Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” — Pope Francis, if you haven’t been paying attention — went out for a spin one Sunday in Rome. It was one of his early forays into challenging Vatican security. He joined Rome’s Mother’s Day March for Life, both a celebration and a demonstration, making a point to the city, country and world about love, family, faith and duty.
About a month later, Pope Francis presided over a Mass celebrating and reflecting on Pope John Paul II’s “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”). “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message,” Pope John Paul II wrote. “Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture.”
The “Gospel of Life” was a significant document, which helped bring evangelicals and Catholics together to support life politically and spiritually. The Gospel of Life was a welcoming ecumenical challenge to the conscience of every person of faith. And it continues to be so.
Even as technology makes it easier to both physically enhance and dispose of life, the individual must always be seen and served and cherished. Every person is made and loved by God, and if there is no other gift you can give this season, try showing that you see the divine in another by being a conduit of God’s mercy and love.
There’s a lot being said about Pope Francis — inciting both glee and fear, depending on which selective quote or ideological disposition we’re talking about. You may remember that back when the first long interview with the pope was published, the media fixated on comments he made about how the church often appears to the secular realm — as if all it says to the world is “no.”
But nothing could be further from the truth: The message of the Gospel is about saying “yes” to life. It’s that affirmation that Pope Francis is pointing to. Every mother who says “yes” when she discovers she’s pregnant — particularly under trying or unexpected circumstances — is a heroic model of what the pope is trying to get across.
#ObssessAbouttheYes might be a Twitter hashtag or bumper-sticker summary Pope Francis’ summons to Catholics, Christians and everyone. It is the action item of the Christmas season. As Christians, as citizens, as people, we must help build a culture in which no one is left unloved or uncared for, in which life can be supported and allowed to thrive.
As Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, put it during his talk at the “Gospel of Life” events in Rome: “Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh, is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore, every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith.”
You can’t understand the “Person of the Year” without knowing this. Whether the pope is raising concerns about our economic lives, biotechnology, sex trafficking or anything else, this is not just the back story, it’s the man’s oxygen. He’d like to get more people breathing it in. Embracing the treasure of a mother and child is reason for and the source of all love and joy. Thus the proclamation of the Gospel. For the pope, this isn’t about politics and ideology or popularity contests. It’s everything, and all are invited to experience it. He’s described the church as a “field hospital” for wounded souls, and as Catholic churches hold extra confession hours and Masses around this time of year, he invited you in, giving voice to a child in a manger who came for just that reason.