On Christmas Day of 2005, Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical letter, “God is Love.” The letter clarifies the Christian meaning of the word “love,” stressing that it is not a mere sentiment, but rather has a content and a specific shape, found in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God.
Love, furthermore, constitutes a concrete program of action on the part of the whole Church, and is as essential to the Church as are the Word and Sacraments.
What implications does a teaching like this encyclical have for the pro-life movement?
The encyclical implies that the pro-life movement is at the heart of the response that the Christian and the whole Church make to God Himself. The pope points out that “to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor” (n. 16). The pro-life movement is all about love for our neighbor in the womb. This love, furthermore, is self-sacrificing. The encyclical notes, “Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice” (n. 6).
In the best sense of the word, every pregnancy is a “crisis pregnancy,” that is, a moment in which we must choose to grow, with all the pain which that entails. The mother with child must be “stretched” physically, psychologically, and spiritually. The encyclical says, “Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation” (n. 5). The child changes the mother forever, and in giving herself to her child she finds her more mature self.
Our pro-life commitment is also Eucharistic, because union with Christ means union with all our brothers and sisters, including the unborn. The pope states: “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own” (n. 14). Notice that the pope refers to union not only with “those who have become” the Lord's, but with all “who will become his own.” This includes the unborn, who share the same humanity that we and Christ share.
The pope also points out that while their roles are distinct, the Church must work alongside the state in bringing about a just society. The Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper” (n.28). In short, “God is Love” reinforces “The Gospel of Life,” because “the Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel” (EV, n.2).
Fr. Pavone is the Founding Director of Priests for Life. You may contact Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448 or 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.priestsforlife.org.