When I was a child of grade school age we were taught the word 'rights' along with another important word - "responsibilities'. The good Sisters at Christ the King emphasized to us that which each right came a corresponding responsibility - to be good citizens, to be respectful of legitimate authority, to protect the weak, to care for the poor and most importantly to honor God in all we do.
Somewhere along the way the relationship between 'right' and 'responsibility' has been lost. It is my assertion that it was lost for two reasons:
- authority overplayed its hand
- we have confused 'right' with 'because I want to'
Catholics believe that legitimate authority originates with God (CCC 1902). We also believe that a person dedicated to serving God works hard to ensure that people they are leading are treated with respect, mercy and justice because that is what God asks of them. The leader is trying to be LIKE CHRIST and so their management style, their means of communication, the very laws they will propose for the community are going to reflect that effort. We do not expect our leaders to be perfect; rather, we expect them to TRY to be perfect knowing all the while that they will fail. This, we believe, is the very acme of humility - trying our best to be perfect while knowing there will be no way on God's green earth we will achieve that goal.
In my opinion, because power was abused and/or neglected, we as a people have lost confidence in the institutions we once looked to for guidance. We are wary of The Church because of the Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal. We do not trust politicians because of "Pick A Scandal". We do not like police because of brutality and/or unanswered questions. 'Authority' overplayed its hand and today we are less likely to accept anything on its face value.
We have also confused our 'rights' with 'because I want to' and that has lead to a mishmash of ideas of what we, as humans in American Society, have a right to do. No matter what anyone says, no matter how you want to paint it or color outside the lines, no one has the RIGHT to do something that is evil. It may be my body, my house, my life but I do NOT have the right to use it in such a way as to harm another person.
This is nothing new. We have built society on this foundation - what is the common good (CCC 1905)? It is the common good to not allow people to walk up to random neighbors, knock them down and take their stuff. It is not conducive to the common good to ignore the red light at the intersection. It supports the common good to protect the most vulnerable members of our society so that we are not stepping over dead bodies in the street.
For Catholics, this means recognizing our importance to each other. We are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. My attendance at Sunday Mass is not just a fulfillment of a personal obligation to Jesus Christ; rather, it also bolsters the strength and harmony of all Baptized Catholics throughout the world. When I obey and accept the authority of Holy Mother Church in ALL things, I am helping those members who are dying in areas where to do just that can mean martyrdom. When I sin, I hurt my brother and sister in New York, Australia, Israel, Nigeria - in other words, what I do matters in the grand scheme of things.
Years ago I saw this as a horrible idea - I am NOT responsible for YOU - while today, as I mature in my love for Jesus and His Church I see it as this marvelous thing. I am a marble in a beautiful mosaic of life here on earth. My actions, my words, my behavior matters in ways I never thought possible - I am a ripple on water, a soft breeze or a raging windstorm...I am a member of something much greater than just me, just Leslie.
If I chose each day to keep my eyes on the prize of heaven, then I can contribute to your happiness. If I remember that my sins affect you, then I can care for you in a way that far exceeds my expectations. If I keep in mind that being a woman of grace and dignity is important for all people and not just me then I will have a greater reason than my own personal comfort to continue to try to be Like Christ every day.