John Paul the Great and Personhood

Dear Friends,

Here is a piece that I wrote regarding personhood and John Paul the Great’s Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of life.  I hope you enjoy it.


Personhood Gospel of Life

Pope John Paul the Great made the proclamation of the Gospel of
life one of the central aspects of his papacy. It is little
wonder that the theme of the 1993 World Youth Day celebrated in
Denver, Colorado, in 1993 was: “I came that they might have
life, and have it to the full.”
Pope John Paul II was painfully aware of the moral tailspin into
which Colorado had led our nation and the world when it
legalized the killing of innocent children in the womb and
deprived them of their personhood. He never shied away from
proclaiming the Truth of the Gospel of life and taught us that
“in the proclamation of this Gospel of life, we must not fear
hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or
ambiguity which might conform us to the worldʼs way of thinking
(Rom 12:2). We must be in the world but not of the world
(Jn15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his
Death and Resurrection has overcome the world (Jn 16:33).”
As a pro-life lawyer, the proponent of the 2010 Colorado
Personhood Amendment and a fellow Catholic, I feel called to
fight a battle that, except for the light of Christ, is filled
with discouragement, division, uncertainty, and darkness. I ask
you to join me in the fight against the culture of death by
getting personally involved in supporting a Personhood Amendment
in your state.
A Personhood Amendment is an ideal approach to carry the Gospel
of life to our brothers and sisters for several reasons: it is
unambiguously true, it is above all educational as opposed to
legalistic, it requires the direct participation of the
faithful, it restores the proper relationship between Divine
law, the government, and the people, and it directs our hope not
to a politician or judges, but to Christ on the cross.
Personhood is a concept, which holds that from “the first moment
of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the
rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of
every innocent being to life.” (Evangelium Vitae)
Why do we insist on using the word “person” in our fight against
the attacks on human dignity? Why not define when life begins,
or what a human being is? To understand this, we must first
understand what the meaning of the word “person” is.
The word “person” has different meanings depending on the
context in which it is used.
In a theological context the word “person” refers to the union
of the physical and the spiritual, in other words the body and
the soul. In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul the II quotes Cardinal
Ratzinger and asks the rhetorical question: how could a human
individual not be a human person? In other words, the Catholic
notion that a human individual is also a human person is a self
evident truth.
Within the context of an atheistic philosophy, the term “person”
is defined by a set of utilitarian qualities: is the human being
self aware? Does he or she have the capacity to reason? Can he
or she live independently and develop relationships? All of
these are the complete opposite of what our faith teaches. Human
dignity comes not from our differing abilities and qualities,
but from our brotherhood as children of the same Father.
In a legal context, a proper definition of the word “person” is
of extreme importance.
The United States Constitution uses the word “person” 49 times,
on the other hand it never uses the word “human being” or “human
life” or even “human.” The reason is quite simple; the
constitution is primarily concerned with rights, and the way to
refer to one who is recognized by law as the subject of rights
and duties, is by use of the word “person.”
In the Case of Colorado v. Lage (2009), a man who crashed his
car head on to the car of an eight and a half month pregnant
woman and child, was able to avoid being charged with killing
the child in the womb because the court felt “compelled by the
legislatureʼs definition of a “person,” which only considered a
child to be a “person” after birth. Clearly, the legal and
constitutional definition of the word “person” is critical to
the defense of preborn children.
Some issues have been raised regarding the practicality of a
personhood amendment. Typical arguments against personhood are:
we need to wait to have more supportive justices on the court,
the amendment already lost a popular vote in Colorado, such
efforts divert attention and resources away from more achievable
measures, and even if the amendment were to pass, it would have
a negative legal effect.
A detailed refutation of each of these arguments is available
from the Thomas More Law Centerʼs Robert Muise (viewable at under the Legal Resources tab)
But more eloquent than all of the rational and legal arguments
that I can offer are the deeply insightful and inspired words of
our beloved John Paul the Great. The great defender of life
wrote, “as I have frequently stated, when freedom is detached
from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish personal
rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for
society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of
individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public
These words answer all the arguments against personhood. They
highlight the need to disengage from corrupt and unjust laws –
which are no laws at all – and establish a solid foundation for
real freedom based in Truth.
The great defender of life asks us to “focus on the formation of
consciences and the recovery of the necessary link between
freedom and truth.” In other words, focus on education, focus on
the principle.
The Personhood Amendment is first and foremost aimed at a
cultural transformation which will form consciences “with regard
to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life.”
In that light, the pessimistic arguments against the personhood
amendment are transformed into the very reasons why we must
participate in it. The darker our culture, the greater in need
of the bright light of Truth.
Although personhood is about principle, it also has a solid
legal basis. While some lawyers disagree with the practicality
of personhood amendments, prestigious Catholic law firms such as
the Thomas Moore Law Center, and renown Catholic legal scholars
such as Notre Dame Professor Emeritus of Law Charles Rice
strongly support personhood efforts describing them as “prudent,
timely, and positive.” Professor Rice explains that personhood
amendments are “an affirmation of the federalism embodied in the
general structure of the United States Constitution and the
Tenth Amendment.”
Pro-lifers should know that the state personhood amendment
approach to prohibiting abortion has never been tried, and has
thus, never failed. Isnʼt it worth a shot?
Yet for all the legal strategizing, personhood is fundamentally
about principle, a Catholic and universal principle that all
human beings must have the rights of person from the very first
moment of his or her existence. Unless we establish this
principle, no amount of legal strategies will ever set our
hearts straight; and unless our hearts are changed the law will
be devoid of meaning.
“But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our
sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his
bruises we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
Approaching a legislator, or a complete stranger in a public
venue and talking to him or her about abortion is one of the
most uncomfortable things you can ask a person to do. Even door
to door salesmen are treated better than pro-life missionaries.
Yet, as Christians, we know that our calling is to follow in the
steps of Jesus Christ, who was rejected and despised but was
faithful even unto death!
John Paul the Great asked us “to bring the Gospel of life to the
heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part
of society.” Promoting a Personhood Amendment and engaging
everyone regardless of their appearance or station in life is
almost an act of faith. While gathering petitions at the
Colorado State Fair I learned the value of approaching every
person regardless of their appearance. Many people who wore
large crucifixes “had no time,” or would “do it another day.”
Yet young men and women with tattoos and immodest clothing would
stop and talk about abortion, and often, they would sign our
Having an active presence in the legislature to represent
Catholic moral beliefs is important, but it is no substitute for
the personal evangelical calling of every Catholic. Changing
laws does not necessarily change hearts, personal example and
personal sacrifice does.
The Personhood Amendment is in keeping with the Catholic
principle of subsidiarity, which holds that functions of
government, business, and other secular activities should be as
local as possible. Individual Catholics, Catholic families, and
Catholic parishes should not leave to larger organizations what
can be done by them. Active state Personhood Amendments utilize
the power of individuals to shape their own constitution; this
is both a privilege and a responsibility. Subsidiarity
encourages personal responsibility and consequently a concurrent
personal transformation.
In my own experience, the act of gathering signatures in
Colorado has been one of the most transformative in my life. By
making myself the advocate for the voiceless preborn child, and
on occasion, accepting the rejection of friend and foe alike, I
have grown closer to Christ, experiencing that redemptive
suffering which makes us grow in our love for God.
The battle against the culture of death is a difficult one. “To
be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these
truths constantly and courageously from the very first
proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the
various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all
educational activity.” These words are John Paul the Greatʼs.
His life was an example of living the Gospel of Life. It is our
calling as Catholics to follow Christʼs example as faithfully as
our beloved popes. I believe the Personhood Amendment offers us
as Catholics an unrivaled opportunity to do so.
As Mother Teresa said, let us strive to be faithful, not to be
successful, for the way of the faithful Christian turns defeat
into victory, and death into life.
“Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Lifeʼs own
Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.”

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