We have been sent. For us, being at the service of life is not a boast but rather a duty, born of our awareness of being “God’s own people, that we may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (cf. 1 Pet 2:9). On our journey we are guided and sustained by the law of love: a love which has as its source and model the Son of God made man, who “by dying gave life to the world”. (Evangelium Vitae n. 79)
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Saint John Paul II prophetically called the universal Church to fulfill its duty in Christ Jesus to proclaim the Gospel of Life in every culture – to go to the ends of the earth. Through personal experience, he understood the dramatic struggle between to two opposing realities that he named the Culture of Life and Culture of Death.
In my many travels around the world, I am often reminded of this battle between two distinctive visions of humanity. I have seen the beauty of cultural transformation when the community of believers, the Church, stands in the breach and defends what is always true, good, just and beautiful. I recently experienced an example of this joyful struggle during my mission to Bangalore and visit with our affiliate, Respect for Life India (RFLI).
To know RFLI’s mission you need only hear its founder, 83-year old Sister Annunciata: “O my God! What are we doing in this world, why are we here if not to contribute to the salvation of our neighbor? A person is more precious than the whole world.”
Following the mission of Sister’s religious order, the Good Shepherd Sisters, RFLI seeks to be the presence of Jesus, approaching each person as He would with compassion, gentleness, and respect, awakening in those wounded by injustice, oppression and alienation a deep sense of their infinite worth and dignity as persons made in God’s image. Because of RFLI and the Good Shepherd Sisters, many young girls and women are saved from hopeless street life, destitution, prostitution, and sex trafficking. Through various programs they provide shelter, love, care, education, and moral guidance, helping those they serve experience a sense of belonging while also assisting them to grow towards their full potential as persons. Their ministry in Christ extends to a diversity of persons including: youth in crisis, single mothers in pregnancy crisis, homeless, orphans, migrant workers, families in need of counseling, and those in prison and undergoing trials – forming consciences and cultivating a Culture of Life.
The witness of RFLI and the Sisters reflects the Church’s mandate to go out and proclaim the Good News. Yet, during the same mission, I also experienced what happens when the faithful fail to fulfill the mandate. Sadly some Catholic schools and centers of higher learning are not teaching Catholic faith or teaching students an authentic expression of Catholic life. An environment that should by its very nature foster a Culture of Life through its teaching and formation instead exposes youth and young adults to uncritically consider secular ideas. I saw the consequences of this dereliction of duty as students and teachers defended the overpopulation myth, contraception, abortion, same-sex unions, gender ideology, and euthanasia. In these schools, the Church’s call to transform culture and form consciences is left untried, and her teaching reduced to sentiment and cultural opinions.
The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only “with the eyes of faith” that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 770)
The mission of the Church is the eternal salvation of every person, and the source of her mission is the conviction that Jesus is risen and fully present to the community of believers in every age. By divine mandate, the faithful are entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel, while also being called to serve the temporal needs of humanity. Enlightened and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, followers of the Lord Jesus make Him known through word and deed creating a world that genuinely reflects the God-given dignity of every human being – cultivating an authentic Culture of Life.
The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. … When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have. Like all commitment to justice, it has a place within the testimony of divine charity that paves the way for eternity through temporal action. Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family. In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations, in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God. (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritatis in Veritate, n. 7)
No Christian is excluded from the divine mandate and in truth and charity the Church seeks the good of all without compromise. Through evangelization, catechesis, and daily witness to the Gospel, disciples of the Lord cultivate and build environments/cultures that love, respect, defend, and serve every life – from its natural beginning, through every stage of life, to its natural end.
Sadly, even within the Church, some think the Church needs to abandon its so-called “obsession” and out-of-date positions on life, family and human sexuality. Yet, as seen in the witness of Sister Annunciata and her sisters in Bangalore, our responsibility remains the same in every age. We are to remind everyone – believer or not – that each human being from the moment of conception is a unique and unrepeatable person with the God-given right to be respected and treated with love and dignity. Thus, with the Church, we proclaim an authentic vision of sacrificial love that springs from the heart of God – beautifully perfected in Our Lord, the Word made flesh.
The end of Advent is the perfect time to contemplate this Gift, the Christ Child whose arrival is the pivotal even of all history. With this Gift, our lives are given hope and direction—with this Gift comes a great responsibility, and a sense of gratitude. Let us respond accordingly.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19)