Steven Buhagiar: Living the Gospel of Life in an era of COVID-19

Author of the encyclical ‘Evangelium Vitae’ Pope John Paul II blesses a baby in the Sistine Chapel in 2002. Photo: CNS

The 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae 1995-2020

Yesterday afternoon I walked up the path to our parish’s adoration chapel. It was locked as were all other Catholic places of worship that day right across the nation. The 100mm glass pane that was set vertically in the chapel’s door, allowed me the unhappy view of empty pews and a lonely tabernacle. The knowledge came flooding in that He was alone there with no one able to enter and adore Him.

A moment of great emptiness

All my life, I have had ready access to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Yesterday, the 23rd of March, that ready access ceased. Like so many others, this realisation left a tangible emptiness in my very core. The Scripture rang all too true; “They have taken my Lord away…”

Tomorrow we celebrate the great feast of the Annunciation, which commemorates the entrance of the Lord amongst us. We remember when the Creator of the Universe took flesh in the immaculate womb of His mother. We remember her self-gift… her great ‘Yes’ to God’s will.

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A woman in Cologne, Germany, prays inside the city’s restricted cathedral March 15, 2020. PHOTO: Thilo Schmuelgen, Reuters

Coinciding with this great feast, we also celebrate the 25th anniversary of Pope Saint John Paul II’s monumental encyclical, Evangelium Vitae – the Gospel of Life – a document that powerfully presents the fundamental and enduring truth that all human life is sacred from conception until natural death.

Three days of monumental events

So three days and three so very significant events. I posit that between the three, there is in fact here a golden thread that not only binds, but also explains, the integral relationship that exists between the Eucharistic Jesus, the Annunciation, and the document Evangelium Vitae. This golden thread is the critical understanding of the term ‘self-gift’ and it is this phrase, properly understood, that allows the human person to flourish and to “live life in abundance”.

In the Gospel of Life, John Paul II teaches that “life on earth… remains a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.” Many will be wondering at this present time, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, how life could ever be a “sacred reality”. Many who are seeing death take away the last gasping breaths of their loved ones, will wonder out loud in pain and grief, “where in the world is ‘gift’ in all of this?”

Where in the world is God’s ‘gift’ in all of this?

How do we answer? It isn’t easy but we must speak here an essential truth. We preach a Christ who is crucified, One who knows our pain, and who for love of us, lay down His life so that He might take away our guilt, our loneliness and grief. He is the One who has made a total gift of Himself for love of us!

This is the gift that the Lord in the Tabernacle offers us. He offers us His very self without reserve. He calls out for us this very day. This is why my yearning is for Him… I was made to receive Him who is Love Himself and I was made to give this love back to Him and to all others in return!

The ‘yes’ that makes us human

At the Annunciation, Mary gave her ‘yes’ and in effect gave her whole being in submission to the Will of the Holy Trinity. In doing so, she changed history forever! With my yes, the Holy Spirit again comes down in power and transforms not only my very being, but history itself and then for all eternity! What does this mean? We can understand this clearly in the beauty of the procreative act.

The yes that two human beings make in the gift of themselves to each other has eternal consequences! Their yes changes not only their lives but also the lives of their descendants down through history. When I say yes to ‘life’ in my own life, I personally contribute to building a culture of life in my own society and, ultimately, in the world. Like Mary, it begins with my yes!

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The yes that two human beings make in the gift of themselves to each other has eternal consequences. Photo: Shutterstock

Evangelium Vitae carries an unambiguous message. It is John Paul II calling for the conversion of hearts of those who have been taken in by the prevailing culture of death in which we live, a culture which voraciously promotes wholesale contraception, abortion, euthanasia, as well as aggressive gender ideologies. He rallies against this culture because it threatens the very identity and meaning of the human person as well as the dignity and sanctity of every single human life.

He knows from his experience of the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, that any society without love and self-gift ingrained in its very constitution, will become “a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds where each asserts himself independently and in fact intends to make his own interests prevail.” It is a society based on selfish-ness and self-love. It is a society that will in time only ever disintegrate because it has never learnt to look outwards and towards the good of the other which is the prime basis for a flourishing community of persons.

The gift of Mary, mother of life

Mary at the Annunciation. IMAGE: British Library/Unsplash

The Gospel of Life is the Gospel of self-gift and self-surrender to the good that God wishes to do in our lives. He teaches us through the Eucharist that we were created to make a gift of ourselves to both God and neighbour. Mary gives us the greatest example, beside that of her son, of a person who has given and continues to give her all in the service of her children’s salvation.

She is the Mother of Life and she calls us to assist her in her mission of giving life to souls who have gone astray and who are devoid of life. Let us be her hands and her feet, let us be living examples of her ever-loving heart especially in this COVID-19 period where there is so much fear and anxiety. Let us proclaim the Gospel of Life to a world that is in desperate need of love – that ultimate gift which is the life of God Himself.

Steven Buhagiar is the team leader of the Sydney archdiocese’s Life, Family and Outreach Office.

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