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Lasset die Kindlein zu mir kommen, Fritz von Uhde, 1884

The Gospel of Life

Readings from Evangelium Vitae

John Paul II

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  • Erna Albertz, Plough.com

    Thanks for reading. How do the "positive aspects of the commandment, 'You shall not kill,'" - as Pope John Paul II puts it - take shape in your life, family, and community?

Twenty-one years ago, Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic letter Evangelium Vitae, addressing it to all people of good will. The pope’s ringing condemnation of abortion and euthanasia, and his strictures on capital punishment, rightly captured broad attention. But his letter is far more than a list of moral rules. Today its prophetic proclamation of the whole gospel is more urgent than ever.

The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. ... This gospel has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person – believer and nonbeliever alike – because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. ...

The commandment “You shall not kill,” even in its more positive aspects of respecting, loving, and promoting human life, is binding on every individual human being. It resounds in the moral conscience of everyone as an irrepressible echo of the original covenant of God the Creator with mankind. ...

It is therefore a service of love which we are all committed to ensure to our neighbor, that his or her life may be always defended and promoted, especially when it is weak or threatened. It is not only a personal but a social concern which we must all foster: a concern to make unconditional respect for human life the foundation of a renewed society. ...

Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an indivisible good. We need then to “show care” for all life and for the lives of everyone.

False Freedom

The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism, and hedonism. ... The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one’s own material well-being. The so-called “quality of life” is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions – interpersonal, spiritual, and religious – of existence.

In such a context suffering, an inescapable burden of human existence but also a factor of possible personal growth, is “censored,” rejected as useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every way to be avoided. When it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future well-being vanishes, then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows in man to claim the right to suppress it.

In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity – which demands respect, generosity, and service – is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality, and usefulness: others are considered not for what they “are,” but for what they “have, do, and produce.” This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.

Lasset die Kindlein zu mir kommen, Fritz von Uhde, 1884

Fritz von Uhde, Suffer the little children to come unto me, 1884.

The Role of Law

Although laws are not the only means of protecting human life, nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior. I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person’s natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law. For this reason I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society. ...

[Yet] it is not enough to remove unjust laws. The underlying causes of attacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for families and motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and driving force of all social policies. For this reason there need to be set in place social and political initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in matters of parenthood. It is also necessary to rethink labor, urban, residential, and social service policies so as to harmonize working schedules with time available for the family, so that it becomes effectively possible to take care of children and the elderly.

Renewing Our Culture

What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new, because it will be able to confront and solve today’s unprecedented problems affecting human life; new, because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamic conviction by all Christians; new, because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties.

While the urgent need for such a cultural transformation is linked to the present historical situation, it is also rooted in the Church’s mission of evangelization. The purpose of the gospel, in fact, is “to transform humanity from within and to make it new” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18). Like the yeast which leavens the whole measure of dough (Matt. 13:33), the gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from within, so that they may express the full truth about the human person and about human life.


Taken from John Paul II, encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae (March 25, 1995), 1, 77, 87, 90, 95.

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