The month of October each year is Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church in the United States. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops puts out a program and extends a packet of information to all dioceses and parishes of the country as a useful set of resources for our priests, deacons, religious and faithful to study, pray, think and act on this the most crucial set of issues of our time.
The theme for this year’s activities is: “The Measure of Love Is To Love Without Measure.” On Sept. 18, 2010, during his recent journey to England, Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit to St. Peter’s Residence in London, a home for the elderly and infirm that is directed by the Little Sisters of the Poor. In his brief address at the end of his visit, the Holy Father remarked: “At the very start of my pontificate I said, ‘Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’ Life is a unique gift, at every stage from conception until natural death, and it is God’s alone to give and to take. One may enjoy good health in old age; but equally Christians should not be afraid to share in the suffering of Christ, if God wills that we struggle with infirmity.” The Pontiff went on to comment on the public and remarkable way that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, dealt with his own fragility and weakness in the last years of his life and that he became a vivid example of Christian witness in carrying the burdens of advancing years.
Pope Benedict’s comments are instructive. He has been clear and courageous in his speech and action on the inviolable dignity of the human person at every stage and the total measure of love that we owe each human being. Sometimes our nature and desires resist the idea and reality of giving up our own time and plans for the sake of others; it is the maturing of love in us that transforms us and allows a new and vital exercise of energy on behalf of those who are dependent, from the unborn, to the sick, from the disabled to the fragile elderly. Nor do we always fathom the heroism and courage of so many who, without fanfare or notoriety, exhaust themselves for a special needs baby or for a vulnerable dying parent. To catch the fire of God’s love focused on each person is an illumination, not a burden, for each member of the faithful. The failure to learn sacrificial love results not only in a loss of our understanding and intimacy with the Lord; it also results in an ego-centric mess in the world. Moral weakness in living love without measure is a recipe for great harm, even disaster, for our existence here in the world and in our society.
The program for activities in this year’s Respect Life Month has many facets from issues of American Youth, Marriage and Infertility, Divine Mercy and the Death Penalty, and of course, continuing efforts to understand the issue of abortion and end this terrible assault on the beginning of personal human life.
I have commented upon one or other of these issues in my yearly October message to this great local Church. May I add my gratitude to our Respect Life Office, and to the countless clergy and faithful, who with clarity, compassion and determination perseverantly make the “pro-life case” for all in our Church and in society.
This year I want to mention a brief word on a disturbing issue: the growth in parts of our culture for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, especially for the elderly and those made vulnerable by serious sickness. A series of slick campaigns have been “piloted” in the Northwest of our country, in Oregon and Washington state, and there have been disquieting developments in the state of Montana, particularly on a recent State Supreme Court decision on this issue. In fact, I am so concerned that, as Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life Committee and with support from the Bishops of that committee, I have begun to work with our Conference of Bishops on a possible statement that all the Bishops together could make in order to galvanize some needed thinking and action on this assault of vulnerable human life. Though it will take some time to develop a clear and focused form of action, I ask for your prayers and for your watchfulness on this matter of concern. The beginnings and end of human life are the pillars of sustaining a love without measure for every human person. The assaults on these two moments are particularly worrisome and require our finest and most deliberate efforts for protection and defense.
May the Lord grant you deeper insights into his measureless love for you and allow you to be transformed by that love to be His living image in the world, a pro-life virtuoso!