Book Review: Life is always meaningful
Life is always meaningful
Matters of Life and Death – A Catholic Guide to the Moral Questions of Our Time by Gerard M. Verschuuren, Angelico Press, 201pp, paperback £12.50.
reviewed by Lucy Courlet de Vregille
The debate surrounding abortion or euthanasia seems to have been somewhat shelved in recent years as the legal systems of more and more countries recognise it as morally acceptable or do not give much consideration to the role of morality in such matters at all anymore. The objective of Matters of Life and Death appears to be to defend the very existence of morality and its essential function in society, providing a ‘Catholic moral compass’ to navigate the moral terrain, and offering a crystal clear response to the various moral sore points of our time.
The standard relativist rhetoric of today’s society, which avoids telling anyone how they have a duty to live, ultimately accepts all forms of behaviour, condoning destructive life choices in the name of ‘acceptance’ and the right to ‘do or be what I like’. Conscious he is addressing a culture which is lost in its own idea of acceptance of everyone and everything, and which is visibly detrimental to the most vulnerable, Verschuuren wastes no words in laying down timeless truths, whose very purpose is to protect and to fulfil us. The author himself says, his subject matter is not original, as his work is to, “reacquaint the reader with the precepts the Church has long provided”.
This is not a spiritual guide to living out your own moral life; it is an informative work on what the correct moral choice is to make in a select number of specific and pertinent situations; including abortion, euthanasia and eugenics. As well as tackling other topics, which perhaps, by many, are not even seen as moral issues anymore; contraception, IVF, gender-change and homosexual behaviour. Verschuuren places them carefully and definitively backin their place alongside each other as morally grave matters, explaining why.
He takes an encouraging tone: an authoritative attitude, lightened by occasional humour. He uses a framework of beautiful sources, quoting saints, old and new, who, as always, offer clarity and motivation. Sources include; the philosophy of Aquinas, JPII’s Theology of the Body, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, G. K. Chesterton, Pope Francis. It must be hard to write a book on morality in today’s climate without being considered judgemental, dictatorial or somewhat lacking in compassion, but Verschuuren succeeds for the most part in engaging this tricky subject with unassuming gentleness; “Let me invite you on a quest for what is right and what is wrong under the guidance of a Catholic compass.” (pg. 1)
His simple and direct manner means the chapters remain concise, leaving room for further reading if you are looking for a more thorough debate, but which do keep the overall length of the book down. This makes for a short read and cleverly ensures that the dense subject matter does not become overwhelming for the more casual reader. With a background in genetic science, Verschuuren competently leans on scientific argument to justify the roots of many moral stances. Then, after transmitting a clear understanding of Church teaching on each subject, he passes on to the next. This interesting approach originates from his strength as a consultant on Faith and Reason.
In secular society ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ have become words which are widely misused, wrongly invoked and almost entirely misunderstood. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Before he even begins, Verschuuren is obliged to create a level ground on which to have a clear discussion. The problem of language is something the author confronts confidently, defining his terms from the first chapter and deftly putting into place a vocabulary which has otherwise been largely re-appropriated or forgotten; a point which is interesting in itself.
Awakening the conscience
For questioning Catholics or Christians, this book contains a good introduction to morality and clear answers on the burning topics of today. To read Matters of Life and Death is to be on a quest to understand more deeply the importance of recognising and defending one’s rights and duties, to learn from where they originate, and ultimately what it means when we say ‘the dignity of human life’.
“moral duties and rights go hand in hand… the duty to seek the truth matches the right to seek it; the duty to protect life goes with the right of life to protection […] no one has the duty to marry, so no one has the right to be married; no one has the duty to have children, so no one has the right to have children…” (pg. 23)
This book informs, it motivates and perhaps most importantly it awakens the conscience to see the will of God when faced with incredibly difficult situations and intense suffering. It insists on the necessity of making informed decisions, even if these be counter-cultural. The author highlights, by chapter, challenging situations which, originally sparking intense debate on a national and international level, have since become increasingly socially acceptable and even considered normal by younger generations. As explained simply in this book, they do in fact remain now and for always, morally wrong. “Life is always meaningful, in good times and in bad times, in joy and in suffering.” (pg. 150)
Lucy Courlet de Vregille is a member of the Emmanuel Community and a stay-at-home mother of three children under four.