Gospel of Life - St Mary's Cathedral

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In 1997 Blessed John Paul wrote an encyclical entitled, Evangelium Vitae. It translates as “Gospel of Life”. This phrase captures something significant. The word Gospel means good news. We speak of announcing the Gospel message as good news to all peoples. Blessed John Paul proposes by this phrase that the Church wishes to announce the good news of life.

In his mind is what he describes as a struggle in the contemporary world between a culture of death and a culture of life. The Christian message is a proclamation of life.

At the heart of the gospel of life is the simple and yet profound realisation that life is a gift. None of us willed to live. We were given life. It is a precious gift. This gift has further significance when we consider that we have been given an immortal soul – we will live forever! We came into existence at one moment in time, but we will possess life for eternity.

Human life is sacred because, possessing this eternal soul, we are in a unique relationship with God. We have been created in the “image and likeness of God”. It was the creative action of God that brought us into existence and our life remains within a vital relationship with God. God wants us to possess a life of union with Him in heaven.

Our life is not our own. It is a gift and a promise. This understanding has shaped Catholic thought about any direct intervention to destroy life. Every human being has a unique dignity and a destiny. Our understanding of the nature of human life leads us to do all we can to protect and preserve it from the moment of conception until its natural end.

In his encyclical Blessed John Paul says, "we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’” He then adds that we are involved with “the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life" (EV 28).

He says that the culture of death has developed because today there is a sense that the human person has dignity and value only if he or she is wanted, fully able to care for himself or herself, and able to be completely autonomous. Hence the unborn or the dying, since they are not autonomous and are unable to care for themselves, are considered not to have the same rights or dignity as others.

He also comments that the culture of death has grown alongside a loss of the sense of God. If there is no sense of God, there is no sense of eternal life. The human person essentially lives in despair when there is no hope for immortality. Blessed John Paul II cites the Second Vatican Council, "Without the Creator the creature would disappear…But when God is forgotten the creature grows unintelligible" (EV 22 and GS 36). "Life itself becomes a mere ‘thing,’ which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation" (EV 22).
This view of man and the loss of the sense of God lead "to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism" (EV 23).

It is this understanding that shapes the response we Catholics take to efforts to legislate for the taking of life, even if a person wishes to end their life. It seem incongruous that as we are fighting to stem the growing number of suicides among the young – Tasmania has one of the highest suicides rates in the country – the government is introducing legislation to permit old people to choose suicide.

It has been gratifying to see the voices being raised in the local media condemning this proposed legislation.
Arguments that people should not have to suffer unnecessarily are shown to lack any substance. Today pain is able to be managed. Advances in palliative care can ensure that a person is well looked after in the dying process.

The grave danger associated with such legislation is that it creates the mentality that some people’s lives are no longer useful. Old people can feel a pressure to move on. They can be made to feel that they are a burden, are costing too much money and are taking up beds in hospitals.

Every person has an essential dignity and worth. There is a profound human mystery connected with dying. It is not just the shutting down of the bodily organs, but it is also a deeply human journey. Dying is a surrender into the hands of God. A person can allow God to be given control of the process. We allow life to take its natural path and we, at the spiritual level, surrender into the hands of God. Jesus’ words from the cross as he was about to die give us the witness to the way we can die as Christians: “Into your hands I commend my spirit”. This is the profoundly human dimension of death.

God has given us life. In the dying process we wait upon God. He will call us at the appropriate time.

The Gospel today reminds us that in the end we are servants of God. We carry out his will. We submit ourselves and our lives to be servants. We place our lives under his direction.

Doing this all will be well. All will be well.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, October 5, 2013