Spring 1996

The Mystery of Easter and the Culture of Death

Marc Ouellet

"The proclamation of hope lies at the heart of the gospel of life."

"Death and life were locked together in a unique struggle. Life's Captain died; now he reigns, never more to die."1

As the third Christian millenium approaches, the Church is becoming increasingly immersed in an extraordinary fight for life. The publication of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995) represents an important stage in this battle for the affirmation of the value and inviolability of human life. It aims at countering a certain nihilism of values which threatens what we may call the spiritual ecology of mankind. John Paul II's solemn intervention assumes all the more significance from the fact that it continues and realizes the moral teaching reaffirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, published in 1992 and 1993 respectively. One infers a long-term strategy to mobilize the conscience of believers and people of good will in the fight against the "culture of death" which has more and more established itself on a planetary scale.

Nevertheless, the message of Evangelium Vitae does not principally concern the denunciation of threats against life. It first and above all proclaims the good news of life in a way that makes explicit the theological foundations of human dignity: "The Gospel of life is not simply a reflection, however new and profound, on human life. Nor is it merely a commandment aimed at raising awareness and bringing about significant changes in society. Still less is it an illusory promise of a better future. The Gospel of life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus" (EV, n. 29).

This christological proposition is affirmed as the spearhead of the project of new evangelization promulgated by John Paul II. It is inscribed within a doctrinal development which integrates more profoundly fundamental morality and the precepts of natural law into a christological and trinitarian vision. The categorical moral imperative "You shall not kill," which inspires the Church toward a preference for life in the face of cultures of death, proceeds more clearly than ever from the paschal Christ, the victor over sin and death. It is important to emphasize this fact, which renews the magisterial approach to ethical problems. Indeed, it is true that the inviolable dignity of the human person rests upon the natural law issued by the Creator; but its ultimate foundation arises from God's engagement in history. The awareness of this engagement must more than ever nourish the Church's hope and the message of life she addresses to secularized cultures.


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1. The Roman missal, Easter Sunday sequence.