Once again, forces in defense of the dignity of every human life are marshaling. On Jan. 21, hundreds of thousands of Americans from all across the country, including many from the Diocese of Nashville, will gather in the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life.
The march, held each year to mark the anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion and to mourn the more than 62 million lives that have been lost in the ruling’s aftermath, this year will occur in an atmosphere of heightened hopefulness. The Supreme Court appears closer than ever to overturning the precedent set in Roe.
It is indeed a heartening development to consider that once again our laws might recognize the inherent dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. But even if the court were to overturn Roe, our efforts to build a true Culture of Life would still be needed.
Abortion and euthanasia, which are direct attacks on life, are always unacceptable. But Church teaching on the respect for life has always been much broader than those issues alone.
In his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life), St. John Paul II reminded us that society must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment, and in every condition of that person’s life. We are called to care for and protect human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable amongst us.
The value of human life cannot be assessed based on efficiency or productivity. Such a calculation will invariably exclude the elderly, the poor, the disabled and the politically marginalized. Since the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has continually and consistently taught us, through his actions as well as his words, that Catholics are called to bring Christ’s mercy and love to the margins of society, just as Christ did. Our place is beside the poor to feed and shelter and clothe them. It is beside the sick to care for and comfort them. It is beside the elderly to recognize them and honor them. It is beside the sinner to help them find redemption in Christ.
Pope Francis’ message is not new. It is the Gospel message that the Church learned from Christ and has been preaching ever since. In 1998, the U.S. bishops released their statement “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics,” which was inspired by the words of St. John Paul II: “When we preach the liberating message of Jesus Christ, we are offering words of life to the world. Our prophetic witness is an urgent and essential service not just to the Catholic community but to the whole human family.”
In their statement, the bishops wrote that respect for all human life demands a commitment to human rights across a broad spectrum, both in our own country and around the world. Building a culture of life requires combating famine and starvation, the denial of health care and development around the world, the deadly violence of armed conflict and the arms trade that feeds that violence. On our shores, it means addressing the long-lasting and devastating wounds inflicted by domestic violence, substance abuse, dangerous sexual activity, and “a reckless tampering with the world’s ecological balance,” the bishops wrote.
“We live the Gospel of Life when we live in solidarity with the poor of the world, standing up for their lives and dignity,” they added.
We are not only called to accompany those for whom it is easy to feel sympathy, a poor and hungry child, a woman struggling to care for her family, a worker who has lost their job to globalization or technological advances, a lonely elderly person forgotten and ignored by society. “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others,” the bishops wrote. That is why the Church reaches out to those in prison with Christ’s saving grace and why she teaches that the death penalty is always wrong. “The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”
Why does the Catholic Church stand up so strongly and so loudly for life? Because, as St. John Paul II taught us, the Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ saving message to the world. Through the incarnation and birth of Christ, God reveals to us the dignity of all human life.
In his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” St. John Paul II said the human person bears an indelible imprint of God and is the pinnacle of all creation. The source of our dignity is not only linked to our creation by God, but to our final end and destiny to spend eternity with the Father.
So as we witness another March for Life, let us remember that the march to create a true culture of life is a long one that is often difficult. But it is a march that is critical to realizing God’s plan for his children. It is every Catholic’s call to join that march and to do what they can, in acts small and large, private and public, to live the Gospel of Life.