10 Inspiring St. John Paul II Quotes on the Value of Life
On Life and the Role of Science
1. “Respect for life requires that science and technology should always be at the service of man and his integral development. Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person's life.” (Evangelium Vitae)
We live in an age infatuated with science and technology. We flock to stores and stand in long lines to purchase the latest technology. However, we must ask, “Have our new phones really created greater human relationships?” “Has our ingenuity been turned toward the service of life or have we only discovered new ways to serve ourselves?” “Has science become our object of worship?”
Scientific development is only good if directed towards its true end, the enhancement of human dignity, which brings us to our next quote.
2. “It becomes necessary, therefore, on the part of all, to recover an awareness of the primacy of moral values, which are the values of the human person as such. The great task that has to be faced today for the renewal of society is that of recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values. Only an awareness of the primacy of these values enables man to use the immense possibilities given him by science in such a way as to bring about the true advancement of the human person in his or her whole truth, in his or her freedom and dignity. Science is called to ally itself with wisdom.” (Familiaris Consortio)
Mankind is unique among all the creatures of the world. We have been endowed with reason, and made in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26) This gift allows us to participate in God’s own creative capacity. However, to be an image of God, our creativity must be directed by goodness. As such, creation and science are moral acts capable of producing great good or great evil. To truly reap the “immense possibilities” of science we must always think of the moral implications before creating.
On Our Role in the Defense of Life
3. “Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the "path to life" (Psalm 16:11). The challenge is to make the Church’s "yes" to Life concrete and effective. The struggle will be long, and it needs each one of you. Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life!” (Homily on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1993)
How do we help show the path to life? Do we treat our elders with respect? Do we encourage mothers? Are we understanding and loving toward those with disabilities? Concrete actions are required of us. The ‘path to life’ goes from conception to natural death. We should take care to give encouragement and joy to all we encounter in each of our daily actions.
4. “. . . we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. We find ourselves not only faced with but necessarily in the midst of this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.” (Evangelium Vitae)
These days, we see suffering as a grave evil and attempt to avoid it all costs. One of my friends in her thirties was recently diagnosed with cancer. As she has been undergoing chemo, she said she was thankful for this “grace-filled opportunity.” How often do we approach even the small sufferings, like bad traffic or an extra-long wait at the grocery store as a grace-filled opportunity instead of a large inconvenience?
On Society and Life
5. “Every analysis must necessarily start from the premise that—although each person lives in a particular concrete social and historical context—every human being is endowed with a dignity that must never be lessened, impaired or destroyed but must instead be respected and safeguarded, if peace is really to be built up.” (Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations Oct. 2, 1979)
Respect for life is always lived out within a unique set of individual circumstances. Many of these circumstances are difficult and can even make us question the value of life. My grandfather suffered so much from cancer (but yet refused pain medication) that, in some ways, my family was given consolation when he passed away and left all his suffering. However, those last few days and weeks, while painful, really were full of many grace-filled moments for both my grandfather and my family. We all had time to say our final goodbyes, and in a life full of sufferings my grandfather was able to continue to inspire our family and the nursing staff. We will be forever grateful for God’s perfect timing in his death. The temptation to snuff out life to avoid pain is real, but doing so robs us of the gifts of God.
6. “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying.” (Address to the New Ambassador of New Zealand to the Holy See May 25, 2000)
Our youngest daughter spent the first week of her life in the intensive care unit. I was fortunate to be able to be by her side for 12 plus hours a day. I saw so many children that never had visitors (some because their families had to work or take care of other children at home). After seeing a baby born at 24 weeks fighting for his life, we pray each and every night for the unborn babies and the babies that have no one to pray for them.
7. “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” (Homily, Perth, Australia, Nov. 30, 1986)
Our families are the one of the most effective ways we can teach others about the value of all human life. Whether we choose to be patient and loving—or the opposite—shows how important others' needs are to us. This indicates how much we value human life because our ethics necessarily originate with the persons whom we love immediately, without thinking and without question, who are supposed to protect us, guide us, and love us unconditionally. If our family members do all these things, then we learn to extend the same to those we are familiar with and eventually all of humanity, united by our Creator and our nature. If they do not, then all of society is threatened by selfishness of the most insidious variety—the kind learned from childhood and eventually ingrained in us by our first guides and protectors. We are called to be examples in how we treat our family members, especially for victims of society's dissipation, and not contributors to it.
8. “No country on earth, no political system can think of its own future otherwise than through the image of these new generations that will receive from their parents the manifold heritage of values, duties and aspirations of the nation to which they belong and of the whole human family. Concern for the child, even before birth, from the first moment of conception and then throughout the years of infancy and youth, is the primary and fundamental test of the relationship of one human being to another.” (Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations Oct. 2, 1979)
Nations are always only one generation from ceasing to exist. People may remain, but the heritage and values pass away if we fail to pass them on. So, how can we teach our children the value of all human beings? We must show our children how precious babies are! We must care for and visit aging relatives. When separated by great distances, we can still pray for others by name, a practice which will make them present in a real way.
The Church and the Defense of Life
9. “Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God Who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).” (Evangelium Vitae)
The Church has a unique obligation to act as a defender for those that cannot defend themselves. However, the Church has no hands or feet by which to defend others except ours. Therefore, we too must also feel “every threat to human dignity and life” within our very heart. Often times we fail to recognize the pain of others. We pass by, unmoved by their circumstance. Next time we pass by the poor, the abandoned, or the unwanted; let us take the first step of recognizing their shared human dignity. Perhaps then we will be moved to defend them.
10. “Not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.” (Evangelium Vitae)
Pope Benedict XVI described moral relativism as the greatest threat facing the world today. Relativism places us at the center. Our world gets smaller as we look only inward. Truth and goodness become twisted and often bent to serve our needs. The problem is that looking only inward causes us to lose our bearings. It is only by looking outward to fixed things, as travelers looking out at the North Star, that we can navigate. Let us not forget those “self-evident truths” which stand outside ourselves. That man is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Let us also never cease to stand in defense of these liberties.