Bioethics and prayer
National Day of Prayer to Respect Life, 12 October 2014
The idea that we should ‘respect life’ is something that most people can commit to.
In this sense it is like the injunction to love; we all want to do the most loving thing but we do not always agree about what that is.
As someone regularly involved in moral debates about life issues, I have learnt that people differ not because they disagree about the need to respect life but because they disagree about what that looks like in real life.
As Christians, we are called to ‘put on the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16) so that our minds may be renewed and our actions transformed.
The words of the prophet Isaiah bear testimony to what we readily know from personal experience: very often our thoughts are not like God’s thoughts and our ways are not like God’s ways (Isaiah 55:8).
Thus we continually need to ask: ‘How can we better conform to God’s way of thinking?’
St Paul’s response to this question is that it is the ‘spiritual person’ who is best able to assess the value of everything (1 Corinthians 2:15).
So, for Christians, the question about respect for life leads to a further question: ‘What does it mean to be a spiritual person?’
Firstly, we Catholic-Christians have access to a rich tradition of moral teaching that has been shaped by the spirit-led wisdom of our ancestors in faith.
This tradition includes the cardinal (or hinge) virtues and the key principles of Catholic moral and social teaching. Together these offer a reliable set of reference points that help us to safely navigate the tricky moral terrain we often find ourselves traversing.
But the spiritual person is also called to engage in regular prayer, communal and private, as a way of putting on the mind of Christ.
For me, prayer is not so much about beseeching God to make the world a better place as it is about praying for the wisdom that characterises the mind of Christ; praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that I can better think and act as Jesus would act and also ensure the necessary ‘space’ for God’s transforming grace to motivate me and work through me despite my own ‘wonky’ thinking.
Respect Life Sunday reminds us that our desire to respect life and build a culture of life must be centred on prayer.
CS Lewis articulates the importance of a prayerful God-focussed perspective this way: ‘If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.’
That is to say, by keeping our eyes and mind focussed on the next world, we are able to more effectively be the hands and feet of Christ in this world; we are more able to exemplify the ‘respect for life’ that accords with ‘the mind of Christ’.
John Kleinsman is Director of Nathaniel Centre – the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, a part of The Catholic Institute.