Evangelium vitae 91

"Your children will be like oliveshoots around your table": the family as the "sanctuary oflife"

(Ps 128,3)

92 Within the "people of lifeand the people for life", the family has a decisive responsibility. Thisresponsibility flows from its very nature as a community of life and love,founded upon marriage, and from its mission to "guard, reveal andcommunicate love".117 Here it is a matter of God's own love, ofwhich parents are co-workers and as it were interpreters when they transmitlife and raise it according to his fatherly plan. 118 This is the lovethat becomes selflessness, receptiveness and gift. Within the family eachmember is accepted, respected and honoured precisely because he or she is aperson; and if any family member is in greater need, the care which he or shereceives is all the more intense and attentive.

The family has a special role to play throughout thelife of its members, from birth to death. It is truly "the sanctuary oflife: the place in which life-the gift of God-can be properly welcomed andprotected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop inaccordance with what constitutes authentic human growth".119Consequently the role of the family in building a culture of life is decisiveand irreplaceable.

As the domestic church, the family is summoned toproclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life. This is a responsibilitywhich first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basisof an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique eventwhich clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to begiven as a gift. In giving origin to a new life, parents recognize that thechild, "as the fruit of their mutual gift of love, is, in turn, a gift forboth of them, a gift which flows from them".120

It is above all in raising children that the familyfulfils its mission to proclaim the Gospel of life. By word and example, in thedaily round of relations and choices, and through concrete actions and signs,parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sinceregift of self, and they cultivate in them respect for others, a sense ofjustice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all theother values which help people to live life as a gift. In raising childrenChristian parents must be concerned about their children's faith and help themto fulfil the vocation God has given them. The parents' mission as educatorsalso includes teaching and giving their children an example of the true meaningof suffering and death. They will be able to do this if they are sensitive toall kinds of suffering around them and, even more, if they succeed in fosteringattitudes of closeness, assistance and sharing towards sick or elderly membersof the family.

93 The family celebrates the Gospelof life through daily prayer, both individual prayer and family prayer. Thefamily prays in order to glorify and give thanks to God for the gift of life,and implores his light and strength in order to face times of difficulty andsuffering without losing hope. But the celebration which gives meaning to everyother form of prayer and worship is found in the family's actual daily lifetogether, if it is a life of love and self-giving.

This celebration thus becomes a service to the Gospelof life, expressed through solidarity as experienced within and around thefamily in the form of concerned, attentive and loving care shown in the humble,ordinary events of each day. A particularly significant expression ofsolidarity between families is a willingness to adopt or take in childrenabandoned by their parents or in situations of serious hardship. True parentallove is ready to go beyond the bonds of flesh and blood in order to acceptchildren from other families, offering them whatever is necessary for theirwell-being and full development. Among the various forms of adoption,consideration should be given to adoption-at-a-distance, preferable in caseswhere the only reason for giving up the child is the extreme poverty of thechild's family. Through this type of adoption, parents are given the helpneeded to support and raise their children, without their being uprooted fromtheir natural environment.

As "a firm and persevering determination tocommit oneself to the common good",121 solidarity also needs to bepractised through participation in social and political life. Serving theGospel of life thus means that the family, particularly through its membershipof family associations, works to ensure that the laws and institutions of theState in no way violate the right to life, from conception to natural death,but rather protect and promote it.

94 Special attention must be givento the elderly. While in some cultures older people remain a part of the familywith an important and active role, in others the elderly are regarded as auseless burden and are left to themselves. Here the temptation to resort toeuthanasia can more easily arise.

Neglect of the elderly or their outright rejection areintolerable. Their presence in the family, or at least their closeness to thefamily in cases where limited living space or other reasons make thisimpossible, is of fundamental importance in creating a climate of mutualinteraction and enriching communication between the different age-groups. It istherefore important to preserve, or to re-establish where it has been lost, asort of "covenant" between generations. In this way parents, in theirlater years, can receive from their children the acceptance and solidaritywhich they themselves gave to their children when they brought them into theworld. This is required by obedience to the divine commandment to honour one'sfather and mother (cf. Ex
Ex 20,12 Lv 19,3). Butthere is more. The elderly are not only to be considered the object of ourconcern, closeness and service. They themselves have a valuable contribution tomake to the Gospel of life. Thanks to the rich treasury of experiences theyhave acquired through the years, the elderly can and must be sources of wisdomand witnesses of hope and love.

Although it is true that "the future of humanitypasses by way of the family",122 it must be admitted that modernsocial, economic and cultural conditions make the family's task of serving lifemore difficult and demanding. In order to fulfil its vocation as the"sanctuary of life", as the cell of a society which loves and welcomeslife, the family urgently needs to be helped and supported. Communities andStates must guarantee all the support, including economic support, whichfamilies need in order to meet their problems in a truly human way. For herpart, the Church must untiringly promote a plan of pastoral care for families,capable of making every family rediscover and live with joy and courage itsmission to further the Gospel of life.

"Walk as children of light": bringing about a transformation of culture

(Ep 5,8)

95 "Walk as children of light... and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in theunfruitful works of darkness" (Ep 5,8). In our present socialcontext, marked by a dramatic struggle between the "culture of life"and the "culture of death", there is need to develop a deep criticalsense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.

What is urgently called for is a general mobilizationof consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign insupport of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new,because it will be able to confront and solve today's unprecedented problemsaffecting human life; new, because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamicconviction by all Christians; new, because it will be capable of bringing abouta serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties. While the urgentneed for such a cultural transformation is linked to the present historicalsituation, it is also rooted in the Church's mission of evangelization. Thepurpose of the Gospel, in fact, is "to transform humanity from within andto make it new".123 Like the yeast which leavens the whole measureof dough (cf. Mt Mt 13,33), the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and givethem life from within, 124 so that they may express the full truthabout the human person and about human life.

We need to begin with the renewal of a culture of lifewithin Christian communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers,even those who take an active part in the life of the Church, end up byseparating their Christian faith from its ethical requirements concerning life,and thus fall into moral subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting.With great openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is theculture of life today among individual Christians, families, groups andcommunities in our Dioceses. With equal clarity and determination we mustidentify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all itstruth. At the same time, we need to promote a serious and in-depth exchangeabout basic issues of human life with everyone, including non-believers, inintellectual circles, in the various professional spheres and at the level ofpeople's everyday life.

96 The first and fundamental steptowards this cultural transformation consists in forming consciences withregard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life. It is ofthe greatest importance to re-establish the essential connection between lifeand freedom. These are inseparable goods: where one is violated, the other alsoends up being violated. There is no true freedom where life is not welcomed andloved; and there is no fullness of life except in freedom. Both realities havesomething inherent and specific which links them inextricably: the vocation tolove. Love, as a sincere gift of self, 125 is what gives the life andfreedom of the person their truest meaning.

No less critical in the formation of conscience is therecovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth. As I have frequentlystated, when freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible toestablish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid forsociety to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or theoppressive totalitarianism of public authority. 126

It is therefore essential that man should acknowledgehis inherent condition as a creature to whom God has granted being and life asa gift and a duty. Only by admitting his innate dependence can man live and usehis freedom to the full, and at the same time respect the life and freedom ofevery other person. Here especially one sees that "at the heart of everyculture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery ofGod".127 Where God is denied and people live as though he did notexist, or his commandments are not taken into account, the dignity of the humanperson and the inviolability of human life also end up being rejected orcompromised.

97 Closely connected with theformation of conscience is the work of education, which helps individuals to beever more human, leads them ever more fully to the truth, instils in themgrowing respect for life, and trains them in right interpersonal relationships.

In particular, there is a need for education about thevalue of life from its very origins. It is an illusion to think that we canbuild a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept andexperience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their truemeaning and in their close interconnection. Sexuality, which enriches the wholeperson, "manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift ofself in love".128 The trivialization of sexuality is among theprincipal factors which have led to contempt for new life. Only a true love isable to protect life. There can be no avoiding the duty to offer, especially toadolescents and young adults, an authentic education in sexuality and in love,an education which involves training in chastity as a virtue which fosterspersonal maturity and makes one capable of respecting the "spousal"meaning of the body.

The work of educating in the service of life involvesthe training of married couples in responsible procreation. In its truemeaning, responsible procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord'scall and to act as faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when thefamily is generously open to new lives, and when couples maintain an attitudeof openness and service to life, even if, for serious reasons and in respectfor the moral law, they choose to avoid a new birth for the time being or indefinitely.The moral law obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct andpassion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person. It isprecisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsibleprocreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility. From thescientific point of view, these methods are becoming more and more accurate andmake it possible in practice to make choices in harmony with moral values. Anhonest appraisal of their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices whichare still widely held, and should convince married couples, as well ashealth-care and social workers, of the importance of proper training in thisarea. The Church is grateful to those who, with personal sacrifice and oftenunacknowledged dedication, devote themselves to the study and spread of thesemethods, as well to the promotion of education in the moral values which theypresuppose.

The work of education cannot avoid a consideration ofsuffering and death. These are a part of human existence, and it is futile, notto say misleading, to try to hide them or ignore them. On the contrary, peoplemust be helped to understand their profound mystery in all its harsh reality.Even pain and suffering have meaning and value when they are experienced inclose connection with love received and given. In this regard, I have calledfor the yearly celebration of the World Day of the Sick, emphasizing "thesalvific nature of the offering up of suffering which, experienced in communionwith Christ, belongs to the very essence of the Redemption".129Death itself is anything but an event without hope. It is the door which openswide on eternity and, for those who live in Christ, an experience ofparticipation in the mystery of his Death and Resurrection.

98 In a word, we can say that thecultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage toadopt a new life-style, consisting in making practical choices-at the personal,family, social and international level-on the basis of a correct scale ofvalues: the primacy of being over having, 130 of the person overthings. 131 This renewed life-style involves a passing fromindifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them. Otherpeople are not rivals from whom we must defend ourselves, but brothers andsisters to be supported. They are to be loved for their own sakes, and theyenrich us by their very presence.

In this mobilization for a new culture of life no onemust feel excluded: everyone has an important role to play. Together with thefamily, teachers and educators have a particularly valuable contribution tomake. Much will depend on them if young people, trained in true freedom, are tobe able to preserve for themselves and make known to others new, authenticideals of life, and if they are to grow in respect for and service to everyother person, in the family and in society.

Intellectuals can also do much to build a new cultureof human life. A special task falls to Catholic intellectuals, who are calledto be present and active in the leading centres where culture is formed, inschools and universities, in places of scientific and technological research,of artistic creativity and of the study of man. Allowing their talents andactivity to be nourished by the living force of the Gospel, they ought to placethemselves at the service of a new culture of life by offering serious and welldocumented contributions, capable of commanding general respect and interest byreason of their merit. It was precisely for this purpose that I established thePontifical Acad- emy for Life, assigning it the task of "studying andproviding information and training about the principal problems of law and biomedicinepertaining to the promotion of life, especially in the direct relationship theyhave with Christian morality and the directives of the Church'sMagisterium".132 A specific contribution will also have to comefrom Universities, particularly from Catholic Universities, and from Centres,Institutes and Committees of Bioethics.

An important and serious responsibility belongs tothose involved in the mass media, who are called to ensure that the messageswhich they so effectively transmit will support the culture of life. They needto present noble models of life and make room for instances of people'spositive and sometimes heroic love for others. With great respect they shouldalso present the positive values of sexuality and human love, and not insist onwhat defiles and cheapens human dignity. In their interpretation of things,they should refrain from emphasizing anything that suggests or fosters feelingsor attitudes of indifference, contempt or rejection in relation to life. Withscrupulous concern for factual truth, they are called to combine freedom ofinformation with respect for every person and a profound sense of humanity.

99 In transforming culture so thatit supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is uniqueand decisive. It depends on them to promote a "new feminism" whichrejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", inorder to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of thelife of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.

Making my own the words of the concluding message ofthe Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal:"Reconcile people with life".133 You are called to bearwitness to the meaning of genuine love, of that gift of self and of thatacceptance of others which are present in a special way in the relationship ofhusband and wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every otherinterpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes you acutelyaware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a particulartask: "Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life,as it develops in the woman's womb ... This unique contact with the new humanbeing developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings notonly towards her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks thewoman's personality".134 A mother welcomes and carries in herselfanother human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respectingit in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others that humanrelations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: aperson who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes frombeing a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength,intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which theChurch and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisitefor an authentic cultural change.

I would now like to say a special word to women whohave had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may haveinfluenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was apainful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet havehealed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not givein to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand whathappened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselvesover with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready togive 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. Withthe friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result ofyour own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders ofeveryone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by acceptingthe birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in needof someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way oflooking at human life.

100 In this great endeavour tocreate a new culture of life we are inspired and sustained by the confidencethat comes from knowing that the Gospel of life, like the Kingdom of Goditself, is growing and producing abundant fruit (cf. Mk Mc 4,26-29). There iscertainly an enormous disparity between the powerful resources available to theforces promoting the "culture of death" and the means at the disposalof those working for a "culture of life and love". But we know thatwe can rely on the help of God, for whom nothing is impossible (cf. Mt Mt 19,26).

Filled with this certainty, and moved by profoundconcern for the destiny of every man and woman, I repeat what I said to thosefamilies who carry out their challenging mission amid so many difficulties:135 a great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which willrise 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 everyChristian community, from every group and association, from every family andfrom the heart of every believer. Jesus himself has shown us by his own examplethat prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against theforces of evil (cf. Mt Mt 4,1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannotbe driven out except in this way (cf. Mk Mc 9,29). Let ustherefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so thatpower from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the wallswhich conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil ofpractices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn theirhearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love.

"We are writing this that our joy may be complete": the Gospel of life is for the whole of human society

(1Jn 1,4)

101 "We are writing you thisthat our joy may be complete" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,4). The revelation of the Gospel oflife is given to us as a good to be shared with all people: so that all men andwomen may have fellowship with us and with the Trinity (cf. 1 Jn 1Jn 1,3). Our ownjoy would not be complete if we failed to share this Gospel with others butkept it only for ourselves.

The Gospel of life is not for believers alone: it isfor everyone. The issue of life and its defence and promotion is not a concernof Christians alone. Although faith provides special light and strength, thisquestion arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which caresabout the future of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value,but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake isone which every human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarilyconcerns everyone.

Consequently, all that we do as the "people oflife and for life" should be interpreted correctly and welcomed withfavour. When the Church declares that unconditional respect for the right tolife of every innocent person-from conception to natural death-is one of thepillars on which every civil society stands, she "wants simply to promotea human State. A State which recognizes the defence of the fundamental rightsof the human person, especially of the weakest, as its primary duty".136

The Gospel of life is for the whole of human society.To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through thepromotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common goodwithout acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the otherinalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. Asociety lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values suchas the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand,radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways inwhich human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak ormarginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the mostprecious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.

There can be no true democracy without a rec- ognitionof every person's dignity and without respect for his or her rights.

Nor can there be true peace unless life is defendedand promoted. As Paul VI pointed out: "Every crime against life is anattack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people... Butwhere human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended,peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life insociety".137

The "people of life" rejoices in being ableto share its commitment with so many others. Thus may the "people forlife" constantly grow in number and may a new culture of love andsolidarity develop for the true good of the whole of human society.


102 At the end of this Encyclical,we naturally look again to the Lord Jesus, "the Child born for us"(cf. Is Is 9,6), that in him we may contemplate "the Life" which"was made manifest" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,2). In the mystery of Christ's Birth theencounter of God with man takes place and the earthly journey of the Son of Godbegins, a journey which will culminate in the gift of his life on the Cross. Byhis death Christ will conquer death and become for all humanity the source ofnew life.

The one who accepted "Life" in the name ofall and for the sake of all was Mary, the Virgin Mother; she is thus mostclosely and personally associated with the Gospel of life. Mary's consent atthe Annunciation and her motherhood stand at the very beginning of the mysteryof life which Christ came to bestow on humanity (cf. Jn Jn 10,10). Through heracceptance and loving care for the life of the Incarnate Word, human life hasbeen rescued from condemnation to final and eternal death.

For this reason,Mary, "like the Church of which she is the type, is a mother of all whoare reborn to life. She is in fact the mother of the Life by which everyonelives, and when she brought it forth from herself she in some way brought torebirth all those who were to live by that Life".138

As the Church contemplates Mary's motherhood, shediscovers the meaning of her own motherhood and the way in which she is calledto express it. At the same time, the Church's experience of motherhood leads toa most profound understanding of Mary's experience as the incomparable model ofhow life should be welcomed and cared for.

"A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun" : the motherhood of Mary and of the Church

(Ap 12,1)

103 The mutual relationship betweenthe mystery of the Church and Mary appears clearly in the "greatportent" described in the Book of Rev- elation: "A great portentappeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). In this sign the Churchrecognizes an image of her own mystery: present in history, she knows that shetranscends history, inasmuch as she constitutes on earth the "seed andbeginning" of the Kingdom of God. 139 TheChurch sees this mystery fulfilled in complete and exemplary fashion in Mary.She is the woman of glory in whom God's plan could be carried out with supremeperfection.

The "woman clothed with the sun"-the Book ofRevelation tells us-"was with child" (12:2). The Church is fullyaware that she bears within herself the Saviour of the world, Christ the Lord.She is aware that she is called to offer Christ to the world, giving men and womennew birth into God's own life. But the Church cannot forget that her missionwas made possible by the motherhood of Mary, who conceived and bore the One whois "God from God", "true God from true God". Mary is trulythe Mother of God, the Theotokos, in whose motherhood the vocation tomotherhood bestowed by God on every woman is raised to its highest level. ThusMary becomes the model of the Church, called to be the "new Eve", themother of believers, the mother of the "living" (cf. Gen
Gn 3,20).

The Church's spiritual motherhood is only achieved-theChurch knows this too-through the pangs and "the labour" ofchildbirth (cf. Rev Ap 12,2), that is to say, in constant tension with the forcesof evil which still roam the world and affect human hearts, offering resistanceto Christ: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The lightshines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1,4-5).

Like the Church, Mary too had to live her motherhoodamid suffering: "This child is set ... for a sign that is spokenagainst-and a sword will pierce through your own soul also-that thoughts out ofmany hearts may be revealed" (Lc 2,34-35). The wordswhich Simeon addresses to Mary at the very beginning of the Saviour's earthlylife sum up and prefigure the rejection of Jesus, and with him of Mary, arejection which will reach its culmination on Calvary. "Standing by thecross of Jesus" (Jn 19,25), Mary shares inthe gift which the Son makes of himself: she offers Jesus, gives him over, andbegets him to the end for our sake. The "yes" spoken on the day ofthe Annunciation reaches full maturity on the day of the Cross, when the timecomes for Mary to receive and beget as her children all those who becomedisciples, pouring out upon them the saving love of her Son: "When Jesussaw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to hismother, ?Woman, behold, your son!' " (Jn 19,26).

"And the dragon stood before thewoman ... that he might devour her child when she brought it forth" : life menaced by the forces of evil

(Ap 12,4)

104 In the Book of Revelation, the"great portent" of the "woman" (12:1) is accompanied by"another portent which appeared in heaven": "a great reddragon" (Ap 12,3), which represents Satan, the personal power of evil, aswell as all the powers of evil at work in history and opposing the Church'smission.

Here too Mary sheds light on the Community ofBelievers. The hostility of the powers of evil is, in fact, an insidiousopposition which, before affecting the disciples of Jesus, is directed againsthis mother. To save the life of her Son from those who fear him as a dangerousthreat, Mary has to flee with Joseph and the Child into Egypt (cf. Mt Mt 2,13-15).

Mary thus helps the Church to realize that life isalways at the centre of a great struggle between good and evil, between lightand darkness. The dragon wishes to devour "the child brought forth"(cf. Rev Ap 12,4), a figure of Christ, whom Mary brought forth "in thefullness of time" (Ga 4,4) and whom the Church must unceasingly offer topeople in every age. But in a way that child is also a figure of every person,every child, especially every helpless baby whose life is threatened,because-as the Council reminds us-"by his Incarnation the Son of God hasunited himself in some fashion with every person".140 It isprecisely in the "flesh" of every person that Christ continues toreveal himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of humanlife, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ.This is the fascinating but also demanding truth which Christ reveals to us andwhich his Church continues untiringly to proclaim: "Whoever receives onesuch child in my name receives me" (Mt 18,5); "Truly, I say to you,as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me"(Mt 25,40).

Evangelium vitae 91