Respect for life
Msgr Gerard Burns
The Church’s respect life stance is based on its faith in God as a creator and a wonder and awe at the beauty and mystery of creation. The first statement of the creed – and in fact in the sign of the cross we use so often– refers to the Father-Creator: ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth…’.
If God is creator of all things this does not mean we can understand everything about the kind of God the creator is. We can learn some things by the observation and study of creation. Science can help us in this.
Newton thought by understanding the laws of the universe we could come to understand and appreciate the mind of God. His physics led to remarkable discoveries. However, in more recent times with the development of quantum physics, we seem to be being led into even more mysterious aspects of the creation in which we live. If the creation is more mysterious, the creator is too.
Many mystics have said the same things from their experience of prayer and life: God is light, but there seems to be greater ‘darkness’ the closer we come to him; that we can say more of what God is not, than we can say of what God is; the ways of God are ultimately unknowable but at the heart of creation is a tremendous goodness we call Love – as St John says, ‘God is Love’.
And this creator of all is the source of all life. We humans at present know only something of life forms on earth, including our own. The most widely held theory on the development of the universe is that of the ‘Big Bang’; the theory of which was postulated by a priest – Georg LeMaitre.
Because we believe all life comes from God, there is sacredness to what has come to be. This is especially the case for the development of the human family and the human body. The advances in genetics have helped us understand the uniqueness of each person and the beginnings of human life. The development of Catholic teaching around the beginnings of life stems from a wonder and awe at what has been given to us as gift, entrusted to us as a treasure. From this stems the Church’s pro-life stance.
This stance was summed up in the New Zealand Bishops statement in 1987 Te Kahu-o-te-Ora looking at the interlinking of various pro-life issues. Its eight components are integrity of creation, discrimination, poverty, the arms race, peace, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty. To care for life means caring for it at all stages.
The following articles reflect today on the interrelated components of the Bishops’ 1987 statement: A Consistent Ethic of Life – Te Kahu-o-te-Ora.
Mgsr Gerad Burns is Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Wellington, parish priest of St Joseph’s Mt Victoria, and of te Parihi o te Ngakau Tapu personal parish for Māori.