Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A Summary of Evangelium Vitae

Christmas has become a time when goodwill and fellowship are built up even amongst those who do not share the Christian faith. The generosity of giving, the hospitality of guests, the recognition of the common bond of man enhance the season and highlights our potential. But what happens next? After we dispose of the wrapping paper and wash the mountain of dishes, we are left with the gifts and the memories, the recognition of the flourishing of life itself. That flourishing comes not from a sizable gift certificate. It comes from Christ who made Himself a gift by coming to us from the Father.

The consciousness of the coming of the Son as gift to the world informs the Holy Father’s encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). Even in his earthly existence, the human person and his supernatural vocation reveals the “greatness and inestimable value of human life” (EV 2.1). He observes that there are many assaults leveled against life in general. But the person of Christ illuminates not only the inner depths of the triune God but also the inner depths of the human person. Only in Christ does man discover what he is truly created for. So in union with the Bishops of the world whom he consulted in preparation for writing this encyclical the Holy seeks to bring to light the Gospel of Life.

In Part One of the encyclical, the Holy Father addresses the central crimes against life and the ideologies that inform them. Using the account of the murder of Abel, John Paul reflects upon how Cain’s murderous thinking is still with us. In the Bible, death is anything that diminishes life as well as the physical cessation of life. So slavery, poverty, starvation caused by injustice, prostitution, arms trading, and many other matter come under this definition (cf. EV 8.5). But the Holy Father draws our attention to times of particular vulnerability of life, specifically at its beginning and at its end.

At the beginning of life, abortion and contraception form a particular threat as does artificial reproduction. Abortion and contraception, while being specifically different evils (EV 13.2), are two fruits of the same poisonous tree, the desire to separate procreation from the unifying effect of human sexuality (EV 13.3). Artificial reproduction threatens human life because it treats the child as the product of technology rather than the offspring of conjugal love.

At the end of life, euthanasia threatens the incurably ill and the dying. Euthanasia grows in popularity because of perceived financial benefits or the relieving the suffering of someone we love. The Holy Father dismisses these reasons and points to the loss of the redemptive dimension of suffering as the culprit. “All this is aggravated by a cultural climate which fails to perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs (EV 15.2).”

The roots of this conflict are profound indeed. Among these root causes, the Holy Father places the largest concern upon a distortion of freedom. For the Christian, freedom comes from God as a necessary component of participating in God’s life and plan. For others, and this is the problem, freedom means doing whatever one wants without reference to responsibility or consequence. This distortion of freedom, echoed in Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” leads one to see not a neighbor but an impediment to my freedom and therefore my well being.

In Part Two, the Holy Father examines the specifically Christian claim in reference to the value of life. The testimony of the Sacred Scripture affirms the value of human life. By being created in the image and likeness of God, man is set apart as cooperator with God’s plan. Children represent the concrete sign that God has continued to uphold the people of the Covenant. This represents the foundation. The Grace of eternal life draws our earthly existence upward to its highest dimension. Eternal signifies not just a quality or duration. This life is eternal because it is life with God and in God. It is the life that arises from communion with Christ. Because of this lavish gift then no one is a stranger or an enemy. All are potentially siblings. Therefore, when crimes are committed against life, there are not abstract offenses. They are offenses against my own kin.

In Part Three, the Holy Father draws out specific moral norms from Revelation. The responsibility to defend life falls upon all people. No one can exempt themselves from this moral reality. The Holy Father reaffirms the consistent teaching of the Church: the voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57.4). It can never be sanctioned and cannot be used as a means to achieve a greater good.

Amongst these instances, the Holy Father specifically mentions abortion as possessing “characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable (EV 58.1)” At the same time, the Holy Father demonstrates the great compassion the Church has for women who have undergone an abortion, observing that abortions are often forced upon women due to various circumstances. Euthanasia receives treatment under a similar rubric. The question of the legitimate uses of self-defense and the death penalty are dealt with in some detail.

Of great importance is the connection of the moral law with the civil law. The Holy Father, in conformity with the Church’s tradition, rejects the secularized solution of excluding moral truth from the creation of common law. Without moral truth, the common law becomes not a protection of freedom but the tool of oppression.

In Part Four, John Paul sets out a brave new vision of the future, the building of the culture of life. It begins with evangelization. We are a people ransomed and restored to life. We live within the Church of the Apostles, and just as they were sent so too are we sent. This spreading of the Gospel of life begins by honoring and respecting the gift of life in all the forms it manifests itself. This means care in families, care of families, solidarity with the poor, the imprisoned, the ill, the dying, the immigrant, the alien. The Holy Father encourages the Church not only to defend life but to permit it to flourish. Education and health care are realms marked out for particular work.

This is where the Gospel begins and ends, the gift of Life. It begins with life as it is received from God. It ends with life as we hope for participation in eternal life in Heaven. Along the way, we pave the road of human history with our choices for life or against it. From generosity in welcoming life, from hospitality in nurturing it, from the bond that holds all of us together, the tiniest embryo to the sagest elder, we can construct a more sane future and holier society at large.

To Live is To Change

Ever have that moment where you knew nothing would ever be the same? For the Christian, it happens the moment he encounters Christ. St. Anthony (251–356) would become a noted spiritual director and the father of eastern monasticism. But first he had to undergo a change. When his parents died, he was left with extensive land and great wealth, as well the care of his sister. But coming to church on Sunday, he heard the words Christ addressed to the rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt. 19:21; Mk. 10:21; Luke 18:22). For Anthony, these were not just words off the page; those words were addressed to him. Afterwards, he sold everything, holding back only enough as he thought necessary for himself and his sister. Most people would think that Anthony had done enough. But then on another occasion, Anthony went to church, the words of Christ, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Mt. 6:34) struck home. Anthony disposed of the remaining wealth. He placed his sister with a group of women who were living a common life of prayer and sacrifice for the Lord. With this final duty dispensed, he set out to live a life for Christ alone. What permitted this remarkable change to occur? Anthony’s willingness to change permitted it to occur.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, advises that one must “[p]ut to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry... But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth...Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:5-13). There exists a clear dividing line between the ways of the world and the ways of Christ. If one does not leave behind the things of the previous life, the life before the encounter with Christ, one can wonder what kind of encounter it was. Our actions have concrete meaning that communicate the basic elements of what we believe to be important. The person who recognizes the gratuitous nature of God realizes that this places a serious obligation to renounce those things which are contrary to living in Christ.

Our actions can signal from where our happiness arises. In the canonical Gospels, the Beatitudes are recorded twice, once in St. Matthew and once in St. Luke. The set from Matthew is probably the ones with which we are more familiar. In St. Luke, the Beatitudes are matched with a set of warnings. “But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:24-26). In short, if one clings to the goods of this world to the neglect of the source of these goods and the service of one’s neighbor, there is not a happy future in store. The only way out is to change. Learning how to give to those in need because we are needy begins the movement toward Christ. Learning how to share the sorrows of others leads us to see, perhaps for the first time, that they are just like us. Learning how to speak the words that will rouse a weary soul to seek redemption in Christ, despite the unpopularity of the message, brings into play all of the talents we have received from God.

The most fundamental disposition of the serious disciple of Christ is the willingness to change. We are called to change not because something new and improved has come into view. This is the modern obsession with novelty. We change because someone has demanded new things of us and has given us the power to make them happen.