By Dr. Donald DeMarco
Unlike the daily news, papal statements are news that stay news. On Jan. 1, 1977, Pope Paul VI delivered a Day of Peace message entitled, If You Want Peace, Defend Life. The need to conjoin peace with life is more relevant today than it was better than forty years ago and warrants reiteration.
The now beatified Pontiff enjoined the world not to regard his message as either “superfluous” or “boring.” Indeed, what he had to say was profound and therefore captivating. “There is no civilization without peace,” he reminded his listeners. He could not have captured the importance of peace more concisely. It is the very bedrock of a civilization. “The pyramid of peace,” he avers, “should have a solid basis and a lofty summit.”
People the world over desire peace, but all too often disparage life. Pope Paul’s message came nearly four years after Roe v. Wade, a time when American society had been informed that abortion is a constitutional right.
Yet, can there be a “right” to oppose the development of a civilization?
Could the demise of a nation possibly be inscribed in its Constitution?
And why did it take nearly 200 years for seven Supreme Court justices to notice such a “right”?
Convenience and practicality had become more important than the spiritual values that are perfective of the human person. However, as Blessed Paul reminded us:
“We must think of human society as being primarily a spiritual reality” within which citizens can share and fulfill their duties and “strive continually to pass on to others all that is best in themselves, and make their own the spiritual riches of others.”
Present society, however, has little affection for truth, an erroneous notion of rights, and a reluctance to perform moral duties – indices that calibrate how far away it is from peace. In fact, it has entrenched itself in a ground that makes it impossible for peace to grow.
How do we generate peace? It does not spring out of mere human desire, as Blessed Paul explains, even though “the deepest impulses of human nature tend toward peace.”
Two years later, in 1979, John Lennon produced the enormously popular song, Give Peace a Chance. Lennon was a heroin addict and shameless philander. His conceptualization of peace was a pipe dream. His lyrics implied that peace was readily available and easily obtainable, like a cup of coffee, simply for the asking. The song and the lyrics were a worldwide hit and given additional impetus by the recordings of Louis Armstrong, Elton John and others. Peace, nonetheless, requires fidelity to a moral purpose.
Echoing the words of St. Augustine, who stated that “peace is the tranquility of order,” Pope Paul stated: “Peace is order, and order is what everything, every reality, aspires to as its destiny and the justification for its existence.”
Order is based on nature. We think of the natural order from marriage to the conception of a child to the birth of that child to his education and integration into the family. Abortion is a disruption of that order and, therefore, the prevention of peace. People cannot do whatever they want, willy-nilly, and expect peace to blossom.
Peace is not a velleity, it is the result of a moral life that is in harmony with the natural order of things. “Peace is a very long and very difficult task.” It requires our participation in the world. In Paul’s words, “Inner peace is not possible through selfish sophistries.”
Although there are many factors that go into the development of peace, the one factor that Blessed Paul refuses to be silent about is defending life. As he tells us: “Peace and life. They are supreme values in the civil order. They are also values that are interdependent. Do we want peace? Then let us defend life!”
The defense of life is essential to the flowering of peace. Its rejection leads to a series of calamities. We observe in the United States and Canada how those who defend life are commonly ridiculed, vilified, marginalized, and even incarcerated. We learn about pro-life people being fired from the media and university professors being suspended from their teaching because they dare to defend life openly. Abortion is anything but a private matter. It sets in motion a movement toward a totalitarian society where everyone must think the same way. It is an enemy to democracy just as it is an enemy to the family.
Peace, as the late Holy Father was at pains to explain, is not only the opposite of war, but war’s preventive. “If we base the logic of our activity on the sacredness of life,” he informs us, “war is virtually disqualified… Peace is but the incontestable ascendency of right and, in the final analysis, the joyful celebration of life.” There are three imperatives, he goes on to say: “to defend life, to heal life, to promote life.”
Both abortion and euthanasia, as much as war, are enemies of peace. The heart of Blessed Paul VI’s message is contained in the following paragraph and represents, succinctly, the essence of the pro-life position:
“The suppression of an incipient life, or one that is already born, violates above all the sacrosanct moral principle to which the concept of human existence must always have reference: human life is sacred from the first moment of its conception and until the last instance of its natural survival in time.”
Blessed Paul’s message was intended for everyone. Nonetheless, he fully understands how people whose vision is limited to the natural order alone and who do not sense the working of God may find it difficult to link peace consistently with the defense of life. Faith is needed to appreciate the transcendent message that God has inserted in the world. We need enlightenment on a supernatural level from the “God of peace” (Phil. 4:9).
If You Want Peace, Defend Life is a superbly conceived document. It is timeless and therefore relevant for all times. It fully justifies a careful rereading.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Conn. This editorial appeared in the Feb. 22, 2018, edition of The Wanderer.