Normally when we Americans go to the Caribbean in February, it is to escape during the second or third month of brutal cold and relax in the sun. Having just returned with Dr. Brian Clowes from a mission to St. Lucia, I can indeed affirm that the island nation is as lovely as you’ve heard, but there was not much relaxation on this trip. And since our weather in Virginia is practically Caribbean this strange February, the change in setting was less stark than we expected.
During our mission, Dr. Clowes and I gave several talks on the sacredness and dignity of human life to disparate groups, including 850 high school students. The message of the Gospel of Life is very needed here: I learned from our hosts that sexual promiscuity among young people on the island is extremely high. When I asked the students to explain why a person is “sacred” and has “inherent dignity”, they were unable to offer a clear answer.
Sadly, divorce rates are very high on the island, which obviously contributes to family breakdown and to the confusion young people are experiencing. A few faculty members also expressed their disappointment in catechesis and religious formation, which leaves young people vulnerable to the wiles of the Culture of Death.
Following one of my presentations, many students, especially the girls, were very inquisitive, asking when I would be able to return. As in most cultures, girls suffer most from the sexually perverse and permissive environment.
Since 1960, the total fertility rate has dropped 80%, with current levels far below replacement. Saint Lucia has the 4th highest decline in TFR in the world over that period, the top three being Iran, Maldives, and Hong Kong. As with too many other countries, children are now seen as obstacles to economic prosperity, a burden upon family life and society. The high divorce rate in Saint Lucia reinforces the point that a new language has to be reintroduced.
The phrase “Culture of Death” is frequently used by Christians to describe the attitude of our secular culture. Advocates of this “anti-culture” deny the intrinsic value of every human being, which must be welcomed, defended, and loved from the moment of conception unto life’s natural end. One of the primary challenges we face in the pro-life movement is the re-affirmation of the inherent value of human life. We think in terms of life’s “quality” rather than understanding it as a gift. And when life is reduced to quality in a secular culture, needs are reduced to the material, and life is about finding comfort and some vague notion of “progress,” even if this means eliminating the weak or those who encumber my comfort or progress. After all, if life is not a gift from God, why can’t we have more control over who gets born and when we die?
But life is sacred. Before we can expect people to respect and defend the dignity of every human person, one must understand from where this inherent dignity flows.
What does “sacred” mean in the context of human life? In the book of Genesis we hear how God created man in his image and likeness—male and female, he created them (Genesis 1:26). Our Creator loved us into being, and entrusts to us the ability to create new life with Him. Man and woman are given the power to share in God’s creation through their intimacy and openness to life – be fruitful and multiply.
This likeness to God was a major theme of the papacy of Pope Saint John Paul II, who never tired of connecting the idea of human rights such as the right to life with their true source:
The inviolability of the person, which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Christifideles Laici n. 38)
The Creator freely gives the gift of life as a good to be received and protected. The sanctity of human life is not determined by our productivity or ability to achieve a score on some test. Only human beings who share in His image and likeness are given the ability to know, receive and return the love of God. Even when a person through sin and is tarnished, the image in which one has been so wonderfully fashioned does not suddenly disappear and become null and void. Sin certainly harms and obscures our likeness to God and relationship with Him, but no sin is so great that we cannot turn back to Him and seek His forgiveness, returning to His grace.
So when we see in a beautiful nation like Saint Lucia a beautiful people suffering greatly from the collapse of family, openness to life, and respect for the living, we know the cause. That so many were so surprised to hear this fundamental teaching should be a wake up call to the Church around the world—we have the treasure of the Gospel and we share the responsibility of societal collapse and the advance of the Culture of Death when we fail to proclaim it with love and conviction.
Earthly powers also suffer when they do not recognize the primacy of God’s law. They do not grant life its dignity, nor do they have the right to violate it.
Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being. (CCC n. 2258)
We cannot effectively confront threats to life and family until we close the loop on how we as a people and culture view human life – our attitudes and behaviors. Until every life is welcomed, respected, defended, loved and served, no one’s life is safe, whether he is in Washington, D.C., St. Lucia, Moscow, or Mexico City.