Monday, May 11, 2015

Life During the Eclipse

Can you remember where you were twenty years ago? 

It was 1995 and, in many ways, it seems like yesterday.  But in other ways, to paraphrase the rock and roll classic, it was long ago.

One of the enduring highlights of 1995 was that Pope John Paul II issued his prophetic encyclical entitled "The Gospel of Life" (Evangelium Vitae).  Although his call for a civilization of love in response to the emerging culture of death warrants much more detailed discussion, one of his insights bears a timelessness that speaks as eloquently today as it did twenty years ago: It is the image of the eclipse.

Our now canonized Holy Father argues that we are living during an epoch of human history marked by the eclipse of the value of life itself.  During an eclipse, of course, everything is gray and ambiguous.  There is no clarity or direction.  The "whatever" mentality seems to reign.  Anyone who has ever experienced the contemporary confusion about issues related to human life knows how perplexing the eclipse can be.

In a passage which sounds shockingly similar to themes from Pope Francis' papacy, John Paul denounces the violence against children in particular, caused by poverty and malnutrition from "unjust distribution of resources," as well as the "scandalous arms trade" and the "reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance" (EV, n. 10).  However, he also turns attention to another category of attacks: "...these attacks tend no longer to be considered as 'crimes'; paradoxically they assume the nature of 'rights', to the point that the state is called upon to give them legal recognition and to make them available through the free services of health-care personnel" (EV, n. 11; emphasis in the original).

What adds to the urgency and the seriousness of this situation is that "most often, those attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of the family--the family which by its nature is called to be the 'sanctuary of life'" (EV, n. 11).  The holy Holy Father identifies this culture of death as a "war of the powerful against the weak" (EV, n. 12; emphasis in the original).  He denounces a kind of "conspiracy against life" which is unleashed simply because, "A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored"; such weak or marginalized lives "tend to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated" (EV, n. 12).

Aren't we seeing this played out in countless different ways in 2015?

St. John Paul II also maintains that we are experiencing an eclipse of the sense of God and man--that it, we are witnessing the disappearance of a sense of the dignity of the human person which is directly proportionate to the disappearance of the awareness of God's presence.  Citing the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II observes that "When God is forgotten, the creature itself grows unintelligible."

In a logic that seems irrefutable, "The Gospel of Life" points out that, when people live as if God did not exit, a "practical materialism" necessarily follows:  That is, without a spiritual horizon, the human person is left to wander through the physical world in a way that "breeds individualism, utilitarianism, and hedonism" (EV, n. 23).  In other words, John Paul II argues that "The criterion of personal dignity--which demands respect, generosity and service--is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what the 'are', but for what they 'have, do and produce'" (EV, n. 23).

So, where will we be twenty years from now?  Will we help reshape a culture which sees the light more clearly, or will the darkness of the eclipse expand to cover the entire land?  The choice is up to us, and much innocent life hangs in the balance awaiting our response.

St. John Paul II, pray for us!