08 October 2012

A gospel of life

27th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Paul admonishes the Christians in Galatia for forsaking the gospel of Christ and embracing a different, perverted gospel. Some of the leaders in the Galatian church were teaching that Gentile converts must be circumcised before they can be baptized. These so-called “Judaizers” were, in effect, requiring Gentiles to become Jews before they could become fully Christian. Two thousand years later, and in the light of contemporary controversies, the Judaizing controversy seems obscure, maybe even a bit silly. So, imagine Paul's reaction if he were to visit the Church in 2012 and discover that life-long members of the Church have embraced as morally good some or all of the tenets of the gospel of death—abortion, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage,” artificial contraception, torture. I daresay we'd see him left the roof of this church building, “. . .if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!” The gospel of Jesus Christ, the one we have received from the apostles, is a gospel of life, unapologetically, unashamedly, enthusiastically, a gospel that proclaims the essential goodness of all life and celebrates the freedom that comes with a life lived serving with mercy the least among God's children. 

Pope John Paul II coined the phrase “culture of death” in the 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae. He describes “structures of sin” that suppress the conscience and allow evil to flourish disguised as mercy. These structures filter in the daily lives of communities and form a “culture of death,” that is, a way of living based on economic efficiency, a system of efficiency that always privileges the strong against the weak. This system looks to death as a solution for the inevitable problems of being human. He writes, “. . .a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another”(12). Unplanned pregnancies, children with disabilities or diseases, the terminally ill, the elderly, the incurably criminal—all are seen as weak, useless, intolerable burdens and put to death to insure the efficient operation of society for the benefit of the physically, mentally, and financially strong. The culture of death preaches and practices a perverted gospel that no follower of Christ can embrace. 

The scholar of the law wants to know how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him to recite the Law. He scholar says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “Yup, that's it. Do it and you will live.” When the lawyer asks Jesus to define the term “neighbor,” Jesus tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan and then asks him which of the passers-by acted as the injured man's neighbor. The lawyer says, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” That's the Gospel of Life. Because you love God with your whole being, treat those most in need with the same mercy that God has shown you. There is no mercy in killing an unplanned child. There is no mercy in killing a child who will be born with a disability. There is no mercy in killing someone who is terminally ill. There is no mercy in killing the elderly. There is no mercy in killing a criminal.* Every abortion, every act of euthanasia, every execution is a failure to love God and neighbor, and a repudiation of the mercy we ourselves have received. Not only do we reject God's mercy in these acts, we lend spiritual support to hopelessness and foster despair. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of life. “If anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!” 

*Before I am admonished in the combox for drawing a moral equivalency btw abortion and capital punishment, let me say:  there is no moral equivalency btw the two.  Abortion kills an innocent life and can never be called good.  The Church allows an execution to be called good under very restricted and rarely occuring circumstances.  My point here is that executing a criminal--no matter how richly deserved--is still an act of despair precisely b/c it denies it possibility of repentance and forgiveness.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->


  1. Anonymous10:23 AM

    The Church's sudden insight about capital punishment, like so much of its "social teaching" seems little more to me than a muddled catch-up with all sorts of secular and political changes. Which is what it has done pretty much since Constantine.

    As for "despair"...as if executing people whose egregious actions was about the morality of "society"...I think Dr Johnson was wiser, that "a sentence of hanging in a fortnight wonderfully concentrates the mind."

    I know you will find this point theologically muddled, but I find it much easier to believe the Church about the Trinity and transubstantiation than when it strains credulity with its pontifical bloviating on how to run economies and governments.

    1. As I'm sure you know, the Church doesn't condemn CP categorically. And there may come a time when CP becomes necessary again--collapse of society, etc. However, with "bloodless means" at our disposal to keep the criminally incurable away from our communities, we must prefer these means to death. A ready and even eager use of CP tells the culture that we're trying so hard to evangelize that our gospel isn't all it's cracked up to be. Do we believe that life is sacred or not? Do we believe that repentance and conversion is possible or not?

  2. How do you combat the culture of death? What response is there when you watch those close to you, those you love, being changed by this culture and changing their views of "mercy" to include euthanasia as morally OK? When you feel helpless, seeing that what you say and do falls on deaf ears? Feeling completely inadequate to join in the fight, but knowing to your core that you have to join - even if it means much personal sacrifice?

    I needed to read this today, even as it hits me as hard as it does.

    1. The only way to combat the culture of death is to preach the gospel of life in season and out. And especially when it is most difficult to see the benefits of life.

    2. Do you think you could just record a "Top Ten Things of which Shelly Needs Fr. P to Continually Remind Her", burn it to CD and then I could listen every day? Though it might be difficult to narrow it down to Just Ten ;-). Thank you, again, for reminding me of what I already knew.