A Catholic View of the Value of Human Life

Christ poses the question, “What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)  The answer is not difficult to ascertain.  It profits him nothing.  The question is stated in such a way as to contrast quantity with quality and indicate that no amount of possessions a man might accumulate can equal the importance of his soul.

We are impressed with things that we can count.  Money and material things are countable.  They are commonly regarded in our materialistic society as measuring a person’s worth.  Christ is pointing out that in His time, as well as in any time, quantity, no matter how great, cannot eclipse the qualitative value of one soul.  A Planned Parenthood center in Virginia has circulated a flyer which tells people that “Your First Baby Will Cost as Much As:  5 sports cars [or] 100 beach trips.”  Christ admonishes those who quantify life so that it is depreciated and made equal to things that are countable.

In the field of astronomy, the immense size of the universe compared with the relative speck where life exists seems to indicate that life is not very important, perhaps a cosmic accident.  Sir James Jeans, one of the foremost scientists of the 20th century, makes the following comment in his book, The Mysterious Universe:  “It seems incredible that the universe can have been designed primarily to produce life like our own; had it been so, surely we might have expected to find a better proportion between the magnitude of the mechanism and the amount of the product.  At first glance at least, life seems to be an utterly unimportant by-product; we living things are somehow off the main line.”  As a scientist, Jeans sees everything as matter.  He is in a poor position to understand that human life, meager as it is quantitatively, is the ultimate purpose of the universe.

Pascal had a more enlightened view of the human being:  “Man is only a reed . . . but he is a thinking reed . . . even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him.  The universe knows none of this.”  Man can receive and express love.  The universe cannot.

The disproportion between God and man is greater than that of the disproportion between the space of the universe and the space allotted to man.  Yet, it is a sign of the nature of divinity that God can embrace that which seems to be the most humble of His creations.  In the words of Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), in his superlative work, Introduction to Christianity, “The boundless spirit who bears in himself the totality of Being reaches beyond the ‘greatest,’ so that to him it is small, and he reaches into the smallest, because to him nothing is too small.  Perhaps this overstepping of the greatest and reaching down into the smallest is the true nature of absolute spirit . . . Quantitative criteria become irrelevant; other scales become visible, reckoned by which the infinitely small is the truly embracing and truly great.”

Human beings fail to appreciate the value of human life when they view it from the standpoint of the universe.  From that vantage point, human life seems so paltry.  They also fail to appreciate its value when they are distracted by the palpable things they can possess.  Yet, as the eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar tells us, “Man is the being who bears in his heart a mystery greater than himself.”  Being open to God and being touched by His grace allows a person to realize his inestimable value.  By contrast, as Balthasar goes on to say, “It is true that, in the sinner, this sanctuary has become neglected and forgotten, overgrown and turned into a sepulchre or a rubbish-heap” (Prayer, p. 19).

When we observe the unseemly protests for abortion–for the destruction of uterine life—we are saddened that human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, can renounce their dignity and fight against that which makes them spiritually complete.  Life has, indeed, been cheapened, and people protest violently to keep it cheap.  It is a diabolical phenomenon.

Statistics Canada has released data showing that the average birth rate for women has decreased to 1.4 children per women of child-bearing age.  This is a record low for Canada and critically below the 2.1 children considered as the natural replacement rate for a population.  Susan McDaniel, a sociology professor at the University of Victoria told CTV News that these lower births rates represent a “good trend,” not only for parents and society, but also for the planet.  The last beneficiary is highly doubtful.  The planet exists for man, not the other way around.  Besides, the planet does not care one way or the other whether there are fewer children around.  But to compare the value of children with the presumed value of the planet is surely misanthropic.

A Catholic view of human life recognizes the qualitative spirituality that man has over anything material.  It understands that he bears within himself the seal of a loving God and possesses an immortal soul.  The stars will perish, but the human soul is imperishable.  The tragedy that is being played out at the moment is that there are people who are not only protesting against life, but also against those, Catholics in particular, who understand the incomparable value of human life.  Catholics must continue to be witnesses in a world where people have lost sight of the value of their own lives as well as that of their offspring.

Image: Our Lady of Victory Catholic religious statue at Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Ratchaburi Thailand on December 2021. Shutterstock/Immaculate

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College. He is is the author of 42 books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on amazon.com. He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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