In the course of a conversation I was having with a teenager a few days ago about the Culture of Life, he asked, “When we talk about ‘life,’ what do we mean?” He accepted my response about realizing and protecting the dignity of every human being at every stage of life, but that evening the question was still lingering on my mind as I sat before the Lord in prayer.
The more I reflected upon the question, the more I realized its depth. We talk about building a “culture of life,” but maybe rather than a philosophical examination of the elements of such a culture, we can start with an example, maybe even an image of life. Maybe we could even start with what we might call the True Face of Life — Jesus Christ. If you’ll walk with me through a few passages of Holy Scripture, I’ll show you what I mean.
In the familiar Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims a message of true transformation — a radical challenge to any would-be disciple to fully engage and completely live His teachings (Matthew 5). And in the readings for Mass on Wednesday we were confronted with a less common passage, one featuring the powerful story of the Maccabean brothers and their mother who embraced the power of God’s law, and sacrificed physical life in order to truly live (2 Mac 1, 20-31).
The mysteries of both the Beatitudes and 2 Maccabees reveal something about life. They express that life is revealed in doing God’s will, in doing what God desires. Jesus expressed this truth when saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Consider also the lives of the saints. When we read about St. Therese, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, or St. Thomas More, what are we asked to reflect upon and witness? Is it not their joy in following the will of God, and in persevering through trials? In their stories we see the True Face of Life.
Jesus says, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7). Saint Paul says it another way: “… it is no longer I who live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). To live means to embrace God and all that He has revealed. The Maccabean brothers understood that in doing the will of God one found Life.
What our world has lost sight of is the simple but mysterious reality that “true” life is found only in God, for “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But is this great mystery really this simple?
Consider also the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill. The Catechism expands upon this basic law of the Lord of Life.
Human life is sacred because from the beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end (CCC 2258).
We see these truths lived in the story from Maccabees, when the mother tells her youngest son:
“Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came in existence.”
She understood that all that lives does so because of God. In choosing death rather than turning against God’s law, she and her sons showed the true meaning of life.
The answer to the teenager’s question is simple. Life, as God has revealed it, is best understood in the person of Jesus Christ – the True Face of Life.