For those of us in the Catholic Church, October traditionally has been Respect Life Month. Each year we celebrate this month to remind ourselves and our society of how precious and valuable is every human life, from the moment of conception to natural death. For each of us human beings, the gift of life is eternal. Our brief sojourn on Earth is but an infinitesimally small part of the eternal journey God has given us. Our life begins here, unique to each of us and blessed by a loving God who loves all of us, unconditionally. Jesus in the Gospel reminds us of his deep love for every human person. At the same time, however, our Lord could be very strong about personal behaviors that were contrary to the kingdom of God. Witness his anger about the money changers in the temple.
As Church we need to be strong in loving every person, no matter their color, creed, ethnic background, or economic status. All four of those realities have provided opportunities for violating this great gift of life, as does terminating human life itself. Especially for we Catholics, that violation is sinful; in many instances, it is terribly tragic in the human family. In our Catholic Church family, we have to admit humbly that we haven’t lived up to those ideals either as consistently as we ought to have. We need to ask for forgiveness and do better.
We can so readily give up on one another. We can give up on the terminally ill person whose passage into eternal life may be prolonged, or painful, or both. We give up on the person in the womb when embarrassment or difficult circumstances surround the pregnancy. We give up on the unborn when someone suggests that a coat hanger will be used to induce an abortion. Don’t we have the skill and the will as a society to assist mothers in such circumstances to bring the baby to term? And once that baby is born, do we not have the skill, the will, and the resources to support both mother and child? What kind of witness do we give in our society when organizations offer and strongly support abortion services? Attitudes in our culture in this regard are admittedly deeply engrained, but we must call one another to a conversion of heart and ask honestly: What are we doing to ourselves and one another? We must call one another to a deep and radical sense of respect for all people, at all stages of life.
A couple days ago, Father Steve Dublinski and I went out to the Spokane County Fair for a few hours. We went by the Respect Life booth and asked the couple running it how things were going. They responded that a lot of people walked by, giving the thumbs-up signal. A few others obviously disagreed with the message of the booth. One person commented; “Where is the pro-abortion booth?” One could judge this statement to be an intemperate, emotional response of the moment. But it does call all of us, everywhere, to examine deeply our attitudes and behaviors that have such a profound impact on the fabric of our society. We readily abhor gang violence; drug wars, like those in Juarez, Mexico; the killing of an infant in a fit of rage because the baby wouldn’t stop crying. Yet, on the other hand, our society as a whole has become rather callous about the preciousness of the unborn. As Church, we call everyone to a conversion of heart that will allow them to see all human life as Jesus sees all of us.
We have all seen the acronym WWJD, which stands for, “What would Jesus Do?” Usually we know the immediate answer. I would like to have all of us look at ourselves in the difficult and complex circumstances of life and apply that question. For those who contemplate abortion, please ask that question. For those organizations that provide abortion services, please ask that question. For those who look down on others for whatever reason, please ask that question.
We Catholics are no different. We must constantly ask that question. In a culture where civility has weakened (and we must include ourselves as Church in that mix), we have the opportunity to put on the new person; as St. Paul tells us, to be created anew. The journey of life is a journey of conversion. May we in the Catholic Church lead the way by our own personal and institutional transformation. Observing Respect Life Month can greatly assist us in that challenge.
God’s blessings, and peace to all.