St. John Paul II opens his encyclical letter “Evangelium Vitae” with the following words:

“The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. 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.

At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: ‘I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:10-11). The source of this ‘great joy’ is the Birth of the Saviour; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn 16:21). 

When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission, Jesus says: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10). In truth, he is referring to that ‘new’ and ‘eternal’ life which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this ‘life’ that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance.”

How much time do we really spend considering this simple, yet supremely sublime and marvelous reality? Perhaps we note it rather quickly and easily when gazing into the eyes of a newborn baby and then forget it just as quickly when faced with the stare of a person who challenges us.

As the director of vocations, it is a joyful task to help promote and build, with the help of many people, a “culture of vocations” throughout the Diocese of Burlington.  It is, simultaneously, a challenging responsibility when a “culture of death” mars the beauty of our Vermont landscape with the tragic reality of physician-assisted suicide and the potential enshrining of the right to an abortion in the state constitution.

Even in the midst of many obstacles, there is reason to hope. Participation in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., is on the rise, and other state marches throughout the country continue to mobilize support for the pro-life cause.

This social moment offers us a tremendous opportunity for prayer, for our faith to be strengthened through the sacramental life of the Church and to grow in our appreciation for life in this world while using this time to prepare well for life in the world to come.  We do not engage this endeavor hopelessly alone, since it is the Lord Jesus who has and is the path forward for all people as we hear in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel: Wwhat came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5).

Establishing and building a “culture of life” in our current cultural climate is certainly an uphill battle, but as we come to know Jesus Christ more intimately and the true life He desires for us, we become ever-more convinced that he is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6).

Consequently, we begin to see that building a “culture of vocations” and a “culture of life” are intimately linked in the very person of Jesus Christ himself – we cannot make sense of one without the other, nor is one fulfilled independently from the other.  A healthy family life provides a solid foundation for hearing and discerning one’s vocation, and by answering the vocation to which one is called, the pathway laid by God for the soul’s pilgrimage toward eternal life emerges.

Proclaiming the “Gospel of Life” is not about a commentary or condemnation but rather a calling of Christ and to Christ – to the truth that “all things were made through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (Jn. 1:3).  It is the joyful responsibility of all people of good will to proclaim and defend with passionate conviction the sanctity of every human life – from the moment of conception until natural death. Put simply, life is a precious gift from Almighty God that must be always cherished and protected!

You and I are created by Him and in His image and likeness. This supernatural reality is a marvelous mystery that we are called to live and appreciate more deeply as it unfolds daily under God’s loving Providence.

Perhaps as we close one year and anticipate life in the new year to come, we consider this quotation attributed to St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is the living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.” Let us, then, go to seek Him – Jesus Christ; the God-Man; the Good Shepherd of our souls – who has come to bring us life so that we may have it in abundance forever.

—Father James Dodson is vocation director for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.