By Rev. J. Michael Miller, C.S.B.

The Gospel of life is to imbue the whole of society. "To be actively pro-life," writes the pope, "is to contribute to the renewal of society" (#101). Various social forces have a role to play in this task. He singles out five groups as the principal artisans of this new culture: the family, women, educators, intellectuals, and the media.

FAMILY-- Among the builders of a pro-life society, the family has a unique and decisive responsibility. Founded on marriage, this community of love has the mission to manifest, protect, and convey love to others. Citing his encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991), the Holy Father says that the family is "the sanctuary of life: the place in which life - the gift of God - can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed" (#39).

Nourished by daily prayer together, families are fortified to serve life by acts of solidarity. The pope notes adoption, foster-parenting, and "adoption-at-a-distance" as apt ways for a family to show its love for life.

The family also shows social solidarity by participating in the wider life of the community. Through associations and other bodies, families should champion legislation in which the defense and promotion of the family is "the basis and driving force of all social policies" (#90).

The pope especially recalls the role of the elderly in the family. Saddened because they are often regarded as a burden or left to fend for themselves, the Holy Father calls for "a sort of ‘covenant’ between generations" (#94). He envisions this family pact as bilateral. Parents, in their later years, would receive from their children the same "acceptance and solidarity" which they showed in raising them (#94). And elderly parents would contribute their wisdom and witness of hope and love to the families of their children.

WOMEN--According to John Paul, the creation of a pro-life culture largely depends on the contribution of women. He asks them to "promote a new feminism’ which rejects the temptation of imitating models of ‘male domination’." Thus, they can "affirm the true genius of women" in every sphere of social life (#99).

Women, the pope states, are the first teachers of genuine love. They are especially gifted to disclose the meaning of authentic human relations: "open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health" (#99).

In a poignant paragraph, John Paul speaks from his heart to women who have had an abortion. Recognizing that it was often "a painful and even shattering decision" for them, he asks those who have not yet been reconciled to God and the church to trust in divine mercy. The Holy Father goes on to say that the experience of having an abortion can lead women to be "among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life" and "promoters of a new way of looking at human life" (#99).

EDUCATORS--For cultural change to come about, a vast educational effort is required. Above all, consciences need to be formed in light of the truth that every human life has inviolable value. This formation entails "the recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth" (#96).

John Paul mentions three areas where instruction is especially vital for the renewal of society. First, adolescents require "an authentic education in sexuality and in love, an education which involves training in chastity" (#97).

Second, education in the service of life entails teaching married couples about methods of responsible procreation which respect God’s plan. On the one hand, they must reject all forms of contraception, since it "contradicts the full truth of the sexual act" (# 13). On the other hand, natural family planning enables spouses "to make choices in harmony with moral values" (#97). The effectiveness of this method, the pope continues, should convince couples, as well as social and health-care workers, of "the importance of proper training in this area" (#97).

Third, the Holy Father pleads for a serious discussion of suffering and death in all educational programs. Sound catechesis and schooling must deal with both topics. In particular, educators should emphasize that suffering has meaning as an integral dimension of every human life.

INTELLECTUALS--In the various centers of culture and learning, Catholics "ought to place themselves at the service of a new culture of life" (#98). Their scholarly and scientific work can contribute to preparing for a society which will adopt the pro-life ethic of "the primacy of being over having, of the person over things" (#98).

MEDIA--The mass media can also positively influence building a culture of life. To help in this effort, media personnel should show the lofty meaning of sexuality and love, avoiding whatever degrades human life and dignity. Furthermore, they should present "noble models of life" which portray heroic love for others (#98).

As always, the pope concludes his encyclical with a prayer to Mary: "Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life" (# 105).

Reprinting rights for this series on Evangelium Vitae is purchased by donations to the Friends of the Good News. 1998 Our Sunday Visitor. If you enjoyed this series, see Page 15 about how you can help with your financial support.