Why is Life Sacred?


Fr. Frank Pavone

   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 myriad.

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….