It has been 25 years since St. John Paul II released his landmark encyclical Evangelium Vitae – The Gospel of Life – which made a significant contribution to the Church’s understanding of how each person’s human dignity is to be valued. Over the years since its publication, the world has witnessed a steady erosion of the laws and common societal beliefs that have safeguarded this God-given dignity, from changes to what the state recognizes as marriage, to how we treat the elderly, to the continued destruction of the unborn child. Pope Francis has joined his voice to this teaching by emphasizing the inherent value of the unborn and the elderly as he speaks strongly against our throwaway culture throughout the world.
I have always appreciated the clear and prophetic nature of Evangelium Vitae. Indeed, the current threat of the COVID-19 virus will be a defining moment in how our society treats each person’s dignity. Will we “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life” (EV, 5) in the way that we respond, or will we only look out for ourselves? Will we respect the life of the elderly as much as the young?
St. John Paul II has words of wisdom for us on this choice: only in the first direction “will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!” (EV, 5). Only when countries follow the Gospel of Life, will true and lasting peace come.
In this edition of the Denver Catholic, you will notice two articles by priests from our archdiocese who are moral theologians, Fathers Luis Granados and Angel Perez. Each article addresses a challenge to human dignity that we face today.
In his article, Father Perez underscores that the dignity and value of each person is rooted in being made in God’s image and likeness. Today we see the devaluing of the person in the widespread adoption of the belief that truth is relative and determined by each person. Evangelium Vitae warns that this way of approaching life leads to people inevitably reaching the point of rejecting one another as obstacles in the way or tools to be used for one’s self-satisfaction. (Cf. EV, 20).
Father Granados tackles another idea coming into vogue in his article on abortion and euthanasia as the leading threats against human life. Some have advanced the argument that climate change or immigration are assaults against human life that are just as morally serious as abortion and euthanasia. But these issues are qualitatively and morally different. Among the differences he highlights are the fact that an unborn child is innocent, that these acts involve the direct and intentional taking of life, and that killing the unborn, elderly and disabled corrupts the heart of the person who wills or participates in causing their death, in a way that destroying the environment does not.
The seriousness of these weighty topics emphasizes the significant challenges that we face. As St. John Paul II says, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence.” (EV, 21). We have seen the progressive darkening grow especially in the last 10 years with physician-assisted suicide, the re-definition of marriage, and a few bishops, even more sadly, since they should know better, arguing against abortion being a preeminent issue in voting.
We are called as believers in the Resurrection and as people redeemed by Jesus to enter this darkness with the light of the Gospel. In the reading from John’s Gospel this past weekend, Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man, and many are spiritually blind today. Jesus desires to open their eyes if they put their faith in him. Jesus teaches us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae, the closing words of St. John Paul II ring out all the more loudly, “To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.” It is good in this time of the coronavirus to remind ourselves of this hope, and continue to build an “authentic civilization of truth and love.”
May our Lady of the New Evangelization intercede for us during these trying times and help us be attentive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to see how we can uphold the dignity of each person from the moment of conception until natural death.