One of the fundamental principles of human dignity is the right to life. Each life is a gift from God, filled with endless potential and a worth distinguished from all other forms of creation. Through Christ, humanity is provided with a perfect example; all of us are called to reflect our creation in God’s image and our holiness as instruments through which God entered into the human experience.
In “Evangelium Vitae,” Pope John Paul II speaks of the “Gospel of Life” we are called to preach. He writes, “Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” Today, society encounters many threats to life: abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and more. Some of these threats are even championed as fundamental rights even though they deny the rights of the most vulnerable in society. A holy and special dignity is found in each person, even the unborn, sick and incarcerated. However, a utilitarian society equates each person with their “use” and only sees their value as dependent on what they accomplish in their life.
We must continue to recognize that taking a human life is always wrong. Exodus 20:13 speaks of God’s command to His creation: “you shall not murder.” We must also recognize as a Church the call to mercy, compassion and kindness. In the case of abortion, many times women are forced or influenced to make such a detrimental decision because of family members, partners, or societal and financial pressures. Post-abortive women experience psychological anguish and pain due to their decision; if a future pregnancy fails, they may believe that God is trying to punish them for their past sin. These women also may struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health issues. In “Evangelium Vitae.”
Pope John Paul II speaks to these hurting women: “The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.” Just as the Lord meets humanity with forgiveness and love, we too are called to this task, no matter how difficult it may prove.
Terminal illness also does not affect the value of the human person. Saint Pope John Paul II reminds us of this fact by saying that euthanasia is “a serious violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.” As humans, we are unable to overrule God’s law and dictate that our personal circumstances justify the taking of a human life. It is crucial for the ill to have support systems built on compassion and empathy, and as a society we should do all we can to relieve the pressures placed on the sick and dying.
In today’s world, we also must understand the dignity found in those serving sentences in jail. Sister Helen Prejean is an inspirational example to the Church as a woman who devoted herself to the rights of the incarcerated on death row as well as the families of victims of murder. A quote of hers sums up her life devotion well: “people are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.” Showing mercy and love to those deemed the “worst” in society can appear to be almost impossible, but in an age where incarceration is possible, we must prioritize rehabilitation over murder.
Pope Francis’ recent update to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” reflects our new understanding of the dignity of the human person. He does not change Church teaching, but rather expresses the fact that as a society, prison is a suitable punishment that does not attack one’s value as God’s creation. The Catechism states, “Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.” All of society can learn from Pope Francis and Sister Helen Prejean. Are we merciful and loving to all of God’s creation, or only those we deem worthy of it?
As we continue our journey in this life, may we live as global and Catholic citizens by protecting human dignity and life at all stages. Just as Christ loved all, so may we, recognizing the image and likeness of God present in all people.
As Catholics, we recognize the power of prayer. Let us turn to God as we seek to better protect the sacredness of human life.
Prayer for Respect of Human Life
Eternal God, creator and sustainer of life,
bless us with the courage to defend all life
from conception to natural death.
Bless us with the strength to respect all peoples
from east to west, from north to south,
so that we may truly follow the call of Jesus to be neighbor.
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit.
If you are hurting from abortion loss, you are not alone. Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s ministry to those who have been involved in abortion, is a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion. In addition to referring for Sacramental Reconciliation, the ministry provides an integrated network of services, including pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals. For more information, visit http://respectlife.drvc.org/project-rachel-heart-church