The Gospel of Life
It has been a quarter of a century since the landmark encyclical of St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), was released. In that time, the truths contained have become even more poignant and applicable to our concrete individual situations, as well as to society as a whole.
Living the Gospel of Life means living in the heart of our Blessed Lord. The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ saving message to the world. All human life has dignity. This dignity is not dependent upon usefulness; rather, dignity arises from the fact that every human person is made in the image and likeness of Almighty God.
Life is Sacred and Inviolable
Due to the fact that human persons are individually made in the image and likeness of God, “human life, as a gift from God, is sacred and inviolable (EG, 81).” Sacred means “holy,” which means set apart. Inviolable is used by the pope to refer to the gift of human life, which he also uses as a natural human right. Inviolable means literally that it cannot be violated, that it is sacrosanct, untouchable, and uninfringeable.
Humanity and Divinity
When the Eternal Word of God became man and took Flesh, the Son of God united His divinity to our humanity in a permanent way. In the lens of the Divine Person of Jesus, our eternal home of Heaven is revealed. Our humanity has been lifted up, beyond merely our Creation, to being ordered supernaturally to the joy of eternal life. Anything that seeks to supplant God’s power as the Author of Life is therefore always unacceptable, such as abortion and euthanasia.
These attacks on human life are shown to be two of many other attacks on human life in the culture of today, which the Pope calls the “culture of death.” Ever since the first murder, where Cain kills his brother Abel, the human family has been in constant violence and war. The only victory will come, says the Pope, in the invitation to eternal life and by embracing the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Life is a Responsibility
Beyond being only a gift, life is a responsibility. We cannot dispose of human life on our own whim. God is the Author of Life and so it is the responsibility of man to love, cherish, respect, promote, and defend life. Jesus expounds on the prohibition against murder in the Old Testament by calling all to love even their enemies. The Pope says,
“… only when people are open to the fullness of the truth about God, man and history will the words ‘you shall not kill’ shine forth once more as a good for man in himself and in his relations with others (EG, 48).”
The Pope spends a great deal of time in the letter unpacking what is meant by the commandment “You shall not kill.” He reminds the reader that there are moral distinctions in Catholic moral tradition that concerns the legitimacy of self-defense against an unjust aggressor. But he makes the necessary distinctions. This commandment refers to the intentional killing of an innocent human person, of which there are countless examples in our current society.
Abortion and Other Life Issues
The key theme of this encyclical is the evil of abortion. In no uncertain terms, the Pope declares that, “the direct and voluntary taking of all innocent human life [is] always gravely immoral (EG. 57).” He applies this principle to abortion and euthanasia. Abortion is “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth (EG, 58).” This is gravely evil whether willed as an end or as a means. Flowing from the evil of abortion, embryonic stem cell research is likewise illicit.
Euthanasia is defined as “an act or omission which of itself and by intention causes death with the purpose of eliminating all suffering (EG, 65).” This is not, however, aggressive medical treatment, methods of palliative care, or extraordinary means. Euthanasia, properly speaking, is called by the Pope “a grave violation of the law of God (EG, 65).”
If you or someone you love has had an abortion or taken part in procuring an abortion, or been involved with euthanasia, know that God is merciful and loving. He is quick to forgive if we only ask. The only unforgivable sin is the intransigence of denying that God is even able to forgive us. If we acknowledge his power to forgive, have sorrow for sin in our heart, and confess to Him, He will forgive.
To Be Promoted
The gift of life bares a responsibility to man, but it is also a task to be promoted. More than simply “do not kill” the Gospel of Life leads us to establish and develop attitudes and modes of behavior which foster human life and human dignity in order to establish “a new culture of human life.”
The Pope reminds us that the Gospel of Life is at the heart of the Church’s mission of evangelization, which seeks to transform humanity from within and make it new. He says,
“To proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life. Enlightened by this Gospel of life, we feel a need to proclaim it and to bear witness to it in all its marvellous newness… Gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of man impel us to share this message with everyone… We need to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society. (EG, 80).”
The Gospel of Life has to become part of our culture from the top to the bottom. We need to celebrate life in the liturgy, in our prayer life, in our spirituality, in our financial practices, in our occupations, and in the formation of our consciences. We must become to the world a “people for life (EG, 83).”
Take the Time to Give it Read Through!
I cannot recommend highly enough that you take the time to read Evangelium Vitae for yourself. There is so much contained in this document that speaks directly to our current society and calls us to action. We have barely scratched the surface. Take a few days and really take your time reading and praying through it! You will not regret it. I guarantee it.
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