By Dr. David Franks, Chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Life
Memorial Day places pietas before the American consciousness. Piety is the central virtue celebrated by Virgil in the Aeneid, and its supernatural form is one of the Holy Spirit’s sevenfold gifts.
Without piety, there can be no common civic life. Without piety, America cannot be renewed.
As a matter of natural religion (which is amplified in the fullness of religion), piety means honoring the sacred as ramified through the most mundane realities. It is a visceral reverence for God, country, family, and for the divine luminosity in every thing. It is justice with unction and joy. It is the recognition of the true and the holy obscured in the vagaries of time. It is memory of what history and power bear away. It is consecration of what has gone under.
Piety means honoring the dead.
On Memorial Day, we gladly pay what we owe those men and women who died in the military service of our nation, and thus receive further habituation in the indispensable civic virtue of piety.
In the “Gettysburg Address,” President Lincoln leverages piety towards the war dead to train the American people in a rediscovered sense of piety towards the American project of self-government for the sake of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the ideals of liberal democracy: “all men are created equal,” meaning, all human beings have been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Lincoln committed this nation to the necessary project of upholding the right to liberty against the abominations of slavery, as pro-lifers uphold the right to life against the abominations of abortion and euthanasia. In the “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln raises the torch of piety towards the dead to ignite piety towards the victimized living.
He does so with imagery that we pro-lifers should take to heart. This nation “conceived” in the Declaration of Independence must be brought to a “new birth of freedom,” through the labors of a citizenry piously dedicated to the life and liberty of each and every single human being, energized by a piety towards the dead:
“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. …It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s appeal to his fellow Americans is an appeal to an activist piety, a piety we renew on Memorial Day, precisely the same virtue the pro-life movement serves most radically. We expend ourselves to vindicate the equality of the most powerless Americans. Until every human life is recognized as belonging to “the people,” “under God,” liberal democracy is a chimera. We pro-lifers would see a new birth of freedom.