On March 25, St. John Paul II’s landmark papal letter “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”) marked its 25th anniversary. Addressing society’s devolving opinion on issues such as abortion, contraception and euthanasia, “Evangelium Vitae” resoundingly reaffirmed the dignity of each person and emphasized the Church’s role in upholding the primacy of life.
A quarter-century has passed, and attacks on life continue with alarming frequency. As each attack further darkens our society, we — the Church — must carry the light of life preached in St. John Paul’s “Gospel of Life.”
In solidarity with our neighbors and in service to the Church, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of life unceasingly in both word and action. We must ensure that neither civil law nor public opinion runs contrary to the truth embedded in the hearts of all people — that life at every stage is to be loved, cherished and respected.
Throughout “Evangelium Vitae,” St. John Paul compares the Gospel of life to the “culture of death.” While the Gospel of life affirms the dignity of each person, the culture of death denies human dignity. Failing to recognize each person’s intrinsic worth, the culture of death values individual persons inasmuch as they are deemed useful.
This judgment based on utility leads to “a war of the powerful against the weak.” The powerful discard the weak who are perceived to be a burden or useless — an act that is devoid of solidarity and a recognition of human worth. Such discarding is evident in abortion and physician-assisted suicide, wherein the victim is weak and the victim’s family does not serve its actual purpose as “the sanctuary of life.”
St. John Paul also cautioned that prenatal screenings be used only for legitimate medical purposes, and not as a tool in eugenics. Yet, in the United States, best estimates indicate that over two-thirds of children diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome are aborted. This tragedy reflects a culture that sees an atypical life as a burden rather than a gift.
The culture of death extends through the whole of life, especially with the threat of physician-assisted suicide. St. John Paul states that end of life decisions have the potential to be “marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and (which) sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome.”
The culture of death has harmed our elderly community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with estimates listing 79% of COVID-19 deaths as having occurred in Minnesota’s long-term care centers due at least in part to recovering patients being sent there and then spreading the virus in the community. The concentration of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes suggests that we must re-evaluate how to provide better care for the elderly.
As the culture of death darkens our society, we look to our Lord, the best example and light of the Gospel of life. As St. John Paul said, “Truly great must be the value of human life if the Son of God has taken it up and made it the instrument of the salvation of all humanity!”
In humbling himself to come to us in human form and undergoing immense suffering for us in his Passion, Christ shows the inestimable value of human life: He ennobles it and challenges the belief that it be discarded because of its limitations, stage of development or usefulness.
We, too, can participate in Christ’s ennobling work.
By supporting mothers and families during pregnancy, we affirm that life is a blessing, not a burden, and uphold the Gospel of life. By standing in solidarity with those receiving end-of-life care and supporting legislation that promotes legitimate improvements in end-of-life care, such as palliative care or hospice, we are visible witnesses to the Gospel of life.
Minnesotans also stand at the edge of a decision to support or condemn the culture of death, as bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide have been introduced in Minnesota’s Legislature every year since 2015. This legislation hasn’t passed, and we should ensure it doesn’t.
When we take “Evangelium Vitae” to the public square, we bring to light where the culture of death has seeped in and caused harm. In confronting this darkness with the light of the truth, that human life is valuable and must be protected at every stage and in every capacity, we become the visible and vocal reminders needed to turn hearts back to serve the good of all.
Lawlis is policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM WEEK
Religious Freedom Week began June 22, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. During this time, join fellow Catholics to pray, reflect and take action on religious liberty in the United States and abroad. All people desire to know their Creator. All people have a natural impulse to seek the good and to live in accordance with that good. All people can flourish when they pursue the truth about God and respond to the truth. Religious freedom means that all people have the space to flourish. Religious freedom is both an American value and an important part of Catholic teaching on human dignity. When we promote religious freedom, we promote the common good and thus strengthen the life of our nation and the community of nations.
Learn more at usccb.org/religiousfreedomweek.