Making pro-life more effectiveARCHBISHOP J. MICHAEL MILLER, CSB
As a Catholic Christian and pastor of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, I believe the pro-life movement can be increasingly effective in the years to come; here are a few reflections on how.
Certainly the list is not exhaustive, and I have previously mentioned the need to be concerned about the political and legal dimensions involved in fostering a culture of life.
However there are other instruments in our arsenal which must also be used in the pro-life movement is to maintain its energy and become even more vigorous in the years ahead.
First of all, we can never stop praying for the cause of life. It is a constant and consistent discipline for many Christians, Catholic and Protestant, on behalf of those who have no voice. This vigil of prayer must be extended to the often complacent believers who have given little more than lip service to their belief in the cause of life.
We must now adopt all the weapons of spiritual warfare, offering prayers not only for the direct perpetrators of attacks on human life but also for elected officials: that hearts will be converted to love for life.
Prayer must be accompanied by penance and sacrifice. Now is the time to take seriously praying the Rosary, making novenas, and initiating our own daily discipline of personal prayer on behalf of the unborn and for the conversion of our society from a culture of death to a culture of life.
We are filled with the certainty that we can rely on the help of God, for Whom nothing is impossible. In the words of Pope John Paul the Great: "A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer."
The Pope added, "Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life."
Second, the pro-life movement will be increasingly effective to the extent that it fosters "a contemplative outlook" on life, one opposed to the pragmatism which is smothering and limiting us. This contemplative outlook entails the appreciation of every human life as a "wonder" created by God.
In the words of Evangelium Vitae, "It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift."
Whenever individuals cultivate an attitude of religious awe before the mystery of life, they are drawn to honour the face of Christ in everyone.
Pope Benedict also maintains that before we can consider active initiatives on behalf of life, "it is fundamental to foster a correct attitude towards the other: the culture of life is in fact based on attention to others without any forms of exclusion or discrimination. Every human life, as such, deserves and demands always to be defended and promoted."
The "no" which the Church pronounces in her moral directives, on which public opinion sometimes unilaterally focuses, is in fact a great "yes" to the dignity of the human person, to human life, and to the person's capacity to love. It is an expression of the constant trust with which, despite their frailty, people are able to respond to the loftiest vocation for which they are created: the vocation to love.
A third contribution of the Catholic Church to making the pro-life movement more effective is to follow the example of her Divine Teacher, in preaching mercy especially to those men and women who, having perpetrated these acts, stained by sin and wounded within, are seeking peace and the chance to begin anew.
The Church's duty is to approach these people with love and consideration, with caring and motherly attention, to proclaim the merciful closeness of God in Jesus Christ. A converted heart is a great triumph for the cause of life.
"The Gospel of love and life is also always the Gospel of mercy, which is addressed to the sinner." The Servant of God John Paul II said in inaugurating the new Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow: "Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind."
Pro-lifers are merciful, as is our heavenly Father. The initiatives and programs now in place to help women who have had an abortion testify eloquently to this.
Although what has been done remains a grave injustice, all pro-lifers can repeat to women who have had an abortion the tender words of Pope John Paul: "Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance.
The Father of Mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the sacrament of reconciliation. To the same Father and His mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child."
For the desired cultural change to come about which will be the foundation of a new Culture of Life, a vast educational effort is required.
Above all, consciences need to be formed in light of the truth that every human life has inviolable value.
First, we must ensure that our young people acquire "an authentic education in sexuality and in love, an education which involves training in chastity."
Widespread hypersexualization fuelled by the media has brought about a deep malaise in our society, but an encouraging development is now taking place.
Faced with an insatiable exploitation of the sexual instinct by the media, which too often presents a truncated vision of love and sexuality and a false understanding of freedom, many parents, psychologists, educators and even young people have started to react with indignation and concern, saying: "Too much is too much!" "Enough is enough!" "It's time to stop!"
Today, the word "love" is so spoiled, worn out and abused that we almost fear to pronounce it. And yet it is a fundamental word, an expression of the primordial reality: our vocation to love and be loved. We cannot simply abandon it, but we must take it up again, purify it and bring it to its original splendour so that it can illumine our life and guide it on the right path.
Celsus, a philosopher in the first century, identified Christians as "the people who love the body." He intended his statement to show contempt, but, in fact, it expressed an undeniable reality: Christianity has always defended the dignity of the body. How could it be otherwise, since the Son of God himself took on a body to come and reveal the truth about the human person and human destiny?
Two thousand years later, a Pope loved by the young rose up to invite them to a "sexual liberation" based on unconditional respect for the dignity of the human body. The "Theology of the Body" he elaborated is an invitation to find, or to re-find, the meaning of life while discovering the true meaning of the body, of love and of human sexuality. And it is beginning to have an impact among young people. If we can succeed in making the theology of the body more widely known we will make the pro-life movement more attractive to the new generation and more effective.
The movement's educational outreach, integral to it from the beginning, now has new tools available to spread its message far and wide. In this world of social networking and instant communication, we can spread our message as never before. These messages will be built upon the bedrock of truth and crafted logically in a rhetoric that cannot be refuted.
I also believe that the pro-life message can be heralded in our culture through new avenues. Movies like Bella can challenge hearts and convictions. Music and media should also be used. Creativity must be unleashed for the cause of Christ and those whom he loves. These technologies are truly a gift to humanity, and we must endeavor to ensure that the benefits they offer are put at the service of the inalienable dignity of human life.
My last and final observation is that the pro-life movement will be increasingly effective if it situates itself within a broad agenda which encompasses care for the poor, needy, and abused, in addition to relief for the unborn and support for traditional families.
This has tremendous appeal to young people, whom we must encourage to begin leadership of the pro-life movement. They are often put off by what they regard as the heated rhetoric and judgmental spirit that has all too often characterized a certain kind of activism. In no way does this broader perspective denigrate or compromise what must remain the focus on certain key and first-level issues, like abortion and euthanasia.
As sharers in Christ's mission, we promote human life through the corporal works of mercy. By such acts in a wide variety of areas we take care of life. Jesus' disciples are called "to become neighbors to everyone."
Only a common effort of all people for life -- believers and non believers alike -- will lead to "a civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, Creator and lover of life."
The Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, CSB, "Making pro-life more effective." B.C. Catholic (March 30, April 6, 2009).
Reprinted with permission of the B.C. Catholic. Photo, courtesy of the B.C. Catholic.
This article was two of a three part column that ran in the B. C. Catholic and was itself, taken from a talk given by His Grace to North Shore Pro-Life in March, 2009.
The Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, CSB, was born in Ottawa, Canada, on July 9, 1946. On June 29, 1975, Pope Paul VI ordained him a priest, and on November 23, 2003 Pope John Paul II appointed him titular Archbishop of Vertara, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education and Vice President of the Pontifical Work of Priestly Vocations. He became Archbishop of Vancouver on January 2, 2009. Archbishop Miller is a member of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses and of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People as well as a consultor to the Congregation for Bishops.
Archbishop Miller is a specialist on the papacy and modern papal teaching, he has published seven books and more than 100 articles, scholarly, popular and journalistic. His books include The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy (1995) the Encyclicals of John Paul II (2nd ed., 2001), and The Holy See's Teaching on Catholic Schools (2006).
Archbishop Miller has received honorary doctorates from St. Michael's College (Vermont), University of Dallas (Texas), University of St. Thomas (Texas) and University of Steubenville (Ohio) and the Australian Catholic University (Sydney).
Copyright © 2009 The Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, CSB
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