Understanding the church’s ‘seamless garment’

By Steve Schmitz | Special to The Witness

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of columns about Catholic teaching on respect life and social justice issues.

Steve SchmitzDuring this Easter season one Gospel reading that can provide food for thought regarding what compels us to protect life and serve others is John 19:23: “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down.”

In “The Seamless Garment, Writings on the Consistent Ethic of Life,” Cardinal Bernardin articulates a vision for the consistent ethic of life, “I would, however, highlight a basic issue: the need for an attitude or atmosphere in society which is the pre-condition for sustaining a consistent ethic of life.….The purpose of proposing a consistent ethic of life is to argue that success on any one of the issues threatening life requires a concern for the broader attitude in society about respect for human life.”

As Cardinal Bernardin suggests, “Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.” If we are to consider this ethic as a common thread in our daily lives and the living of our faith, then we need to also consider that all issues pertaining to the protection of life and the dignity of human life are seamless and worthy of equal attention.

We are each part of the seamless garment of the Catholic Church. Through our thoughts and deeds the world will see our combined and consistent respect for human life and dignity or lack thereof. If we are to live our faith in a way that demonstrates what we believe, that we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we must look for the image and likeness of God in each other. When we do that, it becomes easier to find within us the desire to help each other, to respect each other for the gifts of the Holy Spirit present in each of us. Perhaps if we pull attention from our iPads and smartphones and raise our eyes to look at the person sitting across from us at the table and recognize that Christ is present in that person we will realize a deeper commitment to their well-being.

To see the broad spectrum of the Catholic Social Teachings through the lens of the seamless garment is to find a common thread of respect for life as God created it, with all its many facets of beauty. Even though each of us may be called to champion a certain cause more explicitly because of our particular Spiritual Gift, we should all be inspired by the same respect for human life and dignity. With a consistent ethic of life approach we can then recognize the value each of us contributes through our work as members of the body of Christ, each fulfilling our unique and blessed role as we are called and gifted.

As citizens, when we are discerning who and what to vote for, we can reflect on the consistent ethic of life and the Catholic Social Teachings to help guide us. A good reference for this thoughtful process is the Forming Consciences Faithful Citizenship document found on the USCCB web site at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/upload/Forming-Consciences-Faithful-Citizenship-bulletin-insert.pdf.

As Respect Life and Social Justice Committees discern what social, political and economic issues they will address, these thoughts can help guide a balanced approach that allows more people to feel comfortable being involved because they feel their gifts resonate with a particular issue. Some people are comfortable with political advocacy, others like to serve in the food pantry, some like to be part of prayer groups and some like to be in the background supporting all these others. There is no shortage of work; however there does seem to be a shortage of workers.

We are called to see Christ in others and to serve them accordingly. Our light can shine in service to others as we move from being “me-centered” to “thee-centered.” With respect for life and human dignity as our consistent ethic in living our life, we will comprehend a deeper conversion experience through service to others.


Schmitz is the Respect Life/Social Justice Director for the Dubuque Archdiocese.


This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.