PROMOTING LIFE IN EXISTENCE AND IN ABUNDANCE
Guest columnist, Father Shane Mathew, Gannon University
Erie — “I am convinced that the pro-life position of the church must be developed in terms of a comprehensive and consistent ethic of life.” Joseph Cardinal Bernadin spoke these words in December 1983, weeks after becoming the chairperson of the American bishops’ committee for pro-life activities. With prophetic vision, Bernadin’s words call us to a deeper appreciation of the authentic good news Jesus Christ offered to the world. He highlights that to be pro-life with any integrity means to affirm life wherever it is found, to defend life whenever it is wounded and to advocate for life whenever it is threatened or made voiceless.
Nearly 40 years later, we, as Catholics in America, struggle to understand the Gospel with one mind, to live the life of faith with one heart and to proclaim the good news of the resurrection with one voice. We struggle within ourselves and within our church with the consequences of sin, which wounds our communion with God, with each other and with creation itself. Ours is the reality described by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: “Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.” (Unitatis Redintegratio 1)
How might Christ be calling us to let him heal the wounds of division in our hearts and in our church? I propose these words of Jesus to guide us: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10) Christ’s incarnational purpose becomes our mission as Christians and as a church: to promote life both in existence and in abundance. Jesus invites us to embrace life in its fullness, to see a world in which all people enjoy the absolute right to live, with the conditions necessary for all people to live abundantly. Because Christ’s purpose is our mission, Christ also calls us to build within ourselves and our world the vision he proposes. Our lives testify to our faith in the risen Christ, and our testimony to life is only as faithful and credible as it is comprehensive and consistent.
As we approach the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, we grieve that a child conceived in America does not enjoy any automatic right to exist. As the horrific case of Lisa Montgomery just reminded us, we grieve that our government retains the use of capital punishment as a misguided substitution of satisfaction for justice. And offering our prayerful companionship to all the suffering, we grieve for all who might turn to death as a solution. When we advocate for life in all these cases, we strive after the best of what Christ calls us to be. When we accompany all those facing these questions in prayerful receptivity and Christian charity, we become more clearly what the grace of God has made us to be: individually members of Christ’s Body and together an instrument of salvation.
As the right to life remains endangered, many millions face circumstances that preclude their living abundantly humane lives. As our bishops reminded us, “When we accept violence in any form as commonplace, our sensitivities become dulled…Violence has many faces.” (The Challenge for Peace 285) As Christians, we must recognize that anything whatsoever that diminishes the capacity for abundant living is a form of violence. Some of this violence is self-inflicted and can only be remedied by personal conversion. Yet some of this violence is structural and consists of what church teaching calls social sin. Economic systems that disconnect the work of production from the generation of wealth do violence to workers. Personal and structural bias, increasingly reinforced and automated by artificial intelligence, are violent toward the disenfranchised. Unfettered nationalism traps refugees in a limbo of violence between their sundered homelands and people unwilling to offer haven. Defense of myriad hegemonic structures wound all those excluded by such structures as “others.” If we would be for life, in the example of Christ, we must banish from our own hearts and minds all forms of violence we might harbor and allow Christ to replace them with his own true peace.
How then to proceed? Christ points the way: “But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” (Mt. 23:23) The law of love does not allow us to set aside any violence against life as unworthy of remedy. Again, our testimony to life is only as faithful and credible as it is comprehensive and consistent. The prayer of the church gives the example. None of us alone can fulfill the command to pray without ceasing. But together? We each contribute to our shared obedience to God’s command through our personal and communal prayer, flowing from and returning to the Eucharist. What we cannot do on our own, we can and do achieve together. So, I believe, it must be for our advocacy for life. Only by passionate advocacy for life and its abundance will our testimony be faithful to God and credible to the world.