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 | Dr. Sarah Bartel

What can you do to build a culture of life?

Help bring St. John Paul II’s vision to fruition through everyday acts of service

One evening around this time last year, our doorbell rang. With my newborn daughter tucked in one arm, I opened our front door to discover an entire family — mom, dad and two school-aged children, a boy and a girl — dressed in matching Seahawks jerseys standing on our front stoop. Seahawks Mom held a giant, lidded Tupperware bowl full of chili; Seahawks Dad was carrying a grocery bag with tortilla chips peeking out the top. Seahawks Son carried a plate of cookies. They were from the parish meal-train ministry, and they had signed up to bring us dinner that night to help us out after the birth of our new baby. Their much appreciated act of service is one great example of how families can help build the “culture of life.”

If you were in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, you might have heard St. John Paul II use this phrase. In an encyclical letter published two years later, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), he wrote about how our Christian faith makes us a people “of life and for life.” In the face of the growing forces of the “culture of death,” which legitimize and promote contraception, sterilization, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, we Christians bear the good news that all human life is precious, infinitely valuable, beloved of God and possessing great dignity.

Every human life bears God’s image: We believe that God created us for an eternal destiny with him, and that he died for us to make that possible.

We believe that every human life, at every age, stage and level of ability, bears God’s image — even those who are less than “perfect,” or who are suffering and near the end of life, or who are so tiny they are only visible under a microscope. As Dr. Seuss eloquently put it, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” St. John Paul II urgently called all people to “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!”

Families have a part to play in this effort: A huge part, actually. “The role of the family in building a culture of life is decisive and irreplaceable,” St. John Paul II wrote (he really liked italics). Formed by the fertile, sexual love of man and woman, husband and wife, the family has a life-giving mission to “guard, reveal and communicate love.” Husbands and wives transmit the gift of human life by becoming dads and moms, having children and raising them to know life as a gift. Parents model and teach their children how to live in true freedom, which is found in giving yourself in love to others — as Jesus does.

Everyday ways to play your part: This happens in ordinary, everyday life. As ordinary as: making peanut butter sandwiches — with a smile; patiently potty training; patiently teaching your teenager to drive; putting the kids to bed — when it’s not your night — so your spouse can rest; and teaching your children to share, to treat others with respect, to write thank you notes, to be thankful people.

Families can also build the culture of life outside themselves. Like the Seahawks family, they can support families in the parish who have new babies with meals. (Thanks, guys!) They can shop together for layette items to contribute to a parish “baby shower” that gathers supplies for moms in need. They can visit a nursing home and volunteer at Special Olympics.

I’ve seen families peacefully praying in front of abortion clinics during 40 Days for Life prayer vigils. Our girls are really good at reminding us to say the little “spiritual adoption” prayer written by Archbishop Fulton Sheen as part of our family night prayers. Parents can join associations which engage the political process to advocate for the sacredness of human life, as St. John Paul II encouraged us to do.

“The family is summoned to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life,” he wrote. The family, the “sanctuary of life,” nurtures human life, born of love. One diaper at a time. One meal at a time. Day by day, through the seasons of the year and the seasons of family growth strung together with all our little acts of prayer, care and service, both within our own families and beyond.

Oh, and Seahawks family? That chili was delicious. And … I still have your Tupperware bowl.

– Originally printed in Northwest Catholic November 2014