In 1995, then Pope John Paul II issued one of his most significant encyclicals of his papacy entitled, Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life.” He draws the contrast between a culture of life and a culture of death to raise our consciousness about the the various ways a consumerist and relativistic society can lead to the death of truth and an objective morality. Recognizing the challenges that face us, we are called to greater acts of charity that honor the dignity in individuals throughout the course of our lives:
At the first stage of life, centers for natural methods of regulating fertility should be promoted as a valuable help to responsible parenthood, in which all individuals, and in the first place the child, are recognized and respected in their own right, and where every decision is guided by the ideal of the sincere gift of self… When life is challenged by conditions of hardship, maladjustment, sickness or rejection, other programs-such as communities for treating drug addiction, residential communities for minors or the mentally ill, care and relief centers for AIDS patients, associations for solidarity especially towards the disabled-are eloquent expressions of what charity is able to devise in order to give everyone new reasons for hope and practical possibilities for life… And when earthly existence draws to a close, it is again charity which finds the most appropriate means for enabling the elderly, especially those who can no longer look after themselves, and the terminally ill to enjoy genuinely humane assistance and to receive an adequate response to their needs, in particular their anxiety and their loneliness (Evangelium vitae, no. 88)
During the month of October, the Church asks us to remember the dignity of life from conception to death echoing what Joseph Cardinal Bernardin called the “consistent ethic of life.” This phrase captures the numerous ways our faith calls us to serve the needs of others at every stage of life: when we see others hungry, or imprisoned, or without shelter we recall the corporal works of mercy in the spirit of calling each other “neighbor.” It is also helpful to consider how our words can cause death to values such as honesty. To be affirming and strength-based builds a culture of life; to gossip and insinuate can lead to a culture of death. When our words and actions are directed at particular segments of our society, they can take on a new challenge altogether.
In some ways, arguing for the rights of the unborn and the dying can be morally straightforward: both groups are society’s most vulnerable and demand a voice. By living out our baptismal promise to thrive in community with one another, our social support programs can be tested when faced with dignity of life challenges to the child who deserves an education or a single parent who is entitled to a just wage or the prisoner who deserves a new trial. All of these are culture of life issues that call us to remember that “pro life” is not limited to a singular moral issue; rather, it is to promote and model what St. John Paul II wrote about almost 25 years ago. To cite the words attributed to the early Church Father St. John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE), “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”
If we work to find dignity in everyone, in every stage of life, then perhaps we are well on our way to building a culture of life that honors the diversity inherent in being made in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps by starting with great acts of charity, we come to know God through our neighbors who do not look, act, or speak “like us” but rather point us to live lives of true holiness.
It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!