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Evangelium Vitae: Spiritual Combat with the Culture of Death

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

This will be no ordinary lecture. It will be a call to military action.

The modern world has been seduced by the evil spirit who is, in Christ’s words, a murderer from the beginning. He is still a murderer today. Therefore every act of violence is mysteriously inspired by the devil.

The present century is the most violent and murderous in the history of the human race. There have been more death casualties in wars fought since 1900 than in all the previous centuries since the dawn of the human race. There are now more legalized murders of unborn children in one year than in all the ages of the world up to the beginning of the twentieth century.

What makes this world of ours so murderous is not only the number of willful homicides of innocent people. It is the fact that one once civilized nation after another has legalized these crimes, and defends this demonic attack on human beings and what is by now a library of books and an ocean of media that have perverted the minds of millions in countries like the United States.

What is at the root of the philosophy of violence that has no counter part in any age until our present day? At the root is giving into the thinking of the devil.

The title of this conference is, “Evangelium Vitae: Spiritual Combat With the Culture of Death.” My plan is to ask three questions, and answer each one within limits of the time at our disposal.

  1. What is the culture of death?

  2. How are we to combat this culture of death?

  3. How is Evangelium Vitae our war plan?

Culture of Death

The expression, “culture of death,” was coined by Pope John Paul II to describe the prevailing violence against human life in our day.

Before we go any further, we must first ask ourselves how did death first come into the world. Death first entered the world through the devil’s envy and the sin of our first parents. We then ask how did the first death enter the human race. The first death entered by the way of violence; through the killing of Abel by his brother Cain. It has been written ever since, on every page of human history.

We are now prepared to ask what are the two principle reasons for violence against human life. The two main reasons are envy and anger. Envy is a sadness we are tempted to feel when someone possesses what we lack, or succeeds where we have failed. Anger is the urge to avenge oneself over another person’s real or apparent offense.

We continue with our questions. How did God react to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain? God responded by demanding repentance from Cain. But instead of repenting, Cain defended himself. Instead of showing remorse, he protested, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

This attitude of Cain’s is prevalent in the modern world. People refuse to accept responsibility for their brothers and sisters. Like Cain, they defend their insensitivity, indeed their cruelty, to the weakest members of human society, the elderly, the infirmed, immigrants, children, even before they are born.

The net effect on human society has been to produce what the Vicar of Christ calls “The Culture of Death.” What makes the situation so grave is that this culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage the creation of a society that is mainly concerned with worldly prosperity and material efficiency.

Preoccupation with the pleasures of this life has provoked a war of the powerful against the weak. Once people identify the purpose of human existence as limited to this world of space and time, anyone who stands in their way is to be eliminated. The elimination, we may say, has become a worldwide conspiracy against life.

The most devastating form of this conspiracy is the spread of abortion. Enormous sums of money are being invested to produce pharmaceutical produce to ensure the killing of unborn children in their mother’s wombs. So true is this that scientific research is preoccupied with developing weapons of death against innocent children awaiting birth.

As though that were not enough, infanticide is being widely practiced and encouraged. It is becoming more prevalent than ever before in what used to be Christian countries.

Infanticide is being justified on the same grounds as abortion. We are reverting to a state of barbarism.

Still another symptom of the demonic disease which has infected the modern world. It is masked under the high sounding name of euthanasia. The incurably ill and the dying are being killed under the pretense of compassion. At root is the denial of the value of suffering. Even more deeply is the blasphemous attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions into their own hands.

It is the denial that only God has a right to determine who will be conceived and born; how long a person should live; and when a person should die.

How to Combat the Culture of Death

We cannot begin to combat this diabolical culture of death unless we first realize what are its underlying roots.

The first of these roots is untruth. As might be expected, these untruths are worded in sophisticated language. Thus the “demographic explosion” is a sophisticated term that social scientists are using to describe what they call “overpopulation.” So we ask ourselves--is there a problem of overpopulation? Not really. No doubt the poorer countries generally have a higher rate of population growth. This growth in population is hard to sustain in countries of low economic and social development. What should not be forgotten, however, is that so-called developed countries are one of the main reasons for the poverty of what I call undeveloped nations. The more economically prosperous countries are the ones who have coined the term “overpopulation.” As we have just said, they are the very ones who are responsible for the poverty in other nations or/and are unwilling to help these countries with their high population.

Remember we are here dealing with the causes for the culture of death. Not the least of these causes is the practice of contraception. Instead of facing the serious problems of poor people and poor nations, the wealthy and prosperous countries promote and impose by whatever means a massive program of birth control. Even the economic help which they claim to be ready to give is unjustly conditioned on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy. This has become the inhuman policy of the United Nations in one international congress after another.

At this point, I think it is worth quoting the statement made by Pope John Paul in Denver on the occasion of the World Youth Day in 1993. He affirmed that the threats against human life have not grown weaker. They are taking on vast proportions. They are not only threats coming from the outside, from the forces of nature or the Cains who fill the innocent Abels in our day. No! They are scientifically and systematically programmed threats to innocent human beings. As never before in the story of mankind, false prophets and false teachers have been phenomenally, shall I say diabolically successful.

The most fundamental error behind this culture of death is the denial that human freedom must be based on the truth. The human will is a blind faculty. It must be enlightened by the mind. Unless the mind enlightens the will on the truth, the will chooses whatever it wants. The result is that selfishness has become so predominant in our day. Behind the name “pro-choice” is the lie that I can choose what I want and then I will be happy.

What are the consequences of this view of freedom? The consequences are disastrous. The very meaning of society is distorted and even denied. In its stead there is created either anarchy, which means the disintegration of authority or totalitarianism that means a tyrant state, which claims the right to kill the weakest and most defenseless members, from the unborn child to the elderly.

The foundation of this struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death is the loss of the sense of man. Once the mind is blinded to the existence of God as the Creator and destiny of man, man’s life and dignity lose all their meaning.

We return to asking ourselves how we believing Christians and Catholics to cope with the prevalent culture of death.

First of all we must do everything in our power to convince these agents of death that they are living in sin and estranged from the God by whom and for whom they were made. They must tell the Lord, as David did, “My offenses truly I know them. My sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned. What is evil in your sight I have done” (Psalm 51:5-6).

Needless to say, to expect these murderers to repent may seem like a dream. But it is not a dream; it is a divine demand for the promoters of murder to return to the God from whom they have strayed. After all, there is such a thing as a second death which means the eternal loss of the Vision of God in what we had better restore to our vocabulary, namely the existence of hell.

On our part we must pray, practice self denial, and lead nothing less than heroic lives if we expect these homicidal sinners to be converted.

I am saying more than my words may seem to indicate. We are asking ourselves how to combat the culture of death. This culture did not arise accidentally. Its roots go back generations, even centuries. It is not only a matter of converting the openly hostile enemies of human life. It is nothing less than converting a society dominated by secularism. We are living in an age in which the world (saeculum) has become the only reality which millions recognize. They are therefore blinded to the true meaning of man as a creature of God, whose life on earth is a prelude to his eternal life with God.

These millions will never be converted unless we Catholics practice the virtue of chastity in every state of life.

Chastity Essential to the Pro-Life Movement

Can anyone doubt that the most difficult virtue we have to practice in life in unselfish love. Unchastity is selfish self love. Thus masturbation is selfish. Fornication is selfish. Contraception is selfish. Homosexuality is selfish. Adultery is selfish.

What is at the root of legalized homicide, whether as abortion, infanticide, or so called euthanasia? It is selfish self love. How can this criminal self love be mastered? Only by the practice of chastity.

We return to where we began. The pro-life movement will be only as effective as the practice of Christian chastity is restored in now homicidal societies.

It is no coincidence, but profoundly true, that the first two capital sins are pride and lust. They go together as cause and effect, and they work mutually.

Pride leads to lust and lust leads to pride. Pride is at the root of the murder of innocent human beings. God punishes the proud by depriving them of the control of their sex passions.

Lust, in turn, feeds selfish pride. The more lustful people are the more selfish they become. Their selfishness does not stop even at the murder of helpless innocent children in their mother's womb.

There is no hope for the pro-life movement except by the restoration of chastity.

In a country like ours, marital infidelity has become a national plague; and contraception has become an accepted norm of behavior; fornication has become the theme of so much of our fiction, masked as literature, and is now the staple diet of the mass media. In one state after another, sex education is teaching the children that homophobia is a psychological disorder and homosexuality is just another way of life to which some people have a natural orientation.

In our country, then, is it any wonder that the pro-death movement has become so entrenched, and the crime of willful homicide not only legalized, but I dare say, legislated.

Our Catholic understanding of the pro-life movement sees what the unbelieving world in which we live cannot comprehend. The sixth and ninth commandments of God are intimately and necessarily related to the fifth commandment. The sixth commandment forbids the use of one's body for sexual pleasure outside the sanctity of marriage. The ninth commandment forbids the indulgence of venereal thoughts, desires and emotions deliberately aroused or deliberately enjoyed outside the hallowed precincts of matrimony. It is not, as some are telling us, that, because the Church considers the bodily pleasure sinful she forbids "sexual activity" outside of marriage. No, it is because marriage is so holy. The history of the human race shows that there is an inevitable relationship between the sixth and ninth commandments, and the fifth, "Thou shalt not kill."

Practice and Promotion

Our final question is the practical one of how we Catholics are to advance the pro-life movement. Given the focus of this conference, I transmit the obvious. We must pray. We must receive the sacraments. We must have Masses offered to stem the tide of global genocide. We must sacrifice, as never before in Christian history, to beg for God's mercy on the leaders of nations who are murderers in political disguise.

More specifically for our present purpose, we are to become apostles of life by our practice and promotion of Christian chastity.

We are to practice chastity in our own lives, as married, or single, or separated, or unmarried, or celibate.

We are to be chaste in our lives as the divinely prescribed precondition for being effective in the pro-life movement.

This is more than just giving others a good example. It is more than just being proof to others that chastity is:

  • Not an anachronism,

  • Not a Victorian fantasy,

  • Not a psychological immaturity.

  • All of this, our own practice of chastity will do for others.

But our lives of Christian chastity will do much more. We shall become channels of grace to everyone whose life we touch. We shall become instruments of supernatural life and strength to others, without which they cannot themselves practice chastity.

When our Lord told us, during His discourse at the Last Supper, "without me you cannot do nothing," He was saying more than most of us realize. He was telling us that we cannot practice a single Christian virtue without the constant help of His grace. If there is one virtue that is, in the most absolute sense, impossible for human nature, it is Christian chastity.

We go on. How does anyone obtain the grace to live the chaste life demanded by the Incarnate God? You might say, from Christ. True enough, but how does Christ in His ordinary providence communicate this grace? In His ordinary providence, He does so through human beings who are united with Him by their own faithful practice of Christian chastity.

There is more here than meets the eye. As Saint Ignatius made clear, the heart of the apostolate is to be a channel of grace to others. Those who have the true faith are used by Christ to bring this faith to others. Patient people are instruments of grace to bring patience to those whose lives they touch. People who are humble communicate humility. Chaste Christians are conduits of chastity.

We may even go further. The measure of our chastity, we may say, is an index of how our Lord will use us to reproduce ourselves spiritually.

We read in Saint Paul that he tells the Corinthians, "In Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you" (l Corinthians 4:15). There is such a thing as fruitfulness of spirit. We not only can, we are obliged to reproduce ourselves spiritually. Christ uses chaste people to generate chaste offspring. Of course, the precondition is that we are chaste, in body and soul.

There is one final question: How are we to promote the practice of chastity as a precondition for the pro life movement? In one sentence, I would say, by promoting the true faith.

If there is one principle that Pope John Paul never tires proclaiming it is the dependence of our minds and wills on the mind and will of God. Once you divorce God from human behavior, the inevitable follows. People who call themselves sane begin to behave worse than wild animals.

We saw earlier how the concentration camps of Nazi Germany were controlled by men and women who were themselves enslaved by sexual passions. What is not commonly known is that Hitler was a devotee of the philosopher Nietzsche. His Der Antichrist, published in 1895 was to become the battle cry of all who had seen or tried Christianity and found it wanting. It also summarized every intelligent charge against what they called the religion of the Nazarene. They denounced this religion in the most unmeasured language.

In Christianity, neither morality nor religion has even a single point of contact with reality. Nothing but imaginary causes ("God," "soul," "ego,” “spirit," "free will," for that matter "unfree will"), nothing but imaginary effects ("sin," "redemption," "grace," "punishment," "forgiveness of sins"). Intercourse between imaginary beings ("God," "spirits," "souls"); an imaginary natural science (anthropocentric; no trace of any concept of natural causes).

This world of pure fiction is vastly inferior to the world of dreams insofar as the latter mirrors reality, whereas the former falsifies, devalues, and negates reality.

In the years after Nietzsche's death in 1900, his philosophy found its way into the literature of all nations where Christianity was established. Names like Julian Huxley in England, John Dewey in America, Ernst Haeckel in Germany, Jean Paul Sartre in France are typical of men who agreed with the author of Antichrist that the Christian faith is at best a pious fancy and at worst the enemy of all progress in the only real world that exists.

Nietzsche's disciple, John Dewey, is the recognized father of American education. His fifty volumes have literally penetrated every facet of our school system. One of Dewey's preoccupations was to promote mass sex education among the young. Not a vestige of Christian chastity was left in his pedagogy.

When the propaganda for abortion opened up in America, the nation was ready to follow in Nietzsche's footsteps. On these terms, the United States is blithely carrying on what Hitler had imposed on Germany. Lust and murder are now accepted "virtues" in our country.

We are asking ourselves what we Catholics should do to promote the pro-life movement. In one sentence, we must evangelize a nation that has, in such large measure, lost its Christian heritage.

There is no option. What Christ taught in first century Palestine, we must teach at the dawn of the twenty first century. The teaching of Christ cost Him His life. Our teaching His truth on chastity is the only hope of restoring the culture of life in our society. This may cost us our bodily life here on earth. But it is worth the sacrifice. Why? Because the reward is eternal life with God.

To teach this truth in a world that considers our faith, as Nietzsche says, "pure fiction," will take courage that only Christ can provide. He tells us not to be afraid, "for I have overcome the world." So shall we, if only we rely on His grace and are willing to die, if need he, for what we believe.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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