Cultivating a Culture of Life
Each of us is a pro-life missionary and ambassador
Today’s priests have been cultivating the culture of life for their entire priesthood. Celebrating your jubilee in 2020? So is Evangelium Vitae. In it, the sainted Pope John Paul II proclaimed that the Gospel of Jesus and the Gospel of Life are one and the same. Don’t be afraid, he cried, to unmask the culture of death. If priests want a civilization of hope, a respect for the sanctity of life, we must commit to the evangelization of our very culture.
Priests are committed. The March for Life each January is an unrelenting witness. Priests are there. Can anyone credibly accuse priests of being silent about life issues, about the inviolable dignity of the unborn, about the sacredness of marriage and family, about the immorality of assisted suicide? We are countercultural, criticized for being “hard-line” on life issues. For priests, “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,” remains our prayer. We are all in, and for the long haul. We must renew, recharge and persevere.
|National March For Life|
|Every pro-life American is asked to join the world’s largest annual human rights demonstration on Friday, Jan. 24.
Get rally and march information at https://marchforlife.org/mfl-2020/
The culture of death is invasive, aggressive and resistant — abortion is still legal, assisted suicide is celebrated in movies, and states have legalized it. Consciences are erroneous, and many elected Catholics disappoint us. The culture of life must be aggressive. We have new weapons.
Consider cultural awareness, sensitivity and competence. Many priests have it because American parishes are Italian, Filipino, African American, Irish, Haitian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Salvadoran and more. So are our brother priests. The pro-death culture infects every culture, and so the culture of life must pervade national, ethnic and youth culture. And how about the millennial, military, farm and urban cultures. Many newly arrived immigrants are already pro-family, pro-elders and pro-life. Our message to these is to share it, don’t lose it! Hand it on to your kids. And priests? Each of us is a pro-life missionary and ambassador.
A Scan and a Plan
Let’s take a practical hint from one courageous woman who waged a life-and-death battle with cancer. Her approach was straightforward: a scan and a plan. First, she got a thorough scan. Where was the cancer? What changed since the last appointment? Were tumors growing or shrinking? Only after the “scan” came the plan. Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? Different dosage? Different drugs? That was her pro-life approach. Need a boost? Wonder if it’s working? For a priest advocate of life, let’s scan following Evangelium Vitae. Let’s plan by following the USCCB Pro-Life Committee.
Pope St. John Paul II conducted a global scan. He found cancerous secularism. Many had lost the sense of God. He found an increasing violation of the sacredness of life. The scan revealed an exaggerated claim of autonomy and freedom.
He uncovered institutional structures of sin, a veritable war of the strong against the weak. The media appeared complicit in making weak or absent marriages and broken families the new normal. In sum, his scan revealed a global culture so obsessed with efficiency and productivity that it did not value the sacredness of life of the sick, the unwanted, the incapacitated, the old and the unborn. Precious lives were seen as an expendable “enemy” of progress, autonomy and prosperity.
Pope John Paul proposed a plan centered on evangelization. We counter the culture of death spreading the “Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae, No. 78). All authentic Gospel proclamation demands recognition that human life in all its bodiliness is a sacred gift from God to be lovingly protected. Those who do not recognize this have not heard the Gospel of Christ. Evangelization takes deliberate pro-life preaching, catechesis, education, apologetics and use of media, and must pervade every sort of personal encounter. And this evangelization awakens the pro-life conscience.
The pope’s plan is about prayer, rites and liturgies. Evangelization leads to communal and personal prayer, and prayer leads to personal conversion and cultural change. His plan lifted up the daily heroism of mothers and families and heroic service of charity in personal witness, volunteer work, social activity and political commitment. Recalling the story of Cain and Abel, he called us to be our brother’s keeper.
His plan insisted there be no tolerance for discrimination. It demanded outreach to the suffering and marginalized; programs supportive of new life, mothers and families; and protection of the lives of the sick and dying. Each person, priests as well, was called to lead a lifestyle of the primacy of persons over things.
To foster pro-life culture every priest needs a local scan and a plan. The diocesan or state Catholic conference can help you scan the regional situation. Where and why are mothers aborting their babies in my neighborhood? What is happening to vulnerable, at-risk youth, poor, elderly, around me? Are the sick and dying provided with care and advance directives in keeping with the sacredness of life in local hospitals and homes? What about violence and drugs? Discrimination? What are local leaders and politicians doing to oppose assisted suicide, abortion? And the freedom of conscience? A scan doesn’t just find pathology. There is health.
Consider liturgies and homilies; adoration; catechesis and conscience-formation efforts; youth ministry; social ministry; sacramental preparation (especially marriage); lay groups and organizations; special events and activities (especially around the March for Life); crisis pregnancy support, Project Rachel or Rachel’s Vineyard; opportunities for adoption; the work of the Knights of Columbus; outreach to the poor; education for health care providers; ministry for and with the disabled, with Alzheimer’s patients, with shut-ins; and, of course, political engagement, use of media, and so on.
An effective scan finds out what is really going on, what is working and what is not. When was your last scan?
What goes into good planning? The USCCB Pro-Life Activities pastoral plan may help a priest establish or review his plan and strategies. Its four phases are education, pastoral care, public policy and prayer.
The parish is effectively a school of life, the priest is principal and chaplain of its large and talented pro-life faculty. He oversees the parish’s pro-life “curriculum” and the management of evangelizing collaborators.
Pro-life priests teach, govern and sanctify. “Teach” is listed first. Education for life uses every venue from the pulpit to the classroom and in between. Opportunities to deliver the message can overwhelm even a workaholic: the website, the bulletin, social media from YouTube to Twitter to Facebook, parish schools, religious education programs of all sorts, support for homeschoolers, workshops and speakers, parish missions and 40 Hours, in-service training, lay ministry formation, Bible study, the bookrack and bulletin boards, welcome packets, evangelization teams, renewal programs, parent-teacher activities, pulpit announcements, festivals and fundraisers, and many more.
While some priests are communications specialists, this ministry and the collaboration it demands invigorates and exhausts us. So let me not list endless websites; rather, here are two resources to add to whatever your diocese provides: the USCCB index at www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/index.cfm, and state Catholic resources link at www.nrlc.org/about/stateaffiliates/ — for example, the Ohio Right to Life at www.ohiolife.org/.
Our plan supports and encourages hands-on care. Most priests target an array of needs: crisis pregnancies centers, the disabled, sick and dying and their caregivers, victims of violence and abuse, the hungry and homeless, the imprisoned, pantries and soup kitchens, and the like.
The priest does the work of a hundred by getting 99 others to help, it is said. It may take even more. And that also means that priests model respect for life by managing their own health. Burnout belongs to the culture of death.
Public Policy Action
Public policy action often dominates our planning or is its most public face. Many issues clamor rightly for our attention, and priests can feel enormous pressure to speak and act up, especially in an election year. But which issue should be our focus?
The USCCB Pro-Life plan, explaining that to focus on the evil of deliberate killing in abortion and euthanasia is not to ignore the many other urgent conditions that demean human dignity and threaten human rights, says: “Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. … But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (Living the Gospel of Life, No. 22).
Finally, no plan should neglect or minimize prayer and worship. I have many times been overwhelmed with the power of God and the sanctity of life processing into the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington at the Vigil Mass for Life. We are the priests of the Lord of Life. If a priest is, first of all, a man of prayer, he fosters the culture of life first of all by prayer.
And only with prayer can we scan and understand, plan and bring about the culture of life.
FATHER JOHN MINDLING is a Capuchin Franciscan priest of the Province of St. Augustine of the Capuchin Order, a professor of moral theology at Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and serves as a consultant to the Pro-Life Committee of the USCCB.
Living the Gospel of Life: Virtues we need
“Bringing a respect for human dignity to practical politics can be a daunting task. There is such a wide spectrum of issues involving the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity. Good people frequently disagree on which problems to address, which policies to adopt and how best to apply them. But for citizens and elected officials alike, the basic principle is simple: We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem. In other words, the choice of certain ways of acting is always and radically incompatible with the love of God and the dignity of the human person created in his image. Direct abortion is never a morally tolerable option. It is always a grave act of violence against a woman and her unborn child. This is so even when a woman does not see the truth because of the pressures she may be subjected to, often by the child’s father, her parents or friends. Similarly, euthanasia and assisted suicide are never acceptable acts of mercy. They always gravely exploit the suffering and desperate, extinguishing life in the name of the ‘quality of life’ itself. This same teaching against direct killing of the innocent condemns all direct attacks on innocent civilians in time of war.
“Pope John Paul II has reminded us that we must respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors. It is increasingly clear in modern society that capital punishment is unnecessary to protect people’s safety and the public order, so that cases where it may be justified are ‘very rare, if not practically non-existent.’ No matter how serious the crime, punishment that does not take life is ‘more in conformity with the dignity of the human person’ (Evangelium Vitae, 56-7). Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.
— “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics,” Nos. 20-21