NEWS BULLETIN – January 2018
PAPAL INTENTION FOR JANUARY 2018
Evangelization: Religious Minorities in Asia
That christians and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom.
THE VALUE AND DIGNITY OF HUMAN LIFE
Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters!
As the Church prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae” on the value and dignity of human life in 2018, in this news bulletin let us reflect on the dignity of human life. From both divine revelation and natural law, we know that there is something special about human life.
Created in the Image of God
The value of human life is intrinsic, for it derives from God, who made human beings in his own image (Gen. 1:26–27) and if God were to withdraw his breath from humans, they would perish (Job 34:14–15). Since life belongs to God, humans do not have absolute autonomy over their own lives but are stewards of the life given to them by God. The lives of all humans, both their own and others’, are to be cherished and guarded. As a gift from God, every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. Consequently, the person who takes the life of another will be held accountable and punishable by God through his human representatives(Gen.9:5–6; Rom.13:1-7).The Fifth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13), and its explanation in Exodus 21:12-32 clearly teaches this. The Hebrew word for “murder” (ratsakh) in Exodus 20:13 not only refers to intentional killing (e.g., Jer.7:9; compare Ex. 21:12,14,20) but also to human death caused by carelessness or negligence (e.g., Josh. 20:3-6; compare Ex.21:13).
The life and dignity of the human person is foundational to Catholic social teaching precisely because without it, no other rights have meaning. It is a Christian faith that life begins at conception, celebrate every birth, provide love and care through childhood, and advocate for health, growth, and protection even through death. In other words, we should be pro-life from the womb to the tomb. Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15). (St. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [Evangelium vitae], no. 3)
With this basic principle of the value of human life in place, we will consider a number of ethical issues concerning the beginning and the end of life.
The Beginning of Life
Abortion was a known practice in the ancient world. The Bible does not mention explicitly the practice of abortion. Yet when we listen carefully to the teaching of the Bible regarding what it means to be a human being and what it means to take the life of another, we find that the Bible speaks very clearly on the issue of abortion. Moreover, both Jews and Christians in ancient times explicitly condemned the practice of abortion.
The main issue concerning abortion revolves around when life and personhood begin. Various views have been proposed: (1) at conception; (2) at implantation; and (3) at birth. There is now widespread consensus within the medical field that human life begins at conception, when the egg and the sperm fuse together to form a human embryo. On top of established medical conviction, however, the Bible teaches that a fetus within a womb is a living human being bearing the image of God. In Psalm 139:13, David speaks of how God formed his “inward parts” while he was in his mother’s womb. This text clearly teaches that God forms a new person before birth, not during or after birth. Furthermore, David speaks of himself being conceived as a sinner (Ps.51:5). Since only human beings can have moral responsibility, full personhood must, according to the Bible, begin at conception. We are compelled to conclude that destroying a fetus amounts to taking the life of a person, which the fifth commandment directly prohibits. The outrage God feels at the murder of the unborn is underscored in his forbidding the taking of innocent life (Ex. 23:7).
An abortion can be legitimately considered only in the event of an ectopic pregnancy, in which the pregnancy starts somewhere outside the uterus (usually in the fallopian tubes). The baby cannot survive such a pregnancy and, if allowed to develop, can endanger the mother’s life. The question here, then, is not one of murder but of the lesser of two evils-losing one life instead two.
Proponents of abortion also put forth other reasons for abortion, such as the choice of the mother, the case of rape, and the issue of quality of life. Yet surely a mother’s “choice” does not include choosing to end another person’s life any more than a murderer should be allowed to “choose” to end another’s life. And in the case of rape, a heinous crime (rape) should not be compounded by adding to it another heinous crime (abortion). Regarding quality of life, it is certainly tragic for a baby to be born into poverty, or with physical deformity. Such suffering is real and painful and must be tenderly addressed. Yet the answer to a difficult life for an infant is not to deny life itself to the infant, who is created in God’s image.
The End of Life
As explicitly formulated, the precept “You shall not kill” is strongly negative: it indicates the extreme limit which can never be exceeded. Implicitly, however, it encourages a positive attitude of absolute respect for life; it leads to the promotion of life and to progress along the way of a love which gives, receives and serves. (St. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [Evangelium vitae.], no. 54)
As a result of the fall of our first parents, physical death is inevitable for all people (Rom. 5:12–14; 1 Cor. 15:21–22). The process of dying is frequently accompanied by illness, suffering, and pain. Euthanasia is one way people have sought to eliminate end-of-life suffering. Euthanasia has two types: active one and passive one. When a terminally ill person dies as a result of a deliberate act of commission is called active euthanasia, by omission is called passive euthanasia by another person seeking to hasten the ill person’s death in order to end his or her suffering. The person who is ill may have given informed consent (voluntary), may have withheld consent (involuntary), or may have been incompetent to give consent (non-voluntary).
Active euthanasia is clearly prohibited by the fifth commandment, regardless of the ill person’s request. This moral principle is seen in the case of King Saul. Fatally injured, Saul commanded his armor-bearer to kill him so that he would not suffer humiliation from his enemies. His armor-bearer refused, however (1 Sam. 31:3–5). In contrast, when the Amalekite brought news of Saul’s death to David, claiming that he had killed Saul at the king’s own request in order to end his misery, David executed the Amalekite for taking Saul’s life (2 Sam. 1:1-16).
Passive euthanasia involves withholding either natural life-sustaining means (e.g., food, water, air) or unnatural life-sustaining means (e.g., life-supporting machines) in order to cause death and thus end suffering. Many Christian ethicists believe that withholding natural means of life-sustenance from helpless patients is comparable to withholding the same means from an infant, as it will directly cause death. This act of negligence leading to death is thus also viewed as being prohibited by the sixth commandment. A somewhat different question is whether doctors are ethically able to withhold futile treatments that do not improve the prospect of recovery and only prolong the process of dying when death is imminent and inevitable. In such cases, according to some Christian ethicists, it is morally acceptable to allow such a person to die, though whenever there is a reasonable chance of recovery or improvement of the quality of life, sustained means should be pursued.
The Treatment of Children, the Disabled, and the Elderly
How, then, shall Christians respond to pain and suffering in those who are unable to care for themselves? In considering this question, we must remember that the value and dignity of human life is grounded in the fact that God is the giver of life. Human worth does not fluctuate with the level of perceived usefulness of a person to society or the degree of suffering they are experiencing, for human worth is grounded in the image of God. A child, disabled person, or elderly person is no less the image of God than anyone else. Moses exhorts God’s people to treat the disabled and the elderly with respect (Lev. 19:14, 32). The child, the disabled, and the elderly, even when they are dependent on others or are sick or dying, deserve the same respect granted to anyone else. Christians are to uphold the dignity of life, rooted as it is in the image of God.
How shall we handle such suffering? How can we help to improve the quality of life for those suffering from disability or terminal illness? Is there any meaning to suffering at all? Two comments are in order:
- We remember that Jesus had compassion not only for the sick (Matt. 14:14) but also for those with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs (e.g., Matt. 9:36; Mark 8:2; Luke 7:13). Likewise, Paul exhorts believers to “put on . . . compassionate hearts” (Col. 3:12). The disabled and the sick not only suffer from physical pain and discomfort, they are also often troubled emotionally and spiritually. It is therefore vital, and deeply Christian, to provide compassionate care, to both body and soul, to those who are suffering.
- Although suffering in itself is not good but a result of living in a fallen world, suffering serves redemptive purposes in the life of the believer. Hardships of various kinds have the unique power to deepen our awareness of human frailty and mortality, to disengage our affection for the things of the world, and to lead us to depend more on God and to cherish more meaningfully the grace and mercy of God in Christ (see 2 Cor. 1:8–9; Heb. 2:14–18; 4:15–16).
Ending someone’s life in order to relieve suffering or inconvenience is not only unjustifiable; it violates God’s clearly defined moral order. Suffering should bring us not to end life prematurely but to entrust ourselves more completely to our faithful God no matter what befalls us or those whom we love (1 Pet. 4:19). We can find strength and ultimate hope in Christ, who has conquered death and can sympathize with human suffering (Heb. 2:14–18; 4:15). Based on God’s love, Christians are to extend self-giving compassion and care to those who are suffering or vulnerable—unborn or born, young or old.
3. Death Penalty
In Catholic teaching the state has the recourse to impose the death penalty upon criminals convicted of heinous crimes if this ultimate sanction is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life. Death penalty must be rarely used as a last resort. It is obvious and it is pity that the states do not follow the catholic faith.
4. War, Terror, Genocide
The Church recognizes the presence of evil in the world and the need of nations to sometimes defend themselves from great evil. “Just war” principles – which are often misused – spell out stringent requirements before a nation should enter into any armed conflict. War should always be the last resort.But terror and genocide can never be justified. They are as intrinsically evil as abortion precisely because they involve the taking of innocent human life.
III. An economy of exclusion and inequality
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” for an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”. (Pope Francis, the Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], no. 153) There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel: Their equal dignity as person’s demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace. (Catechism of the Catholic Church.,no. 1938)
Let me conclude the article by quoting from Vatican II: “Whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are shames indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury.” (Second Vatican Council, the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes], no. 27)
The value and dignity of human life is derived from God the Creator and is rooted in the fact that all humans have been created in God’s image. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things. As followers of Jesus Christ, let us celebrate the gift of human life by upholding the sanctity and dignity of life from womb to tomb and be living witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
[Thanks to an article by Chee-Chiew Lee | Singapore for the inspiration of this message.]
Wish You All A Grace-Filled New Year 2018!
With my most cordial blessings,
V A. Amalraj,
Bishop of Ootacamund