When people lose their sense of God, they lose their sense of themselves, their dignity and their lives. Suffering becomes meaningless and useless and opposed as an evil rather than seen as a challenge for personal growth. Understanding of the world and creation becomes distorted and nature subject to every kind of manipulation and exploitation.
This was not God's plan for us. In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord says: "Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you - plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. When you call to me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you. When you search for me you will find me ...".
We are precious because we have been made by God. The sanctity of human life is based on the fact that "God created man in his own image and likeness." Although formed out of the dust from the ground, God is said to have "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).
Gift of God
The life which God offers us is a gift by which God shares something of Himself with His creatures. The very essence of God is impressed upon each soul from the moment of conception.
God's desire to be in an intimate and special relationship with us is the reason for the sublime dignity with which we have been bestowed. In the book of Jeremiah we read: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth, I consecrated you ...".
To be consecrated means to be set aside - to be made holy.
When God was forming us in our mother's womb, He was also giving to us the gift of our sexuality, our identity as male and female. It is in our bodies, in our masculinity and femininity, that we express our love for God and for each other. Just as our Heavenly Father gave us the gift of His life in our souls, so too are we called to return our love to God and in doing so we will, in the words of John Paul II, "appreciate and achieve the deepest and most authentic meaning of life: namely, that of being a gift which is fully realised in the giving of self."
The widespread acceptance of contraception and abortion can be seen as one of the most evident signs of the ways in which society has devalued the gift of our sexuality and the life-giving love to which we are called.
Abortion was defined by the Second Vatican Council as "an unspeakable crime". The deliberate and direct killing of a human being, newly conceived and at the very beginning of its life, is seen as particularly serious and deplorable. In such a situation, the family and the medical profession consent to the disposing of a child precisely at a time when it should be nourished, protected and cared for by these very people.
There are at least 100,000 abortions in Australia each year. Yet, as our medical technology improves, the truth of the existence of human life from the moment of conception is being increasingly grounded in scientific fact. Nevertheless, someone's "right to choose" continues to be considered superior to a child's fundamental right to life.
Mother Teresa highlighted this disturbing trend when she wrote: "It is a very great poverty to decide that a child must die, that you might live as you wish."
Abortion is not without spiritual and physical cost and women who have had abortions - as well as the medical staff involved in the procedure - are slowly beginning to tell their stories of the horror that abortion truly is.
Giving Sorrow Words is a recently published book written by Melinda Tankard Reist, a Canberra-based writer. In it she includes the personal accounts of 18 women and the experiences of 200 others who have had abortions. It reveals the pressures brought to bear on women to have abortions and the silencing of their grief amid the noise of the pro-choice rhetoric.
But there remains hope. The Gospel of Life continues to be valid.
The world needs to be cleansed and renewed by the One who is the Gospel of Life. We must give witness to it in our very own lives, with our faith in Jesus strengthening us for the task. The Holy Father calls for a renewed and united commitment among pastors, the faithful and people of good will to work towards changing the laws that legitimise or tolerate violence against human life.
We must allow this message of the Gospel to permeate our hearts and change us. We need to celebrate its beauty in our daily living as we give of ourselves in generosity and humility.
As a mother, I found this passage in Evangelium Vitae particularly encouraging and inspiring: "Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but effective and eloquent witness of all those 'brave mothers who devote themselves to their own families without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready to make any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves'."
Mothers can be great teachers of the Gospel of Life.
Rebecca van Rensburg is a Melbourne mother of four and a catechist.