Pope Francis and the Gospel of Life, The Anchor, October 11, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting into the Deep
October 11, 2013

October is Respect Life Month and it’s important for us to confront directly the enormous confusion that has been spread, mainly by the secular media, about what Pope Francis is saying about the Church’s promotion and defense of human life.

In press reports about a lengthy interview Pope Francis gave Sept. 19 to Jesuit publications across the world, the impression was given that Pope Francis was saying there are too many Catholics “obsessed” with the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception and that we should just stop talking much about them. That, of course, is what certain secularists would want the Church to stop doing.

But that is a total misinterpretation of what Pope Francis is calling the Church to do.

What the Holy Father is stressing needs to occur is that our conversation on these topics and others needs to take place within the context of Jesus’ will to save, his desire to show mercy, his hunger to embrace us with love no matter what we’ve done, his passion to bind our wounds and help us to heal. Pope Francis has suggested that sometimes Catholics and others can get so “obsessed” with the evils around us that we can lose perspective that Jesus came to bring good out of evil and turn even our sins into “happy faults” that convince us that his mercy is always greater than our misery. If we focus on the evil without the Lord’s mercy, we risk turning away from the “field hospital” that Pope Francis says that the Church needs to be many of those who need Christ’s healing the most.

The day after the Sept. 19 interview, Pope Francis gave one of the most beautiful testimonies in the history of the papacy to the beauty of human life and the evil of abortion.

Even though his address to members of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations is the formal teaching of the Pope and therefore much more significant than a hundred off-the-cuff interviews, it hasn’t gotten one one-thousandth of the attention that the interview has.

Likewise, there hasn’t been much attention to Pope Francis’ mixing with 40,000 pro-lifers in May during Italy’s March for Life, to whom he said, “Keep the attention of everyone on the important issue of respect for human life from the moment of conception!”

Few people, moreover, seem to remember how “obsessed” Pope Francis himself was in a June 16 homily in which he declared, “All too often, as we know from experience, people do not choose life, they do not accept the ‘Gospel of Life’ but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others. … It is the idea that rejecting God, the message of Christ, the Gospel of Life, will somehow lead to freedom, to complete human fulfillment. As a result, the Living God is replaced by fleeting human idols that offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death.”

Similarly few have pondered the significance of his Sept. 3 phone call to Anna Romero, a 35-year-old Italian pregnant woman who had written him after her boyfriend informed her he was married and pressured her to have an abortion. The Pope telephoned, said that she was “brave and strong” for refusing the abortion and reminded her that her child is a “gift of God” and a “sign of Divine Providence.” He even offered to baptize her baby.

But his most powerful statement of all came in his Sept. 20 speech to Catholic doctors when he called life “the primordial right of every human being.”

He emphatically summoned us to recognize Jesus in the unborn: “Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection.”

Because every child bears Jesus’ image and likeness, each of us has a “mandate,” he continued, to “be witnesses and diffusers of the ‘culture of life.’ It’s not enough for us to be personally opposed to abortion, but we must give testimony and spread the message of life.

He stressed that “being Catholic entails a greater responsibility” even if it “requires going against the tide and paying for it personally.” He underlined, “The Lord is counting on you to spread the ‘Gospel of life.”

He reminded all of us that human life, even “its initial stage … is sacred. At each phase and at every age, … it is always valuable. There is no human life more sacred than another, just as there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another.”

The life of the mother, in other words, is not more sacred than the life of her son or daughter in the womb, even at its earliest stages. The life of Prince William and Princess Kate’s son before birth is not more significant before God’s eyes than the boy or girl growing in the womb of a teenage single mom in an inner city housing complex.

He made crystal clear that “concern for human life in its totality” is a “real priority for the Church’s magisterium, especially for the most defenseless; that is, the disabled, the sick, the unborn, children, the elderly, those whose lives are most defenseless.”

Anyone who claims, therefore, that Pope Francis is trying to decrease the Church’s witness to life is either ignorant of what he himself is doing and reiterating as a “real priority” or intentionally trying to deceive.