Today is the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life.” I remember when he died how many tributes flooded my inbox from so many members of Congress at the time who had been inspired by his words in it. I daresay most of them were not Catholic. Back then Evangelicals and Catholics together was a real thing, and in no small part because of this document. Even today, as you read it, caricatures are destroyed and invitations are delivered. If words can be healing, and I do believe that they can be, “The Gospel of Life” is a great model for this.
It’s hard to believe what we’re going through as we reflect back on the document. It’s almost as if God provided some time for us to do so. And at a time when there are some grave challenges to vulnerable human life, not of our making, and some real decisions to make, the document takes on a whole new meaning.
I saw it remarked on Twitter by someone that a few commentators do not a pro-life movement make. Very true. But in the recent days of remarks that suggest that the elderly perhaps should step aside when it comes to the line of people needing protective and healing health care in the face of the coronavirus, we need to say and do more. Staying home these days seems to be an act of charity in itself. Making a phone call is as well. Checking in on people in the ways safest for all. But we also need to be insisting on standards that uphold the kind of commitment to protecting vulnerable human life that we are going to be judged on.
I understand. We’re all scared and feeling overwhelmed. And we may feel like we have no right really to talk, because most of us are not on the front lines. But it’s part of our civic responsibility to say “thank you” to those who are rising to the occasion of these tremendously grave challenges and also encourage and insist on the good and the true and the beautiful, as they say. We watch headlines about people being abandoned and dying alone in Italy. This is no doubt happening here already to some extent. There are people home alone and not sure who to turn to. The last thing we can entertain is casting aside people even before things get absolutely desperate. We shouldn’t have to see things get to that point. And we sure shouldn’t be planning to cast people aside even before they do.
One of the leaders who I think has been a comfort in these days has been Pope Francis. He’s been leading prayer. His were some of the first live-streamed Masses as the coronavirus first started hitting Italy in such an awful way. He got many of us praying the Rosary together last week and the Lord’s Prayer this morning. And one of the consistent and powerful themes he has been insisting on is that we reject and work against with all the love and energy in our hearts and minds the throwaway society that is part of the poison all around the world, and undeniably here in the West and the United States. (And you should keep an eye on my friend Charlie Camosy, who wrote the book on this.) Talk of sacrificing the elderly among us is very much indicative of it. And is it any surprise we would be here? Almost a half of century of legal abortion and the march of assisted suicide throughout our country and continent would do it to us. The fact of the matter is that all lives don’t matter to us. They haven’t. That is what legal abortion and assisted suicide say.
That’s all to say: I welcome New York governor Andrew Cuomo talking about the value of every human life. And I’ve been praying for at least a better part of a decade that he would come to believe such things. (I’ve prayed more stubbornly as he encouraged pro-lifers to leave the state, as he expanded abortion, and as he moved to support legal surrogacy and assisted suicide.) Instead of making sarcastic comments in his Twitter feed, how about agreeing and showing a little gratitude and praying like crazy that this will stick? That he and others will see the value of even the less-visible human lives. Because isn’t that a lot of what this is we are living through now? We are in quarantine for people we don’t know. Many of us are avoiding loved ones precisely because we want to protect them.
In a Catholic context, I would add: John Paul II, pray for us. His words are powerful today and take on added meaning. And the thing we Catholics believe about the saints is that they can intercede for us, petition God for us, add their prayers for us. I surely hope and believe that is happening now. Because a lot of people need prayers. And let’s pray that this commitment to human life that so many of us are engaged in in an unprecedented way is healing for our culture and that it sticks.
You can read or reread Evangelium Vitae here.