county jail, a societal tomb of sorts, as part of group of volunteers praying with the men and women incarcerated there. The next weekend found me at a conference on restorative justice where a father shared the story of his journey to forgive the young man who had murdered his teenaged son. Again and again, I found the stories of our inhumane treatment of one another in terms of economic injustices, the effects of poverty on our children, the violence in our streets, the lack of respect for the earth’s resources and our drive to punish rather than rehabilitate overwhelming and threatening to the sanctity of human life. And yet, the role of faith and the power of living a life in Christ arose over and over as well. How we do rend and how we might mend the seamless garment of life in our world remains the focus of my prayers. John’s words regarding the division of Jesus’ clothing, “They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down,” provide a fitting image with which to close out this year’s series of JUSTeach articles.
Throughout the year we’ve noted the interwoven function of the core values of Catholic social teaching. As we study any issue it becomes clear that the values are so closely intertwined we cannot entirely separate them from one another. In addition, we see that the seamless garment, the consistent ethic of life, flows from cradle to grave. At every step of the journey, life is sacred. When that sanctity of life is threatened, the values of Catholic social teaching offer us a means to analyze what’s happening, articulate the injustice being committed and, hopefully, envision ways to bring about necessary changes in society so that all life is held sacred. Living out of the foundational value of the life and dignity of the human person can help bring about the lived reality of Resurrection in our world.
The idea of a consistent life ethic is rooted in a solid body of teaching in our tradition. Scripture, Vatican II documents, papal documents and various publications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops among others provide the fertile ground for this growing understanding of the life and dignity of the human person.
The late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin brought the concept of a consistent ethic of life into mainstream focus in 1983 (see Resources) when he linked the horrors of nuclear war and the horrors of abortion under the umbrella of the sanctity of all human life. Since then many have reflected upon the meaning of the consistent ethic of life in terms of understanding other issues that impact human dignity including the death penalty, hunger and poverty, the dignity of dying, euthanasia, and the plight of the uninsured. The sanctity of human life is foundational to Catholic social teaching.
In their publication The Challenge of Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility (See link under Resources) the United States Bishops list ten “Questions for the Campaign.” These questions remain valid tools for reflection in non-election years as well. Use the questions as a starting point for classroom discussion of the dignity of human life. Help students connect the questions and classroom discussions with what you’ve studied this year but allow them to bring in other issues as well. Can students think of any questions that should be added? How about a list of questions for local candidates including school board members, village trustees etc? How about a list for families and schools or classrooms? Or church communities?
Remind students that Jesus offers us the way to overcome the many injustices in our world. Share the words of Pope John Paul II from World Youth Day, 2002”
“By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. With your gaze set firmly on Him, you will discover the path of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world often laid waste by violence and terror. His is a voice of hope, of forgiveness: a voice of justice and peace. Let us listen to this voice."
Genesis 1:26-27 We are created in God’s image
Deut. 30:19 Choose life
Ps. 8:5-7 Human dignity is God-given
John 19:23 The seamless garment
John 21:11 The seamless net
Mt.25: 31-46 It’s Jesus who hungers and thirsts, Jesus we serve in helping others
1Corinthians 15: 22 Christ died for all
-poster boards with an outline of a “seamless garment,” number needed will vary depending upon how you choose to structure the activity
-a list of the issues you and your students have discussed this year
-seven core values of CST (available at http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.html)
-any documents or particular paragraphs taken from the documents which you feel will help your students understand the concept of the sanctity of life and its importance in Catholic social teaching
-newspapers and magazines
Have students work individually or in groups to find pictures and articles, headlines etc. that illustrate the ways in which the “seamless garment” is supported and/or threatened in our culture. Have them create a collage within the outline. Choose quotes from scripture, catechism and/or the documents and write along the outside of the outline of the garment. (You could also use quotes from poems, essays, or other works you’ve studied).Or, put up one very large “seamless garment” and have the class work together over the final weeks of school to make one large collage.
Invite your students to develop a closing prayer ritual for your school year incorporating the “seamless garments” they have created and the various injustices that threaten that seamless garment of our faith. What words of Jesus can they bring into the prayer to show the way to value and uphold the seamless garment?
The following documents contain information pertaining to any discussion of human dignity and the Consistent Ethic of Life and our responsibility to work for justice. You might want to scan the documents and pull out sections to share with your students or get an overview by reading one of the articles speaking about the various documents and then focus in depth on one or two sections of the actual documents. The list is by no means complete, but rather a sampling of available resources.
http://www.osjspm.org/major_themes_dignity.aspx The Office of Social Justice St Paul Minneapolis draws upon several documents and offers quotations on human dignity
1965, Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) Vatican Council II.http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html This document highlights Christian responsibility towards world and our neighbors.
1995, Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) Pope John Paul II.http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html The late Pope John Paul II referred to a culture of death threatening the dignity of human life. This document lays out the foundation for his thinking and the need to return to the Gospel of Life to support the value of human life from womb to tomb.
2005, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death U.S. Bishops . The bishops focus on the death penalty in their discussion of the dignity of life and the need to protect the sanctity of life for all.
2007 Peace Day Message http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html In The Human Person, the Heart of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI sees respect for the life of the human person as foundational to peacebuilding.
http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bernardingannon.html A Consistent Ethic of Life: An American-Catholic- Dialogue The text of Bernardin’s 1983 lecture
http://www.wau.org/about/authors/scullion1.html The Seamless Garment:
http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0798.asp An easy to read introduction to the concept of the consistent ethic of life. It references several documents in the development of the ethic.
http://www.usccbpublishing.org/client/client_pdfs/bulletininsert.pdfThe Challenge of Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility. Scroll down to “Campaign Questions.”
http://www.usccb.org/cchd/epic/www/index.html USCCB toolkit for young advocates wishing to do something to end poverty
Lifegiving God, you created each of us in your own image. We give thanks for the gift of life, our own lives and the lives of people everywhere. As we reflect upon the seamless garment of life in our world, we ask forgiveness for those times when we as individuals or as a group or nation chose words or actions that belittled, humiliated, or wounded another person rather than words and actions that affirmed and protected the sanctity of life. Help us to follow Jesus and to know that whenever we serve others, we are serving him. We ask this in Jesus holy name, Amen.
It’s hard to believe that the school year is coming to a close and that this is the last article of the school year. Look for the first JUSTeach article of the 2007-2008 school year sometime in mid August. May you and your students be witnesses to the sanctity of human life throughout your lives and may you encounter and live out of the Gospel of Life in all your daily activities this coming summer.
Peace and Blessings, Colette Wisnewski