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October a Time to Reflect on Human Dignity

October 1, 2008

Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr
Bishop of Duluth  

Dear friends in Christ,

Each year the bishops of the United States set aside October as Respect Life Month and invite all Catholics to pray, reflect and renew their commitment to the defense of human life.

To Seek His Face

The fundamental principle of our faith, rooted in Sacred Scripture, is the dignity and worth of each human person, from the moment of conception until natural death. What are we called to do? In his message entitled “The Gospel of Life” (95), Pope John Paul II stated: “What is urgently called for is a . . . united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of Life.”

Human life is our first gift from God, our Creator. This gift is also a challenge and demands a response. We are called to protect human life and defend it.

The extent of this care is shown in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The original questioner asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” At the end of the parable, Jesus poses another, more profound question: “Who was neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Our Lord thus invites all his disciples to understand that there is no limit or ceiling on who is our neighbor.

All human life is sacred, from the instant of conception until natural death. We are brothers and sisters, in a perpetual state of advocacy for all human life.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, our world has become more disquieting for us, a home that has many more marks of danger. We have had to admit that some among us see no intrinsic worth in human life. There are those who seem to contend that some are dispensable because of certain political or ideological commitments. Terrorism is built upon contempt for human life.

Contempt for human life, however, is not limited to terrorists. Even in our own society, there has been a growing temptation to see human life in highly utilitarian ways. Some assertions of individual freedom and technical scientific progress have denigrated the incalculable worth of each human person, born and unborn. These attitudes, frequently posed in terms of freedom, actually undermine freedom by diminishing the most vulnerable among us. Such “freedom” actually ends up in coercion.

In this light, I particularly bring to your attention the evil of abortion in our society. There are many other urgent issues, as well, that threaten human life, from poverty and violence to oppression, lack of health care, insufficient educational opportunities and unemployment.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must be advocates for the weak, the fragile and the marginalized in all these issues. But advocacy on behalf of others in these situations never excuses wrong choices and attitudes regarding the direct attacks on innocent human life.

The failure to protect and defend human life in its most vulnerable stages at life’s beginning and its natural end makes suspect any claims to the “rightness” of positions of other matters affecting the poor and powerless of the human family. One does not play with “percentages” here. A committed and convinced Catholic is always pro-life on the issue of abortion and euthanasia, and that includes the voting booth.

Let me repeat, there are some actions and behaviors that are always wrong; they are incompatible with our love of God and the dignity of each human person. Abortion, the direct taking of innocent human life prior to birth, is always morally wrong, as is the deliberate destruction of human embryos for any reason. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not acts of mercy but morally wrong actions. Direct attacks on civilians and terrorist acts are always to be condemned.

It is to be noted that issues involving human life are interdependent, are inter-connected. If a society makes abortion legal, it inevitably begins to erode the respect for life in other areas.

As Catholics — priests, deacons, religious and laity — we must come together in celebration of God’s word and in the sacraments, in prayer and meditation, in study and teaching, particularly with our children, youth and young adults, so that all might more fully understand, proclaim and celebrate the extraordinary gift that God has bestowed on us in creating us in his own image and likeness. That is the richness of human life that we are to reverence, celebrate and — most certainly — protect. May such activity lead to a more complete dedication to the cause of human life in our daily interactions, in our personal growth in holiness and in our dealings with the society at large.

We make the prayer of Pope John Paul II our own: “May the ‘people of life’ constantly grow in number and may a new culture of love and solidarity develop for the true good of the whole of human society” (“The Gospel of Life,” 101).

October is also the Month of the Rosary. Oct. 7 is the Feast of our Lady of the Rosary, the patroness of the Diocese of Duluth.

We are surrounded by a society that needs more than ever the light of the Gospel. We entrust our hopes to Mary’s motherly intercession. With the repetition of the prayers of the rosary, we turn to Mary with the insistent, trusting prayer of a child to his or her mother. In this way, the rosary becomes a weapon of victory, an effective weapon, to which Christ’s promise applies very well: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr
Bishop of Duluth




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