It may be that the phrase “respect for life” too often in the popular mind only connotes the fifth commandment, and barely considers death-dealing behaviours like discrimination, gossip, lies, greed, and other forms of injustice against individuals and indeed whole groups of people. Respect for life is however, not just a Christian obligation. Human reason is sufficient to impose respect for life on the basis of what a human person is and should be. This article reflects briefly on the link between respecting life – all of life – from the point of view of the dignity of the human person, a dignity which flows naturally from our being made in the image of God.
Life is a gift and is sacred
As a human being I have the gift of reason, I am capable of reflecting, on myself and determining my actions and my destiny and I ask myself, what kind of person should I become? I am also free; how should I use my freedom as a Catholic Christian? Our topic is respect for life, and regardless of our age, the stories of the talents in the gospels of Matthew and Luke provide a useful reflection which can help us to understand and accept that life is a gift and that life is sacred. In Matthew 25:14-21 life is described as a “talent” which must be used and used well. The giving of the talents itself was done “each according to his ability” and implies that individual human beings do not all have the same skill or understanding. One notes however, the punishment meted out to the slave who had buried his, and who was not considered “good and trustworthy” as the others who had put theirs to good use and who also received a reward. Since a talent in those days was the equivalent of 15 years wages of a labourer, the talent is recognised as a treasure, the life given to humankind to be put to good use. The reward implies an active sharing in Christ’s reign. The idea of using well whatever we are given is also described in Luke 19:12-27. In this instance, the treasure in human terms is vastly reduced, for the pound; the translation of the Hebrew mina was the equivalent of three month’s wages for the labourer. The punishment for the one who did not use his pound was similar to that meted out to the one who had buried his talent in the ground.
In the Archdiocese, the stewardship programme provides ample opportunity for us to appreciate the value of what we have been given and to take responsibility for it.
Protecting the environment
On the rational level, the Church teaches that life is a good to which all human persons strive. The good means those things that help us flourish or contribute to our well-being. In other words we recognise that human beings have innate instincts and drives – the physical and emotional – as well as a desire for God that directs them towards good and towards behaviour that realises that good. This basic morality does not change. Our reason should enable us to discern basic human goods, as aspects of the good to be pursued: a healthy life, liberty, having children, a clean and sustainable environment, meaningful work; and their opposites, as wrongs to be avoided. Even though choices can be morally bad, they cannot be considered irrational if they are directed to some end or purpose. What we have to bear in mind however is that while we use our reason when we think about issues, as Christian thinkers, our reason is open to direction from the word of God developed in Magisterial teaching. As a result, our reason tells us that we cannot continue to consume food, and energy from non-renewable fossil fuels, as we have been doing these past hundred years. Mindful of the human dignity innate in the people who will be living in our country and on the planet in the future, we take concrete steps now to reduce how much we spend on food, on clothes, on vacations and questionable leisure activities, and on gadgets. In so doing, we show awareness of “the intrinsic link between development, human needs and the safeguarding of creation”, as both Pope Benedict XVI and the late Blessed John Paul II have cautioned.
AHA, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office