Monday, September 30, 2013

John Paul II and the Culture of Life

By Kim Daniels

“Be not afraid!” were Karol Wojtyla’s first words as Pope John Paul II, a fitting opening to a papacy that would confidently engage the world, unafraid to proclaim the Gospel even at its most countercultural.

And perhaps nothing was more countercultural than Blessed John Paul’s consistent efforts to promote a culture of life. He reminded us that we aren’t called to accommodate ourselves to our tired and often isolating culture, but to bring that culture the good news that there’s a life-affirming alternative. He challenged us to witness to the fullness of our faith, as in these words in 1998 to American bishops visiting Rome:

“Today I believe the Lord is saying to us all: do not hesitate, do not be afraid to engage the good fight of the faith (cf. I Tim 6:12). When we preach the liberating message of Jesus Christ we are offering the 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.”

Amidst a culture that valorizes the powerful, the wealthy, and the “successful,” John Paul called on us to stand with the voiceless and vulnerable wherever we encounter them. And he reminded us that no one is more voiceless and vulnerable than the unborn and the elderly, and that in our culture, "the right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death" (Evangelium Vitae,18). Because “human life, as a gift of God, is sacred and inviolable,” “procured abortion and euthanasia are absolutely unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected with loving concern.” (EV, 81).

For a culture of life to take root, in other words, we must work towards a culture of love as well. We’re called to stand up for the dignity of all, especially the weakest among us: for unborn children and for their mothers; for the elderly and the sick; for all those without a voice. John Paul appealed to us “to work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.” (EV, 6)

This message is taking root. Young people, having seen their own sonogram pictures, are increasingly pro-life. The March for Life attracts hundreds of thousands to Washington each year, and it’s becoming widely recognized that those who stand for life are winning hearts and minds. Networks of pregnancy care centers offer material, emotional, and spiritual support to women in need, standing with them when too often no one else will.

Pope Francis has offered his own powerful witness to building a culture of life. Here’s then-Cardinal Bergoglio on standing with unborn children and their mothers:

"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage," Cardinal Bergoglio told his priests. "These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

This is a model for answering Blessed John Paul’s call to build a culture of life today: by offering the love of Jesus to all those we encounter, welcoming and caring for each and every one, especially the voiceless and vulnerable.


Kim Daniels is spokesperson for Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

No comments: