Evangelium Vitae Fifteen Years Later

Fifteen years ago today, on this Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul II promulgated the encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Since 1995, what has changed in the moral landscape?

Not much has changed from one vantage point. Ours is still a “culture of death,” as Pope John Paul II described it. We are still on a path of moral decline:

The fact that legislation in many countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles of their Constitutions, has determined not to punish abortion and euthanasia, and even to make them altogether legal, is both a disturbing symptom and a significant cause of grave moral decline. (EV, 4)

In recent years, the battle has been more in the forefront of Americans’ minds. The politicization of abortion and other life issues in recent years has brought the issues into the mainstream. But has that changed people’s minds?

There still seems to be a general consensus that men and women can do anything they want with their bodies or relationships. The consequences, it is thought, are only personal. “I’m not hurting anyone” is the constant refrain. But society suffers, and has been suffering as a result of the persistent and pernicious attack on life.

For those of us who have recognized the disastrous effects of the culture of death among us, we must not stand aside silently any more. we must engage the culture–through prayer, volunteering, donating money, and whatever else we can do to change hearts and minds to realize the great gift that is life.

Fr. Jay Scott Newman offered a compelling evaluation of Evangelium Vitae and our current situation in his most recent homily. Oh that we had more preachers such as Fr. Newman! He speaks boldly with the truth of the Gospel and in the defense of those most helpless among us. But priests and bishops are not the only ones called to preach this Gospel of Life. We, too, have received that call. Answer the call.

We are the people of life because God, in his unconditional love, has given us the Gospel of life and by this same Gospel we have been transformed and saved. We have been ransomed by the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15) at the price of his precious blood (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet 1:19). Through the waters of Baptism we have been made a part of him (cf. Rom 6:4-5; Col 2:12), as branches which draw nourishment and fruitfulness from the one tree (cf. Jn 15:5). Interiorly renewed by the grace of the Spirit, “who is the Lord and giver of life”, we have become a people for life and we are called to act accordingly.

We have been sent. For us, being at the service of life is not a boast but rather a duty, born of our awareness of being “God’s own people, that we may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light” (cf. 1 Pet 2:9). On our journey we are guided and sustained by the law of love: a love which has as its source and model the Son of God made man, who “by dying gave life to the world”.102

We have been sent as a people. Everyone has an obligation to be at the service of life. This is a properly “ecclesial” responsibility, which requires concerted and generous action by all the members and by all sectors of the Christian community. This community commitment does not however eliminate or lessen the responsibility of each individual, called by the Lord to “become the neighbour” of everyone: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programmes and structures which support and promote life.

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