What are the preeminent life issues?

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By Father Luis Granados, dcjm

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae, an old question reappears in our conversations: Can we still talk about preeminent life issues? Are abortion and euthanasia significantly different from other sins? As we will see, St. John Paul II considered them particularly serious and deplorable. By striking the fundamental relationships of the family – the sanctuary of life – these acts break the basic trust of our society and become the highest expression of the strong oppressing the weak.

In Evangelium Vitae St. John Paul II invites us to love, respect and promote life. The encyclical focuses on two offenses against life: abortion and euthanasia. Two solemn declarations condemn them as intrinsically evil, as the deliberate and direct killing of an innocent human being (EV, 62 and 65). But some argue today that it would be better to focus on other ethical issues like immigration, social injustice or environmental sins, which they claim are just as wrong.

By drawing particular attention to the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia, St. John Paul II doesn’t intend to neglect other aspects of life which deserve careful consideration. However, among the many sins against life, some are graver than others. What makes these two offenses graver than sins against the environment or immigrants, for example?

First of all, in the case of abortion and euthanasia, we are dealing with the direct and intentional killing of the innocent. As such, we are dealing with the irreversible end of the life of the victim and, for that reason, also with the destruction of the heart of the murderer. Other sins against life may involve the injustice of not receiving proper means or protection for living (food, housing, legal documents…), but here we are dealing with life itself.

The second reason is the consideration of the victim: an innocent and fragile human being. In abortion, we have the baby in the womb, the most vulnerable and innocent among the vulnerable, while in euthanasia, we have the elderly and the disabled. In other sins against life, we may have guilty or innocent people, but never someone as vulnerable and as in need as the embryo and the elderly.

Thirdly, the greater gravity of abortion and euthanasia is manifested when we consider the murderer. The physician, the father and the mother, those appointed by God as its keepers, are those who destroy the baby, and are subsequently  morally destroyed. Children are called to honor their elderly parents, but in euthanasia, it is sometimes the children who decide to kill them. In both cases, the relationship between generations, the basic bond that builds our society, is destroyed.

Abortion and euthanasia are graver sins because they corrupt the human heart in a deeper way. They extinguish the most basic relationships within the family and therefore in our society. That’s why St. Teresa of Calcutta said that “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion,” and we could add, euthanasia. Both are a war waged against children and the elderly. What they damage is not only the good of individuals but also the common good.

Finally, abortion and euthanasia are the type of sins that can never be justified. They are intrinsically evil. “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church” (EV, 62). In other sins against life, like immigration, we enter into the realm of prudential decisions: How many immigrants should our country welcome? Under which conditions? But in the case of abortion or euthanasia there is no such deliberation. We are dealing with an action that is always evil: always and in every circumstance (Veritatis Splendor, 52).

What about sins against the environment? In these cases, we are usually talking about indirect actions. Whereby we choose good actions (like flying frequently in order to visit a sick relative or to provide for my family) that may indirectly cause damage to our planet in the long term. We are, of course, responsible of the effects of the actions, sometimes also indirect, but our responsibility is limited to the consequences we can reasonably foresee (and in the measure of our action, not in the measure of the whole effect). The gravity of these sins is significantly smaller than in the case of abortion and euthanasia.

The coronavirus epidemic is helping us be more aware of the preciousness and weakness of human life, especially of the elderly. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer” (Spe Salvi, 38). The coronavirus teaches us about the fragility of our life and our relationships. In moments of sickness we renew our fundamental faith in the One who heals all our diseases. There is, however, something even worse than the coronavirus. That is the afflictions that come not from outside, from the calamities of the world, but from our own evil, free actions. On this 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II passes the baton of the building of a culture of life to us.

COMING UP: Full transcript of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing amid coronavirus pandemic

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Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Ordi blessing delivered on March 27, during which he prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Featured image: Vatican Media