PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF LIFE
A LETTER FROM THE IRISH BISHOPS
TO MARK THE DAY FOR LIFE ON SUNDAY, 14 OCTOBER 2001
It is six years now since Pope John Paul wrote his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), which was addressed to the whole Church, and to all people of good will.
He wanted to:
* reaffirm the dignity of every human person, created and loved by God
* renew the commitment of the Church to the “defence of the world’s poor, those who are threatened and despised, and whose human rights are violated.“(EV#5)
* invite people of good will to reflect on the “extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless.” (EV#3)
* appeal to every person, in the name of God, to respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life.” (EV#5)
The Pope proposed that “a day for life be celebrated each year in every country.” The primary purpose of this day should be “to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church, and in civil society, a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition.” (EV#85)
Our intention in writing this short letter is to respond to the Pope’s proposal, and to announce the annual Day for Life, which we hope will be celebrated with the active participation of all sections of the local Church.
We are aware that the vast majority of Irish people, in heart and mind, wish to respect life. As Pope John Paul says “this Gospel of life… has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person – believer and unbeliever.” (EV#2) But choosing life in every circumstance is not without its difficulties. It frequently requires courage and generosity. It is all too easy to become ambivalent in our respect for life, especially when that respect poses difficulties or challenges for ourselves. We are also aware, as Pope John Paul says, that “a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a new and – if possible – more sinister character.” (EV#4)
There is a radical contradiction between the Gospel of Life and what is sometimes referred to as the culture of death. This contradiction is reflected in:
* the alarming growth in the number of murders committed in our country
* the acceptance by many that abortion is a normal response to unwanted pregnancy
* the numbers killed and injured on Irish roads, due to excessive speed, and to the abuse of alcohol and drugs
* the tragic deaths of young people as a result of trafficking in drugs for the sake of profit
* the recent sharp increase in the number of suicides, especially among young men, and the pain associated with this for their families and friends
* the deaths of so many people through poverty and malnourishment in the countries of the third world, much of which could be prevented by the development of an equitable world order.
* the hatred and intolerance which has led to so many incidences of ethnic cleansing and genocide in various parts of the world in recent years.
* the recent acceptance and legalisation of euthanasia in some countries
In future years, on the Day for Life, we hope to consider these and other issues. But this year we invite you simply to reflect on the reasons why human life should be respected, and why so often it is not.
Why Respect Life?
Each one of us – believer or unbeliever – is capable of appreciating the essential value of every human life, simply by reflecting on the mystery of his or her own life. We know instinctively that when life is taken away, all sorts of other possibilities are destroyed along with it. Life in its very beginnings is often regarded as less valuable, because it is less visible. This is paradoxical because recent developments in science have made us much more aware of the significance and the power of things so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. In the last stages of life, the experience of pain, or disappointment, loneliness or fear can swamp our consciousness, so that the value of life and its mystery become obscured. This can be difficult for everyone concerned. In the midst of this experience, it is important to remember that what lies beneath the surface is still a unique human person.
With the eyes of faith , the dignity of the human person can be seen even more clearly. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read that man and woman were made in the image of God. This has nothing to do with appearance or personality. It means that we are made for relationship with God. This relationship, undermined by sin, is not just restored, but placed on a completely new level, by the coming among us of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As Pope John Paul reminds us:
“The unconditional choice for life reaches its full religious and moral meaning
when it flows from, is formed by and nourished by faith in Christ. Nothing helps us
so much to face positively the conflict between death and life in which we are engaged
as faith in the Son of God who became man and dwelt among men so that they may have
life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10) (EV#28)
The real problem, of course, is not the fact that people die. Indeed, we believe that physical death is the gateway to eternal life. The real problem is that anyone of us would place so little value on his or her own life or on the life of another person that we would destroy it, because it is inconvenient or painful for us, because we see it as an obstacle, or simply because we didn’t care enough.
Choice and Decision:
“What else could I do? I had no alternative” “I didn’t think it would end up that way.” “I can’t be expected to take responsibility.” These reactions, and others like them, seek to abdicate responsibility for our own actions, including actions which result in the death of another person. But the very definition of an action is something for which I am responsible, because I made a decision to act or not to act, knowing the consequences. I am responsible not just for what I intend but for the full forseeable consequences of my action. There is always an alternative. We are inclined to forget that the consequences of our choices and decisions are not just outside us. Our choices are, in a very real sense, what we become. Each time we choose death, we ourselves die a little more. Each time we choose life, we begin to live more fully.
In his message for the beginning of the new Millennium, Pope John Paul adverts to the fact that the radical call of the Gospel, and the Church