Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) is a reflection on the Gospel of Life, which has its source and goal in Jesus Christ, the Beginning and the End. Life is a gift and should be defended as part of the truth about man and God.
The Encyclical is an appeal to all individuals and peoples, believers and non-believers, to promote the culture of life against the culture of death.
It is a summons to hearts and releases the forces of good in defense of human life.
It is a call to a deep and courageous conversion that challenges the persons and institutions that promote the culture of death.
The Holy Father deserves a great Pro-Life Movement. We should support him and generally mobilize as Soldiers of Christ totally consecrated to Life in spiritual warfare with the culture of death armed with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and fortified by the Sacraments, prayer, fasting and Eucharistic adoration.
The Encyclical must not just be read but must be studied in order to formulate specific tactics for us to act upon and to implement the Holy Father’s general strategy for life. The great Victory for life is about to be won but it depends on the response of each one of us. Let us at least help the Holy Father to establish his proposed Day for Life. Many countries have established March 25, Feast of the Annunciation as a Day for Life. It reminds us that life begins at conception and the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus Christ, the Life, on that day.
Here are some excerpts from the Pope’s Encyclical.
The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Everyone can recognize the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.
The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.
Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.
The present Encyclical is a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!
The Gospel of life, proclaimed in the beginning when man was created in the image of God, for a destiny of full and perfect life is contradicted by the painful experience of death which enters the world and casts its shadow of meaninglessness over man’s entire existence. Death came into the world as a result of the devil’s envy and the sin of our first parents. And death entered it in a violent way, through the killing of Abel by his brother Cain.
After the crime, God intervenes to avenge the one killed. God cannot leave the crime unpunished. Whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God Himself.
And yet God, who is always merciful even when He punishes, pledges to guarantee that not even a murderer loses his personal dignity. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth.
Contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being.
The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life, actually open the door to new threats against life. They are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from the fully human context of the conjugal act.
To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance; that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Jn 8:34.
We are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life.” We find ourselves not only “faced with” but necessarily “in the midst of” this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. “Choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” Dt 30:15, 19.
Man’s life comes from God; it is His gift, not a right! His image and imprint, a sharing in His breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills. God Himself makes this clear to Noah after the Flood: “For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting…and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life.” Gn 9:5.
But God does not exercise this power in an arbitrary and threatening way, but rather as part of His care and loving concern for His creatures. “God did not make death, and He does not delight in the death of the living. For He created all things that they might exist.” Wis 1:13-14.
It is precisely in their role as co-workers with God who transmits His image to the new creature that we see the greatness of couples who are ready “to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.”
Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, and infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself of herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action.
The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore, from that same moment, his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.
A person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic excommunication. The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed. In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
The use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person.
This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human embryos and fetuses – sometimes specifically “produced” for this purpose by in-vitro fertilization – either to be used as “biological material” or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases.
Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.
Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called “aggressive medical treatment”, in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death.
Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.
I propose that a Day for Life be celebrated each year in every country. The celebration of this Day should be planned and carried out with the active participation of all sectors of the local Church. Its primary purpose should be to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church and in civil society recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition.
Our support and promotion of human life must be accomplished through the service of charity, which finds expression in personal witness, various forms of volunteer work, social activity and political commitment.
To this end, appropriate and effective programs of support for new life must be implemented, with special closeness to mothers who, even without the help of the father, are not afraid to bring their child into the world and to raise it. Similar care must be shown for the life of the marginalized or suffering, especially in its final phases.
It requires a continuous promotion of vocations to service, particularly among the young. It involves the implementation of long-term practical projects and initiatives inspired by the Gospel.