The Word of God and the Sanctity of Human Life

Dear Folks,

This is Sanctity of Life Sunday, and it is also Word of God Sunday. The first meaning of “Word of God” is Jesus Himself. He not only speaks the truth but is the Truth, the fullness of truth. The totality of what Jesus conveyed has been passed down in the faith of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christians have the tradition of calling the Bible “the Word of God.” There is no text or writing that is as sacred, that is authoritative in the same way as the Scriptures, and it has a unique role in the lives of Christians. Jesus is present to us and teaches us in a unique way when the Scriptures are read, especially at Mass. In Catholicism, we have trouble with the idea that God would reveal the fullness of truth and then let it get lost over the ages. We also have a problem with the idea that the first generations completely misread the Scriptures, and only several centuries later did someone get it right. Catholics look at how the Church has taught over the centuries, with confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work. This is the power of Sacred Tradition. However, there is also advancement of thought. We read in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum): “This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (See Dei Verbum #8).” Sometimes I think Church leaders’ failures in respecting human rights are because the implications of human rights had not been developed yet. Other times, it came from Church leaders being more influenced by the world than by the Word of God. However bad the Church leadership has been, I suggest the world has been worse. God’s message brought something that was considered strange in the ancient world: the notion that every human life was sacred. It was common for people to respect the life of someone from their tribe or clan, people like them, but others’ lives were not seen as sacred. Then, as society got more organized, it became common to value the lives of the powerful, but not the lives of the peasants. The Judeo-Christian tradition, from the beginning, has worked to teach that all human lives are sacred. This, of course, required growth from where they were. It takes a while to integrate new concepts. It is hard to see everyone’s life as sacred, no matter how we dislike them, no matter how inconvenient they are. The human race is always tending away from this, and when disconnected to faith, it can happen very fast. When the French revolution happened, they cast aside Christianity and decided their reasoning ability was superior. It very quickly dissolved into a violent reign of terror. The rights of the individual were subordinated to the perceived good of the state. Without the inherent dignity of the human being created in God’s image, the notions of good and evil become redefined, and often fit the agendas of the powerful. Maximilian Robespierre famously said, “One can’t expect to make an omelet without breaking eggs.” We have the challenge of promoting the sanctity of the life and dignity of every human being. I suggest a good first step is attending more and more to the Word of God.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

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