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A person might choose to have an abortion, or to commit suicide, for a variety of reasons. A single woman may not feel that she can afford to take care of a child. A terminally ill husband may not want his wife to watch him suffer. People are driven to these tragic acts for deeply personal reasons. But there is more going on here. In these painful stories, where people choose against life, a pervasive emptiness, a spiritual darkness, comes into view. That emptiness is not limited to individuals, but is a part of our contemporary culture. An underlying despair threatens to permeate our modern secular society today.
A spiritual malaise has fallen across the culture of the West, diminishing the natural human desire to preserve one’s life, to struggle against death, and to exert the effort necessary to build a stable world for future generations to enjoy. Secularization is a major factor here. The loss of a hope in something eternal, of faith in a reality that transcends the mundane, has created a void that can make the struggle against death seem meaningless.
The struggle for hope is real for people in a wide variety of situations. While terminally ill persons rightly draw our attention, consider the men who, having suffered years of solitary confinement in our nation’s criminal justice system, attempt to kill themselves. For many people, to go on living is a struggle. When the distractions doled out by our consumer culture stop working, where will suffering people find hope?
As people of life, we must be people of hope. Our homes and parishes must be oases of hope in the spiritual desert of our time. An encounter with a Christian should bring one face-to-face with a person who has been seized with hope in the God who brings life out of death. To be sure, hope is not naïve optimism. Our Lord hoped in God while he wept in the Garden despite the darkness that loomed. Christian hope is formed in the crucible of Calvary, whenever we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
A culture of life arises from a foundation of hope, and its attitudes and practices support hope. For example, we see a hope-filled culture in the corporal works of mercy. We visit the prisoner to remind her, in a tangible way, that she is not cut off from relationships, that she is loved. We bury the dead, mourning with those who mourn, hoping for the day when the dead will rise to new life in Christ. We feed the hungry and clothe the naked, hoping for the day when we will be companions at the eternal banquet in the kingdom of God.
Christians must be people who stop alongside the hopeless and lift them up. In a world that offers little to those who face life-and-death struggles, we must accompany people in the darkness. Our lives must testify to the Light that shines in the darkness, whom the darkness does not overcome.
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