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Leading a consistent ethical life is one of the principal concepts in Cardinal Bernardin's thought. He gives two reasons for personal commitment to such a life – it helps us overcome obstacles that we encounter daily and it provides an enlarged value of our moral vision.

Nuclear war, abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia are impending threats to life. A consistent ethical life manifests the positive potential of the Catholic moral and social tradition. It calls for positive legal action to prevent the killing of the unborn and to promote human dignity through programs for nutrition, health care and housing. Each one of us is called to give his contribution. In its four dimensions, a consistent ethical life works to defend the integrity of moral principles which prohibit attacks on unborn life, direct attacks on civilians in war actions, and intentional killing of patients in nursing homes. Cardinal Bernardin asserts that in an “ethical life” we must examine each case individually and apply moral principles accordingly. Catholics must express their commitment to moral principles in their everyday life, and politicians must make political choices with moral principles in mind. This is true for all public issues, from abortion to “arms racing,” from social programs to foreign policies.

Cardinal Bernardin concludes that the Church legitimately fulfills a public role by articulating a framework for political choices, by relating such a framework to specific issues, and by calling for a systematic moral analysis in all areas of public policies.