LegalWorks Apostolate - Counsel for a Culture of Life

What is a Culture of Life?

By Cynthia M. Nolan, PhD

Pope Saint John Paul II told us in 1995 in Evangelium Vitae that if we “respect, protect, love, and serve life,” we will find happiness. Surely we all want nothing less. And if this revered saint points us to this path to true happiness, we will want our entire culture to reflect this Truth.

But what does a "Culture of Life" mean in practice? To put the sainted Pope’s advice into practice, he tells us that we must: respect human life and its dignity, oppose the culture of death, and serve life through prayer, examples, and action. He further echoes the physical works of mercy to help “the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the child in the womb, and the old person who is suffering or near death.” We must not give in to discouragement; we must not lose hope.

Certainly, a culture of life supports our endeavors to respect, protect, love, and serve our neighbors and family. But how do we define the critical characteristics of a culture of life so that we can identify and nourish the necessary ingredients?

I live in a fantastic, small-town community with a strong Parish life and with supportive Catholic groups and institutions. But is it a culture of life? It feels like one. But how do I know for sure?

Well, as Saint John Paul II indicated, a Culture of Life will be happy. A Culture of Life will be supportive. It will respect the dignity of the human being as we serve Jesus. As JPII put it, a human being as an “intrinsic value”, and a Culture of Life will reflect that value in all aspects of life — through the family, the school, the doctors, the groceries and shops, the entertainment, and the neighborhoods of our lives.

This sounds like hard work. Where to begin? I am embarking on a research project to identify the on-the-ground life-affirming efforts that support a culture of life. It sounds rather obvious; surely a soup kitchen, a nursing home, and a pregnancy center will help. Yes, that sounds true. My project is an attempt to put some details on those assertions that we take for granted.

For example, we fulfill the physical works of mercy through our local soup kitchen our local nursing home, and our local pregnancy center. The immediate effects are obvious: feed the hungry, comfort the sick, and support the child in the womb. I would like to investigate the first, second, and third order effects of those merciful efforts. How do we know what the effects are? Can we measure them?

In my supportive small-town community, we have many Catholic institutions and many happy individuals and families. We have educational institutions. We have a Walk for Life. We have public rosary processions. We have a food pantry. I want to measure the effects of these habits and organizations on the local culture of life. I will attempt to do this through broad surveys and local statistics as well as in-depth interviews and observations.

In 1986, in a homily in Perth, Australian, Pope Saint John Paul II told us “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Our efforts to grow a Culture of Life from the family up to the world will start here — with individuals and our love for our neighbors. Let’s start there, and then discern exactly how to build our Culture of Life in all of our communities.

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