The following is excerpted from a homily by Vancouver’s Archbishop Adam Exner at the fifth annual Mass for Life December 27, 1997.

Not long ago in The Vancouver Sun (there were) shocking headlines about a poll that indicated 70 per cent of Canadians favored assisted suicide and euthanasia — a shocking statistic which shows just how deeply death culture has become rooted in our society that includes so many Catholics and Christians. This is really disturbing. Rightly, the Holy Father calls for the building of a new culture, for a new evangelization.

What are the root causes, the roots of death culture? In the encyclical The Good News of Life, the Holy Father mentions four root causes, four roots of the death culture.

The first is that in a death culture, there is the opinion that the only ones who have rights are those who are independent of others and are autonomous. This means that those who are not autonomous and those who are not independent — such as the unborn, the dying, the weak, the defenceless in society — have no rights. This erroneous vision has to be replaced by the truth that every human being has dignity and rights, regardless of his or her condition.

A second root of the death culture is a reckless, unbridled freedom divorced from truth. Once you divorce freedom from truth, then anything goes. Then people begin to think that a thing is right simply because they choose it. This is an erroneous, false notion of freedom.

To counteract this false notion, we must promote freedom in truth; not freedom from truth, but freedom in truth. A freedom that always is in accord with truth is a responsible freedom.

God pushed to background

Third, the Holy Father mentions as a root of death culture, the loss of the sense of God and the loss of the sense of the sacredness of human life. When God is pushed into the background, human life is no longer seen as a gift from God, given to us as stewards.

But when people forget God, they think that they are owners of human life and consequently that they can do with lives whatever they wish. They can control them and manipulate them in any fashion. If we were owners of our lives, that would be inconsequential. But we are not; we are stewards of life, accountable to God.

Finally, the fourth root of death culture that the Holy Father mentions is the darkening of moral conscience — the confusion of right and wrong and the confusion of good and evil. This is certainly true in our society today.

We have come to the point where many really believe that there are no right and wrong answers. We have come to the point where for many there are no more rules, there are no more absolutes, everything is negotiable. The ultimate norm has now become personal opinion and preference.

To counteract death culture, we have to restore the concept and the idea that every human being has rights regardless of his or her condition. It is not only the strong that have rights. The weak have rights as well.

We must teach the idea of freedom in truth, not freedom from truth. We must restore the sense of the sacredness of God and the sacredness of human life, which is given to us as stewards. We are accountable for that gift to God, we are not the owners of that gift.

The Holy Father calls us to build a culture of life amid this world of ours. He calls us to a new evangelization, to a new Pentecost, to build a new civilization of life built on truth and love. To do that, we must strive by all our efforts to uproot the death culture. But more than that, as the Holy Father points out in the encyclical, we must pray.

The Holy Father is convinced that to build up a new culture of life, “a great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world.” He calls us to prayer and fasting, “so that the power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit, the walls which can conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of the practices and laws which are hostile to life.”

But in all of this, what attitude are we to take? One of discouragement? Or one of hope and courage? The Holy Father never gives in to discouragement. He is always a man of faith and of hope. In his apostolic letter on the new millennium, he says that he is convinced that the Great Jubilee will reveal a new springtime of faith and Christian living.

So as we redouble our efforts to respond to his call for a new evangelization and for a building of a new life culture, let us do so with faith, hope and courage, and the conviction that the Spirit of God who empowers us is stronger than any other power on earth. Let us go forward in hope and courage, letting ourselves be guided by the Spirit of God and empowered by Him. And let us build God’s civilization, God’s culture — a culture of life.