This Sunday, October 2nd, is Respect Life Sunday, and October is Respect Life Month, celebrated by the Church in the United States since 1972. Every year at this time, we reflect on the intrinsic dignity of human life, created in God’s image and likeness and called to an eternal destiny with Him.
We lament that human life in our nation and in the world is threatened at its very beginning in the mother’s womb. In his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), released earlier this year, Pope Francis wrote these strong words:
I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be consider the ‘property’ of another human being (#83).
The Church continues to insist on the respect due to human life from the moment of conception, while it is still protected in the mother’s womb. Abortion is a grave injustice and an offense against the Author of life. Our commitment to the Gospel of life requires us to oppose abortion and also to do all we can to support mothers who, because of difficult circumstances, may be tempted to abort their unborn babies.
The Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel of Life. It is also the Gospel of Mercy. As life is a gift from God, so is mercy! In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us of the centrality of mercy in the life of the Church. We are called to be “merciful like the Father.” Women who have had an abortion often suffer deep pain and carry a deep wound in their hearts. We are called to be instruments of God’s mercy to them and to help all who are in need of post-abortion healing.
During this Respect Life Month, we are also reminded of our duty to care for people who are approaching life’s end. We are called to protect life in all its stages, including its last stage. Sadly, as abortion has now been legal in our country for so many years, the movement to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide continues to grow in the United States. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis quotes Psalm 71: Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. The Holy Father writes:
Care and concern for the final stages of life is all the more necessary today, when contemporary society attempts to remove every trace of death and dying …. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members (#48).
In this Year of Mercy, as we are invited to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, it is good to consider the merciful love we are called to share with the elderly and infirm, including those in our own families and parishes. We must surround them with our love and support and companionship. One of the saddest experiences I had when I was a teenager was working in a nursing home during two summers, where I saw so many elderly people who were lonely and did not receive visits. I remember how this impacted me as I learned to spend time and chat with the elderly residents, from whom I learned so much. I hope that all of our parishes have ministry to the local nursing homes and especially stay connected with parishioners who are in nursing homes or who are homebound. This should not only be seen as a duty, but a joy and a privilege. We must not only talk about the Gospel of life, but live it!
Our commitment to the Gospel of Life includes care and concern for all God’s children, from the moment of conception until natural death. I think especially of those whose dignity is threatened in our often materialistic society. Pope Francis speaks often of how we live in an increasingly throw away culture in which human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. In his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Gospel of Joy”), a document which really set the themes of his papacy, the Holy Father asks: How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?… Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? (#53). If we truly are people of and for life, we must ponder these questions.
We celebrate this Respect Life Month during the month preceding Election Day. This is a good thing, since we should examine candidates and their positions in light of the Gospel of Life. Many voters, however, are disillusioned. Many Catholic voters have shared with me the dilemma they feel in voting this year. They want to exercise their right to vote, yet are finding it difficult to choose between candidates who do not represent our values on the dignity and sacredness of all human life. Faithful Catholics are rightly disturbed by elements of party platforms that are not compatible with the Church’s moral and social teachings. I am thinking that this dilemma has a positive meaning in that it shows that one is more Catholic than one is Democrat or Republican. Our discipleship should always come first. Still, in this dilemma, we have to make a choice, a prudential judgment, one that we should make with a well-formed conscience, one that is enlightened by the Gospel of Life and the teachings of the Church.
I hope that this Respect Life Month helps all of us to renew our commitment to the Gospel of Life. May the Lord, the Author of Life, bless and guide us!
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