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Catholic Star Herald

October 6, 2000

A time to reflect on the gift of life

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Last Sunday, Respect Life Sunday, marked the beginning of Respect Life Month. The theme this year for our dedication to life is Every Human Life Is A Sign of God's Love, Traced in His Glory. How true is this statement when we apply it to life in all its stages and life even with all its weaknesses because in each one there is a trace of God's glory and love.

The Creator has made human life the capstone of His marvelous work. Saint Irenaeus once said that man is the glory of God's creation when He is fully alive. This Respect Life Month gives us an opportunity as Catholics to reflect on the gift of life that we have been given by God and what we must do to protect it.

The protection of life in all its stages, unfortunately, has been threatened by a culture of death. The most notable attack on life itself in our country is the terrible horror of legalized abortion. Resting on what I believe is a faulty interpretation of the Constitution, our country has encouraged abortion as a convenient solution to unwanted and difficult pregnancies. Camouflaged in the catchall saying, "a woman's right to choose," abortion has become a matter of choice and not a matter of responsibility for human life, albeit unborn.

Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just last week gave final approval to RU-486, the abortion pill known as mifepristone. The pill, which will be available in this country in a matter of weeks, chemically aborts the child within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. The procedure not only aborts the unborn child, but can also pose a serious medical risk to the mother. Further, women who use the pill are required to consent to surgical abortion if the chemical fails to terminate the pregnancy, since the pill may cause birth defects in a pregnancy carried to term. Predictably, supporters of the pill downplayed its medical risks and heralded its approval as a means to make abortion more accessible in this country. Left unmentioned was the fate of the unborn.

When one considers the approval of this drug in the context of other threats to the unborn, including the heinous partial-birth abortion procedure, and stem-cell research and experimentation using tissue obtained from aborted fetuses, one can clearly see how our "culture of life" has tragically decayed into a "culture of death."

I ask Catholics to reflect prayerfully on and inform one's conscience properly on the Church's teaching on abortion and the sanctity of life at all its stages. Those who most often disagree with the Church on these matters either misunderstand the Church's teaching or have not taken the time to consider the reasons why the Church since the first century has insisted that abortion is always a grave moral offense.

Even less understood, perhaps is the Church's position on euthanasia and even the death penalty. A recent TV series by Bill Moyers portrayed the end of life decisions that some people face. I was not able to see the entire series, but what I did see could cause doubt in many people about the affirmation of the right to life, particularly when that life is very much debilitated. As anguishing as these cases are, we must be clear about our responsibility to support and preserve life, without imposing unreasonable (extraordinary) means to support life at its natural end. The interpretation of these "means" of course, is also being clouded by our contemporary culture.

The death penalty also presents a serious pro-life challenge for our society. The Church's position on the death penalty has developed over recent times. As the chief teacher of the faith, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has articulated a deeper understanding of the morality of the death penalty, making clear that the death penalty in our civilized world no longer can be justified, since there are other means of restraining criminals.

Unfortunately, human nature seeks retribution and believes that capital punishment can be a deterrent to crime. The contemporary situation in the United States regarding those being put to death is far from just and equal, given the wide disparity of socio-economic backgrounds for those who face death in the name of deterrence.

Roman Catholics are committed to live as accountable stewards of God's creation, remaining forever in a special relationship with the Creator, establishing a "culture of life" in opposition to the "culture of death". Since God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning to its end, and every human life is a sign of His love and a trace of His glory, no one can, under any circumstances, claim for himself the right directly to destroy another innocent human being.

Obviously, the important task of defending the dignity of life belongs to all of us. In particular, as a diocese, we are blessed to have Mrs. Joyce Lively leading the way as our pro-life coordinator. She has held this position for many years and is assisted by several priest advisors and very dedicated assistants who work in her office. Many faithful parishioners have also played a vital role in this task.

Finally, last week I led the Diocesan Jubilee Pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I included in my intentions and asked those attending to pray for a greater respect for human life in our country and in particular the overturning of misguided interpretations of our Constitution which allow abortion and even partial birth abortion. It is by no accident that the patroness of the Pro-Life movement is Our Lady of Guadalupe. Two weeks ago I visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and re-learned something that I had forgotten. The sash that Our Lady of Guadalupe wears is a sign that she is pregnant. There is not greater protectress of human life than Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Our diocesan pilgrimage asked for Mary's intercession that in our country every human life will be a sign of God's love and a trace of His glory. Peace be with you.

Priests for Life
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