We hear a lot about the "culture of life" versus the "culture of death," and I have to admit that the idea of choosing one over the other might turn some people off. Those folks might look around and say, "What do you mean, culture of death?"
I used to be one of those folks. And, had I not become grounded in the Church, had I not myself lived through the process of moving from being a woman who, without questioning, supported pro-choice initiatives to a woman who understood, from personal experience, what it meant to choose death instead of life, I too might wonder why we need to be reminded that we live in a culture of death.
Just for today, look around. Our society champions money, possessions, youth, sexuality (as opposed to sensuality, which is a good thing), instant gratification without sacrifice, good looks (as opposed to good works), intelligence (with little toleration for "learning disabilities") and "experiences" rather than commitments. We so often place ourselves above God: everything becomes our choice and our wish, even if our choices may be against God's will. Yes, I admit that God's will is not always easy to discern. Nevertheless, isn't it our task to try and discern what God's will is in every case instead of simply hustling our own will to the forefront?
Pope John Paul II, admittedly not my favorite Pope, said it very well: "All human beings, from their mothers' womb, belong to God who searches them and knows them, who forms them and knits them together with His own hands, who gazes at them when they are tiny shapeless embryos and already sees in them the adults of tomorrow whose days are numbered and whose vocation is even now written in the 'book of life.'" (Evangelium Vitae, 61)
He does a few pretty impressive things in this short quote. By using the plural "their mothers'" followed by the singular "womb," he implies that all human beings, all mothers and all embryos, share one womb---perhaps the womb of Mary, who bore Christ. This links us all from the moment of conception to Christ and to the woman who carried him. Surely Mary, finding herself unwed and pregnant, said Yes when it might have seemed more "practical" and convenient to say No. Then, at the end of the quote, the pope mentions the book of life, the focus of the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur. For Jews, this season of atonement has one goal: to seek forgiveness for sins against God and against man and so to be written, by the hand of God, into the book of life for one more year. By bringing in this Jewish tradition the pope links us to ancient ancestors, to the religious forefathers of Christ. Surely today we are still called upon to act in ways that demonstrate our desire to be written in the book of life: are we not also called upon to act in ways that assure that the names of the innocent, the elderly, the disabled, and the "worthless" are also written in the book of life? Then too there is the pope's use of the singular "vocation." Does the pope inply that we all have but a single vocation? I think perhaps he does. Our universal vocation is to know, love and serve God, no matter what other personal vocations we pursue. Again, not always an easy task to combine our secular work with the work we must do to serve Him.
In October, let us pray for the strength and courage of Mary and for the desire to be written in the book of life. Our sins against life might be forgiven, if we only ask. If only we ask, we might know God's will for us when we are faced with the decision to choose life or choose death. May we all give God our Yes, even when that yes seems impossible. The gate through which we are called to pass is narrow indeed. I remind myself to keep thinking of what lies on the other side.