By Alexandra Lessard
John Paul II was the perfect pope for his time. He was a man of great virtue who served as an excellent example for the whole Church. He served as pope for 27 years, from 1978 to 2005, and in that time he beatified 1,327 people and canonized 482, many of them laypeople, as he wanted to emphasize the universal call to holiness. His own canonization process began just a month after his death, despite the normal five-year waiting period. He was declared a saint just nine years after his death, the shortest canonization in modern history.
A very memorable aspect of his papacy was when he called for a “new evangelization.” By this he did not mean going on foreign expeditions to pagan lands to bring the word of God. He meant instead going into our own communities and kindling anew the love that has already been presented to the people, but has grown weak and even been totally forgotten. Many once-thriving churches are empty because so many people have fallen away from the Church. Many are proud to call themselves Catholics, but few really go to church every week, and fewer are following the Church's guidance in moral matters.
Today's society has embraced what St. John Paul called “the culture of death.” The culture of death is the attitude that death is preferable to suffering, and that sometimes life is not worth living. Many people who are depressed have turned to drugs and alcohol and impaired the intellect that God gave them. They might even give up all hope, despair, and commit suicide, throwing away the most precious gift of the life that God has given them. There are even those who look upon some as less worthy to live than others. Disabled children in the womb are aborted, and the diseased are helped not to bear their suffering but to commit suicide. Now they are “assisted,” soon they will be required to commit suicide. Many think that they are helping these people by “putting them out of their misery.” But often it seems they really just want to spare themselves the uncomfortable feelings that others' suffering causes them. They forget that it is God who has given that gift of life to all, and that it is He and only He who has the right to take it away.
St. John Paul II, in contrast, promoted the gospel of life. The gospel of life is the truth of Christ's salvation, eternal life. He is telling us that we as Catholics must spread this gospel by our lives. He said: “The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life, who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the gospel of life in every situation.” This is a call for each of us, no matter how young, to bring the pro-life message to the world.
When I think of bringing the pro-life message to the world, I tend to think of the things that adults do: Lila Rose and her many activities to fight abortion and help mothers; Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to helping the poorest of the poor; my aunt who runs a Life Center; my cousin-in-law who raises funds for an orphanage in Africa; a doctor who volunteers at a pregnancy help center; and my mom's friend who adopted three children with Down syndrome. It is harder to see how I can help, without money, skills, or authority. But on further reflection, I see that there are many ways that I can spread the gospel. For instance, before I am old enough to do those sorts of things, I can prepare myself by learning the arguments against abortion, studying the structures if faith, and learning how to speak to people and convince them to choose life. I can also raise funds, give alms, and spread the gospel of life by my example.
To help with the pro-life movement, we must be educated in the faith so we can share it with those we are trying to help come closer to God. But that does not mean we have to wait to be active pro-lifers. Even as students we must be active in prayer and ministry, whether in front of an abortion clinic or right in the home or the classroom. Of course, being pro-life is not just being anti-abortion; in fact, for a Christian, it should mean much more than that. It is to help those who are struggling, to give to the poor, to be cheerful in all that we do, respect others, visit the sick and elderly, and help people to realize the beauty of life. In short, it is to promote life by making it more joyous for those around us. This is something young people are especially suited to! Joy is a gift from God that the young often have abundantly. We must be ready to share it, with our schoolmates and teachers, with the poor and the sick and the elderly.
What St. John Paul II was calling us to do is to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25), to give to charities, adopt, and help those in wretched poverty. John 3:17-18 says: “If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
St. John Paul and all the other pro-life heroes I have read about and known give me inspiration for the future, but St. John Paul's words tell me that I do not need to wait to spread the gospel of life.
Alexandra Lessard was awarded an honorable mention in Category 2 of CLSP and IEW's Pro-Life Essay Contest.