Every human being "has the right to life, to bodily integrity and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life . . ." (Pacem in Terris, 11).
Peace is not merely the absence of war. It's the active presence of justice—between nations, within nations, and among persons. Peace begins in the individual heart. We cultivate it by our choices, which always have consequences. Our actions always affect others, for men and women are social creatures. We're connected. We need each other. We seek each other out for friendship, love and collaboration in our work. And as our network of relationships expands, so too does the opportunity for conflict, unless we see each other as children of the same Father.
Pope John XXIII, one of the great builders and peacemakers of the last century, wrote that humanity's common good makes heavy demands on every government. Civil authority must work to advance the dignity of all citizens by helping to ensure good public health, housing, nutrition, education, opportunities for employment, and a just living wage. The Second Vatican Council carried his teaching forward by stressing that the human person should have "ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life."
Above all, in the words of John XXIII, the task of every public authority is "to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person," beginning with the right to life itself. Peace begins with justice. And justice is grounded in the sanctity of each and every human life.
Life: The Foundation Stone
"God created man in his image, ... male and female he created them. God blessed them. ... God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good" (Gen 1:27-28,31).
Scripture is a love story. God created humanity out of love. He made each of us to share in His joy and abundance and, as Augustine once wrote, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Unfortunately, we live in an age when too many people too easily forget God ... and in forgetting God, we forget the roots of our own identity, and our own dignity. The value of a human life is priceless because God's love is priceless. The elderly, the infirm, the unborn child, the condemned criminal: All bear the imprint of God's love. All bear His likeness. Every life, no matter how confused or broken, is valuable.
Since God alone is the author of life, we don't "own" it. Life is a gift. It's ours to take care of—but not to throw away, and never to take from another. The sanctity of every human life, from conception to natural death, is our common heritage; the foundation stone of justice. No matter how enlightened a nation's economic and social policies may seem, unless the right to life is respected at every stage of human development, the structures of community life are built on sand.
The Citizen as Builder
"Only tireless promotion of the truth about the human person can infuse democracy with the right values. This is what Jesus meant when he asked us to be leaven in society" (Living the Gospel of Life, 25).
We are not powerless. We are citizens. And in America, this means that we are the architects of our experiment in governing for the common good. The character of our nation depends on each of us. Citizens create the future not by being silent, but by advancing their beliefs vigorously by every ethical and legal means at their disposal. In fact, the more we involve our convictions in the public square, the more we serve the community by building a dialogue of truth. And truth, as Pope John Paul II has written, is the inner structure of freedom.
If we want to remain a free people we must begin by rededicating ourselves to the sanctity of every human life, and holding our elected representatives to the same standard. Do our elected officials work to protect the family, to help the poor, to welcome the immigrant, to improve public education, employment, housing and health?
Most urgently and fundamentally: Do our elected officials work to protect the right to life from conception to natural death?
Every human life is a sign of God's love, a trace of his glory. Choosing life therefore is choosing God's love, God's peace, God's justice.
The choices we make create the future: "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live" (Dt 30:19).