Crossing the Threshold of the Gospel of Life

Imagine how valuable our human life must be if ‘the Son of God has taken it up and made it the instrument of the salvation of humanity.’

Pope St. John Paul II pauses moments before closing the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Jan. 6, 2001.
Pope St. John Paul II pauses moments before closing the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Jan. 6, 2001. (photo: Massimo Sambucetti / AFP via Getty Images)

“The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture.” —Pope St. John Paul II

Uncertainty, chaos, pandemic and a “culture of death” that so forcefully opposes the “culture of life” — these and other threats prompt and justify our reflections on human life.

Evangelium vitae, the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II, instructs and reminds us anew about the miracle and sanctity of life. This teaching is in substance “a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability,” and also “a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person in the name of God: Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only this direction will you find justice, development, true, freedom, peace, and happiness.” So the encyclical admonishes us.

According to Evangelium vitae:

Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Romans 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.

The meaning of human life is deeply rooted in Jesus Christ. John Paul II’s Gospel of Life is unequivocal about it:

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God, and it remains forever 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, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being.

That means that life belongs to the Lord; it is under his special protection and nobody can dispose of it on their own.

In our challenging times, God’s call is heard clearly: “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. … Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19). 

Life is a gift from the Creator. The gift is fulfilled in self-sacrifice. This is the most profound meaning of life. Imagine how beautiful, fragile and valuable our human life must be if “the Son of God has taken it up and made it the instrument of the salvation of humanity.” 

Therefore, “You shall not kill.” The Fifth Commandment establishes the point of departure of a journey to true freedom and promotion of life. John Paul II wishes to reaffirm the absolute value of the commandment “not to kill” which is at the heart of God’s covenant with man. The Commandment is not a constraint but a gift.

Attacks on human life — abortion, euthanasia and others — demand a legal justification for them. Positive law cannot replace the human conscience but, instead, it must safeguard the moral foundation of justice and respect for everyone’s inalienable rights. First and foremost among them, we have the right to life.

Democracy cannot be defined by the norms of positive law only but must be characterized by moral principles that protect the rights of the weakest and most defenseless. As John Paul II clarified, “there can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person’s dignity and without respect for his or her rights.” Therefore, legal and moral systems should work together toward the protection of human life.

In its conclusion, the Evangelium Vitae cries out “for a new culture of human life.” The Polish pope explained that the “Gospel of Life” is at the heart of the evangelizing mission of the Church. Its aim is to rally “the people of life.”

Today, we all have to work together to protect a human life. The Church’s role is to teach, celebrate and serve life. Family, called “sanctuary of life,” welcomes life, nourishes it and supports it. Women serve as guardians of the sanctuary because they are particularly close to the mystery of life.

Evangelium vitae concludes with a trusting appeal to Mary who “becomes the model of the Church, called to be the ‘new Eve,’ the mother of believers, the mother of ‘living.’” John Paul II believes that in the mutual relationship between the motherhood of Mary as the bearer of Jesus and her own motherhood toward all men and women, the Church finds hope for the Gospel of Life.

Despite all the challenges, I am calling on you to promote and defend life. As John Paul II stated:

Never tire of firmly speaking out in defense of life from its conception and do not be deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination. Christ is with you. Be Not Afraid!

The promotion of human life should be the highest priority in our societies, communities, states and others. We all should fight for life. It is worth to push yourself to the maximum “to cross the threshold of the Gospel of Life” to discover that we have our Father who gives us life and to rediscover that he loves us.

Dear friends and colleagues, help us to build and protect a culture of life. This way “justice and solidarity will increase and that new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.”