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The Defense of Life: The Great Cause of the Third Millennium
By Pontifical Council for the Family

Intervention of His Eminence

Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo

 

17th World Conference on Love, Life and the Family

 

Human Life International

April 15, 1998

Houston, Texas

 

 Dear brothers and sisters, this gathering in Houston of the 17th World Conference on Love, Life, and the Family is a significant moment for each one of you and for the pro-life, pro-family movement. Each one of you is here to learn and to share of your own knowledge and experience. You are here, furthermore, to strengthen one another in your commitment to bear witness to the dignity of human life and the sanctity of the family. It is one thing to work day after day in our own communities; it is quite another to come together with those who are engaged in the same struggle throughout the world. We are reminded that we are not alone, and that we have more than our own strength to rely on. I hope these days will be a time to strengthen the unity among your various groups and to commit yourselves to an ever more active collaboration.

 

You have come here, above all, to worship and to draw strength from the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. Your conference is taking place within the year designated by the Church as a time of special devotion to the Holy Spirit, as we prepare for the dawn of the Third Millennium. It is a time to renew our confidence that He, who breathed over the waters at the dawn of creation and brought life out of death and order out of chaos, will again breathe on the world and on the consciences of all men and women, and, out of the ruins of a culture of death, bring about a new and glorious culture of Life! Let us hope for no less than this! Let us constantly cry out, "Lord, send out Your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!"(1)

 

Life is the Great Cause for the Third Millennium

 

The defense of human life is, indeed, the great cause for the Third Millennium. This is true for many reasons, which our Holy Father has pointed out in Evangelium Vitae. The Church is always attentive and responsive to the signs of the times, and in our day we see a "conspiracy against life," a "war of the powerful against the weak."(2) There have always been attacks against human life, ever since the slaughter of Abel by Cain. But in our day, not only are countless defenseless children being destroyed systematically throughout the world, but the fact that this destruction has been declared to be a "right" which is legally defended gives the evil a more urgent character.

 

We are quite aware of the nature of these evils, but how is our response to them related to the coming of the Third Millennium?

 

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is a Jubilee celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ. For two thousand years, the world has heard the message of the first Christmas, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"(3) For two thousand years, humanity has been united to Divinity in the person of Christ, and the destiny of the human person has been revealed more clearly than ever before: the gift of eternal life. "To him who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" (4) For two thousand years, the Church has proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life, and that His coming brings us life to the full.

 

To celebrate this great Jubilee, therefore, is to celebrate the gift of Life. To live through the start of the Third Millennium of the Gospel of Christ is to live through the start of the Third Millennium of the Gospel of Life. There is only one, unique, indivisible Gospel: The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the Gospel of Life. To stand with Christ, therefore, is to stand with life, and therefore "rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ" (5). To stand with Christ, furthermore, is to proclaim Him. To celebrate 2000 years of the Gospel is to commit oneself to spread that Gospel. It is therefore to commit oneself never to be silent about the dignity of human life!

 

The One who came two thousand years ago came to raise human beings to the heights of heaven. It is impossible to profess this belief, and at the same time to condone the trampling down and destruction of the same human beings. The celebration of the Millennium, therefore, commits us again to "the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life." (6)

 

Christians accept this great cause in many arenas and circumstances of their lives.

 

The cause is taken up in families

 

The great cause of life is taken up in individual families. The family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is to be most welcomed, nurtured, and protected. The Holy Father has pointed out that the fact that one reason why crimes like abortion and euthanasia are particularly evil is that they are committed within the very sanctuary of life, the family.

 

The cause of life cannot be advanced without building up strong families. There can be no life without family and no family without life! How inspiring it is to see the efforts of so many parents actively exercising what is their primary and inalienable responsibility: the education of their children in the truths about love, life, and the family! This responsibility can never be entirely entrusted to others. (7) Parents are the first to teach their children who God is and how to pray to Him. They are the first to teach them the wonders of the world and of the faith. They are, indeed, the first to teach, by word and example, that human life is sacred, no matter how frail or repulsive it may be.

 

There should always be a family dimension to the work of your many and various groups. Continue to seek ways to assist families to impart that reverence for life which it is so necessary to regain in our day. Children are particularly open and ready to receive the message that all life is sacred. They know better than anyone that the weak need to be protected from the strong, and their sense of fairness is very keen. Children also play a key role in helping one another learn these lessons, and in sanctifying their parents within the domestic Church which is the family.

 

The cause is taken up in schools

 

A very large arena for the advancement of the Gospel of Life in the new Millennium is in the schools. The efforts of the Church to impart the faith, and to teach a vision of the world based in the truths of that faith, find an important expression in the apostolate of teaching, whether in schools or in catechetical programs.

 

These programs provide an essential opportunity for imparting the truth about the dignity of human life. Movements dedicated to life and family can play a role here by encouraging schools in the development of curricula which, for example, are not silent about the evil of abortion. It is ironic that at a time when the Magisterium is so clear about the urgency of the issue of life, some should be afraid to speak of it to the young! It is these very young people who, sad to say, easily become the target for the propaganda of the abortion industry.

 

Our times provide a challenging opportunity for the creativity and courage of believers who work in the field of public education. It is possible and necessary to bear witness to the truth about life and family in the midst of a system which strongly resists such witness. All of us can encourage those who work to reach the young people in public schools to instill in them a renewed reverence for life.

 

The cause is taken up in the many aspects of the Life of the Church

 

The great cause of life, because it is at the heart of the Gospel, cannot be absent from any of the facets of the Church's life and activity, whether at the level of the parish, the diocese, the nation, or the Church Universal. The truths of the faith and the demands of moral life interpenetrate one another in a way that resists being put in separate and unrelated categories. Instead, they form a living unity, because they reflect the person of the Lord Jesus, who is the Life.

 

Each ministry of the Church, therefore, is called to play its part in the great cause of Life. We have already mentioned the ministry of teaching. There is also the liturgical life of the parish, in which the gift of life is celebrated and proclaimed in all its stages, and in moments both of joy and sorrow. The theme of the defense of life against the attacks of our day is easily brought out, for example, in the preparation of those who will serve as sponsors for baptism and Confirmation. They are called to encourage new Christians to "bear witness to Christ in all they say and do."(8) Certainly this includes speaking up for life.

 

The many works of social justice on a parish and diocesan level cannot ignore the most fundamental social injustice of our time, the negation of the very right to life. There is no basis for separating, much less opposing, the defense of life and the concept of "social justice." To defend life is the primary work of justice in our day.

 

In the day to day life of the parish, the preaching of the clergy is to be a fundamental source of nourishment for the faithful. At the conclusion of the Second World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families in Rio de Janeiro -- a great event in which a number of you participated -- the participants unanimously ratified the Final Declaration, which says, in part, "We call on the clergy to build up the spiritual family of the Church through parish ministry to families, which includes teaching and preaching on the dignity of human life, marriage, and the family." (9). Who among us does not want to hear clear, vigorous, and compassionate preaching on these most critical issues of our day? This is one of the reasons that the Pontifical Council for the Family presents seminars to bishops, priests, and seminarians in various parts of the world on the topics of Family and Bioethics.

 

It is helpful for you to know of the many initiatives of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which has been entrusted by the Holy Father with two fundamental areas of responsibility: the great themes of life and family. According to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, this Dicastery "promotes pastoral attention to families and favors their rights and dignity in the Church and in civil society so that they can better fulfill their own functions...It also supports and coordinates initiatives for the defense of human life from conception, and in favor of responsible procreation" (10). In carrying out these mandates, the Council has produced many important documents on such themes as the defense of life, the preparation for marriage, and the truth and meaning of human sexuality. It also accompanied the preparation of the great encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

 

Among many other initiatives, the Pontifical Council for the Family coordinated the First and Second World Meetings of the Holy Father with Families, and is now preparing for the third, which will occur in Rome in the year 2000. We hope, in fact, that as many of you as possible will plan to come to Rome for that occasion, to personally join the Vicar of Christ in proclaiming, together with families from every continent, that Life is indeed the great cause of the Third Millennium, and that is can flourish only when the family flourishes!

 

The cause is taken up before governments

 

The great cause of Life must also constantly be taken before the powers of government, because government exists precisely to protect the people. In today’s "conspiracy against life," not only do we have the sad fact of the destruction of life, but we have governments declaring this destruction, especially in the case of abortion and increasingly in the case of euthanasia, to be a legal "right." We need to proclaim together again and again the words of our Holy Father, "Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead, there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection."(11)

 

The foundation of these clear and strong words is the apostolic injunction, "We must obey God rather than men."(12) Certainly, human laws are to be obeyed, but human law must obey the Law of the One who made us. You will recall the passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which our Lord is asked whether it is licit to pay taxes to Caesar. He asked to see the coin, and said, "Whose image is on this coin, and whose inscription?" "Caesar’s," they told him. The Lord replied, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s." (13) We must not miss the deep significance of this passage. The coin belongs to Caesar because it bears the image of Caesar. What, then, belongs to God? ...all that which bears the image of God, and this means every human person including Caesar himself! Caesar and his authority belong to God. Caesar, therefore, must obey God! The rulers of our day must obey God. There is no court, no Congress, no president and no power anywhere on earth that can authorize a single act of violence against the innocent human person!

 

We are all aware that there are people being held in prison today, not because they have done any violence, but rather because they have resisted unjust laws which allow abortion. There are others who, although not in prison, are put on trial and under examination for peacefully bearing witness to the sanctity of life. We call for an end to this misuse of the justice system.

 

We have also seen an example recently in Germany of how the Church must preserve her uncompromising stand for life in the presence of laws which may give rise to ambiguity and confusion. According to German law, counseling centers issue a certificate to women who have been counseled. This certificate is then necessary to obtain an abortion. While the Church is committed to counsel women to help them choose life, the issuing of these certificates made it look as though the Church were taking part in the process of obtaining an abortion. The Holy Father, therefore, after careful consideration, issued a letter in which, after praising the commitment of the Church in Germany to the defense of life, he expressed his decision in this matter: "After careful consideration of all the arguments, I cannot avoid the conclusion that there is an ambiguity here which obscures the clear and uncompromising witness of the Church and her counseling centers. I would therefore urgently ask you, dear Brothers, to find a way so that a certificate of this kind will no longer be issued at Church counseling centers or those connected with the Church. I urge you, however, to ensure that in any event the Church maintains an effective presence in the counseling of women seeking help"(14).

 

We take special note of his insistence on preserving the clarity and vigor of the Church's witness to the Gospel of Life. This purpose and motivation are what stand behind both the decision not to allow the "certificates" to be issued, and the vigorous call to both continue and increase the Church's assistance to women tempted to abort. What unites these two aspects of the Holy Father's position is precisely the fact that love is indivisible. The Gospel of Life calls for equal and uncompromising love for the woman and the child. We cannot love one without loving the other. Therefore, the witness of an absolute refusal to do anything to permit an abortion to happen is, at the same time, exactly what the mother of that child needs to help her to do what is right, and to avoid the destructive impact of abortion not only on her child, but on her.

 

This letter will undoubtedly have its repercussions in other nations where the problems are similar and where there could be the risk of blinding public opinion in the sense that the Church might give the appearance of not opposing iniquitous laws, or that one could proceed to abort after fulfilling some requirements that are not very clear. The Letter states, "The task of defending life in all its phases allows no half measures. Consequently, the Church’s teaching and way of acting in the question of abortion must, in their essential content, be the same in all countries"(15).

 

The cause is taken up by many diverse groups

 

As we advance the cause of life into the Third Millennium, we also need to be deeply conscious of our obligations to one another. The Church is one body with many members. The movements for life and family consist of many diverse groups, with different areas of specialty and different strategies. Evangelium Vitae reminds us, "No single person or group has a monopoly on the defense and promotion of life. These are everyone’s task and responsibility."(16)

 

I therefore wish to encourage you to seek an ever deeper spirit of harmony and cooperation among pro-life groups. One group should never see another as a threat, but rather should rejoice that others are joining the cause. It is much like the case of the mother and her unborn child. If she sees the child as a threat, an unnecessary hostility exists between mother and child, where there should be unity instead. So, within the movement that defends life, there should be a deep unity...not a unity that collapses legitimately diverse groups into one, but rather a unity based on mutual esteem, active cooperation, and fervent charity.

 

The cause is taken up in our own hearts

 

The great cause of the Third Millennium, the cause of life, is taken up above all in our own hearts. In order to convert the world, we ourselves must be converted. The entire Church is on a pilgrimage of ever-deepening conversion, ever more profound assimilation of the truths about the human person and the gift of love, life, and the family.

 

Unless this pilgrimage is a reality in our own hearts, our efforts will be without fruit. If, on the other hand, we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these other things will be given us besides.

 

My dear brothers and sisters, you have come to this Conference with a deep faith and an inspiring perseverance in the work that must be done. I am grateful to God for your commitment. I ask you to carry out your commitment with deep peace and with the joy that the world can neither give nor take away. Christ is Risen! The victory of Life has been placed in your hands! Go forth to proclaim it, to celebrate it, and to serve it, for Life indeed is the great cause of the New Millennium. God bless you.

 

NOTES

 

1. Psalm 104.

 

2. Evangelium Vitae, 12.

 

3. Luke 2:11

 

4. Revelation 3:21

 

5. Evangelium Vitae, 104.

 

6. Evangelium Vitae, 27.

 

7. See The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Pontifical Council for the Family, 1995.

 

8. See Ritual of Baptism, Final blessings

 

9. Rio Declaration, n.3.13.

 

10. Pastor Bonus, art.139,141.

 

11. Evangelium Vitae, 73

 

12. Acts 5:29

 

13. Matthew 22:20-21

 

14. Letter of Pope John Paul II to the German Hierarchy, January 11, 1998, n.7

 

15. Ibid., n.5

 

16. Evangelium Vitae, 91

 

Printed with permission from Priests for Life.

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