Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Evangelium Vitae / The Gospel of Life

Full of truth and light, this 1995 encyclical letter of Pope John Paul the Great is essential reading for all who desire a civilization of life and love. By calling evil by its true name, the Holy Father gives us the power to overcome it.

It was in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) that Pope John Paul coined the terms "culture of death" and "culture of life" that have since become common parlance. He explains:
we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of life". We find ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the midst of" this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. (n. 28)
Among the many valuable insights that the Holy Father offers are the following:
  • The culture of death is that which offers death as a "solution" to societal problems. It is like "curing" illness by killing the patient.
  • God did not make death ... Death came into the world as a result of the devil's envy (n. 7)
  • The culture of death "is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency." In other words, instead of focussing on each human being as a person made in God's image, the focus becomes what can this person do -- the value of his life becomes dependent on his ability to do something.
  • There exists a tremendous contradiction between the solemn affirmation of human rights on the one hand, and the practical attacks against the fundamental right to life in the very same societies.
  • Among the roots of this contradiction are subjectivity, a false notion of individual freedom opposed to proper solidarity, and secularism.
  • "the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man [is] the eclipse of the sense of God and of man ... when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life" (n. 21)
Yet, ultimately, he offers a message of hope, the message of the Gospel itself:
It is from the blood of Christ that all draw the strength to commit themselves to promoting life. It is precisely this blood that is the most powerful source of hope, indeed it is the foundation of the absolute certitude that in God's plan life will be victorious. ...

In effect, signs which point to this victory are not lacking in our societies and cultures, strongly marked though they are by the "culture of death". (n. 25-26)
Finally, he calls every Christian to work for the culture of life:
To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.

There can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person's dignity and without respect for his or her rights.

Nor can there be true peace unless life is defended and promoted. (n. 101)
The battle lines are drawn. Which side will we choose?

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