As our bishops have often reminded us, the Church embraces a "consistent
ethic of life." This does not mean that all life issues have equal urgency. It
does mean that all life issues are linked. Simply to list the "life
issues" is a challenging task, because everything which impacts the dignity of
the human person can be considered a "life issue." The particular moral analyses
of each problem, and the strategies for social reform in each related arena, are
At times, however, we need to step back and examine the common thread that
connects the "life issues." What is the foundation? What is the answer to the
fundamental question, "Why should human life be defended in the first place?"
A "Place" to Meet God
The encyclical Evangelium Vitae
states that human life is "the 'place' where God manifests himself, where we
meet him and enter into communion with him"(#38). This statement provides a
starting point for profound meditation on the reason why life is sacred.
When we think Biblically about God "manifesting" Himself, we think of
creation, of mighty deeds, and of the death and Resurrection of Christ. Deeper
reflections on creation and on the cross help us to see in what sense human life
becomes a meeting place with God.
Created in His Image
"Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power
and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made"
(Rom. 1:20). At the height of creation, God manifested His "image" in the
creation of man and woman. "God created man in his image; in the divine image he
created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).
The creation of human life has, essentially and from the beginning, a
communitarian dimension. Much has been written about what the "image of God"
means. It is far more than simply the fact that human beings can think or that
we have a spiritual soul. The "image of God" in the creation of human life
includes our whole being, spiritual and physical, and the fact that we find
ourselves by a gift of ourselves. "Male and female he created them." This is the
"divine image" because within God, there is a giving, a pouring out of self from
one person to another. That is reflected in the union of marriage, and in the
many other manifestations of human love.
The truth here is so obvious that it is easy to miss. We have the capacity
to give ourselves freely to each other and to God. This makes us unique in
creation. This makes us a manifestation of God, who is love, and who
gives Himself freely to His creation.
In his address to the
Consistory of Cardinals (April 1991) which dealt with the sanctity of life,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger noted, "Man is created in the image and likeness of
God (Gn 1:26); the second account of creation expresses the same idea, saying
that man, taken from the dust of the earth, carries in himself the divine breath
of life. Man is characterized by an immediacy with God that is proper to his
being; man is capax Dei and because he lives under the personal
protection of God he is 'sacred'…"
Evangelium Vitae develops this theme further in the following passage:
"Life is always a good. This is an instinctive perception and a fact of
experience, and man is called to grasp the profound reason why this is so.
"Why is life a good? This question is found everywhere in the Bible,
and from the very first pages it receives a
powerful and amazing answer. The life which God
gives man is quite different from the life of
all other living creatures, inasmuch as man,
although formed from the dust of the earth (cf.
Gen 2:7, 3:19; Job 34:15; Ps
103:14; 104:29), is a manifestation of God in
the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of
his glory (cf. Gen 1:26-27; Ps
8:6). This is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyons
wanted to emphasize in his celebrated
definition: 'Man, living man, is the glory of
God.' Man has been given a sublime dignity,
based on the intimate bond which unites him to
his Creator: in man there shines forth a
reflection of God himself….
"In the biblical narrative, the difference between man and other creatures is
shown above all by the fact that only the creation of man is presented as the
result of a special decision on the part of God, a deliberation to establish
a particular and specific bond with the Creator: 'Let us make man in our
image, after our likeness' (Gen 1:26). The life which God offers
to man is a gift by which God shares something of himself with his creature"
Life is Love, Manifested in the Cross
The sense in which human life is a "place to meet God" is further understood
when we ponder how the unique relationship of the human person with God enables
the person to give him/herself away, and thereby find the fullness of life.
In explaining what was manifested on the cross, Paul writes, "It is precisely
in this that God proves [shows, manifests] his love for us: that while we
were still sinners, Christ died for us." John puts it this way: "God's love was
revealed in our midst in this way: he sent his only Son to the world" (1 Jn.
John then develops the insight further: this love is our life. By
loving, we become ourselves. Because this love is the very essence of God, then
sharing in His life -- and hence the sanctity of our life --
consists of this capacity to love Him and one another.
John's first letter states it this way:
"That we have passed from death to life we know because we love the brothers.
The man who does not love is among the living dead. Anyone who hates his brother
is a murderer, and you know that eternal life abides in no murderer's heart. The
way we came to understand love was that he laid down his life for us; we too
must lay down our lives for our brothers. I ask you, how can God's love survive
in a man who has enough of this world's goods yet closes his heart to his
brother when he sees him in need?" (1 Jn. 3:14-17)
Notice how the passage related the existence of God's love (eternal life)
in us with the response we give, in love, to the other person. It is
on this truth that Mother Teresa based her frequent assertion that the meaning
of life is "to give and receive love." In Evangelium Vitae, the Holy
Father takes this to its ultimate conclusion: By the love He showed us on the
cross, "Jesus proclaims that life finds its center, its meaning and its
fulfillment when it is given up" (#51).
Where two or three gather
These reflections give new meaning to the familiar passage, "Where two or
three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst." Why two or three?
Isn't God present even when one is alone, or when nobody is there? Certainly, He
Yet our Lord's words here constitute another foundation for Evangelium
Vitae's assertion that human life is "the 'place' where God manifests
himself, where we meet him and enter into communion with him"(#38). After
all, it is only when the other(s), the second or third persons, are
present, that we can give ourselves away to them. When we are "gathered
together," we can "lay down our lives for our brothers." When the other person
is face to face with us, we see God in his or her suffering, and can respond to
it; we see God in his or her beauty and can rejoice in it; we see God in his or
her self-giving and can give ourselves in return.
Christians proclaim a Gospel of Life. This "life" is sacred because it takes
its origin in God, belongs to God, and returns to God. At every stage, this life
has the unique capacity to relate to God, and to receive His own eternal life.
The defense of earthly life, then, and the acknowledgement of its value, is --
in the full light of the Gospel -- of one piece with the proclamation of eternal
salvation. Simply put, the sanctity of life is best understood the more one sees
the three words, "God," "love," and "life" as synonyms. They are multi-faceted
synonyms, to be sure, and bear multi-faceted distinctions. But in the end, and
to find one's way through the challenges of this brief life, one must come to
terms with the fact that to touch human life is to touch God, and therefore the
only way to touch human life is with love.