Oct. 2-8, 2003
VOL 122 NO. 34
Life is a Miracle
By Cindy Falise/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Thirty-one years ago the U.S. bishops designated October as Respect Life Month for parishes across America. The Supreme Court cases of Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton demanded a greater understanding for the dignity of life. As a result, the U.S. bishops developed a program of respect life education that used the parish structure. To mobilize the campaign they issued the Pastoral Statement on Pro-Life Activities. This document suggested a strategy for parishes that organized a lay ministry facilitated by a respect life coordinator who receives direction from the parish priest. The scheme outlines a plan using the four major areas of: education, pastoral care, spirituality and public policy. Key to the success of this program is the active commitment of lay people at the parish level. In 2001 the United States Catholic Bishops reaffirmed their commitment to human life and issued an updated Pastoral Statement on Pro-Life Activities. The newer document kept the same basic organizational components in place, calling for an active parish response. The new version placed greater emphasis on promoting the gospel of life, language introduced by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. The gospel of life denotes a consistent ethic of life, or the seamless garment, and means that human life at any stage of development is to be protected. Respect for life encompasses more than the right to life; it includes all those things that make life worth living.
While the invitation is to protect the dignity of all life, the greatest threat to life in today’s world remains abortion. Innocent unborn life is absolutely defenseless. Current laws give ultimate control to the mother who can choose to keep life or end life. The law is written in such a way that a woman can get an abortion for virtually any reason, during all nine months of pregnancy. In the last 31 years, attempts to bring about change have been met with defeat, until now. Promisingly, President George Bush will have the opportunity to sign into law sometime this year a ban on partial-birth abortions into law sometime this year. Partial-birth abortion is one procedure used in late-term pregnancies. It is a particularly brutal procedure performed on almost-born infants. These babies, if born naturally, would be placed in a neo-natal unit with a good chance for survival. The doctor who developed this procedure stated that most late term abortions are done on healthy babies with healthy mothers. Sadly, a partial-birth abortion ban only bans one procedure. Abortion still remains legal and more than a million babies a year will continue to be aborted. Each one of those babies has a mother and a father or others who may have influenced that decision by what they did or didn’t say or do. Many of these people, who are victims also, live to regret that decision and grieve each day for the loss of that child. The Syracuse Diocese Project Rachel ministry responds to those who call for healing. The goal of the program is reconciliation with the church. The pain of abortion is intensified for Catholics because there is a sense of alienation from both God and the church. When a victim calls Project Rachel —(315) 424-3737 — she moves from victim to survivor, and with help, victims are healed.
In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court used common law “quickening” as the test for the beginning of life. Quickening refers to when the mother first feels the baby move, usually around 16-18 weeks. Planned Parenthood perpetuated the idea that new life was simply a blob of cells and tissue. Sonograms, ultrasounds, and Lennart Nisson’s photographs offer visual proof that life begins at conception. We’ve only to turn the television on “Nova” to watch the process of life unfold. High school biology uses those resources such as “Nova” to teach about life. The result is abortion numbers have decreased and more young people identify themselves as pro-life. People still seek abortion for any number of reasons, but it is not because they don’t know it is life. Because abortion targets the most innocent of life, it is used as the measure for how society treats other life, and demonstrates how one issue impacts another. Threats to life are intertwined. The largest segment of the poor are women and children. Abortion and poverty go hand in hand. Abortion planted the seed for physician-assisted suicide. Poverty and racial discrimination are enormous factors in the capital punishment issue. Lack of quality education for young people prevents them from careers that transcend poverty.
Catholic social teaching provides a framework for understanding threats to life. The life and dignity of the human person is the basic principle of Catholic social teaching. The other six social teaching themes tell how to react against threats to life. The call for family, community and church participation justi-fies the responsibility that accompanies God’s gift of life. All people need to be concerned about the poor and the vulnerable as well as the dignity of work and the rights of workers. It calls all to solidarity with the global family, and asks all to care for God’s creation.
Respect for life and Catholic social teaching are founded in the 10 commandments. Jesus’ two great commandments are the rule of life: love God and love one another. The value of God’s gift of life is in God’s intrinsic presence. God’s gift of life is so central to living a Catholic life, that if one professes to love God there aren’t a lot of options. Love of God brings with it the obligation to defend all life against any threats. Defending life is an enormous responsibility simply because of the number of contemporary dangers that threaten life. Each time the government legalizes killing, whether abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia or other actions, the slippery slope effect applies. The 31 years of legalized abortion is the basis for some current political issues. The atrocity of partial-birth abortion, the expansion to chemical abortions in the form of RU-486, the morning-after pill, human cloning, and the push for over-the-counter access to emergency contraception are examples of the dangers waiting at the bottom of the slippery slope. One has only to look at the lengthy practice of euthanasia in Holland where documentation demonstrates the decline from voluntary to involuntary.
Education is the remedy for protecting life. Understanding the risks to life and the means to circumvent the threats is crucial to preserving life. Parish programs of education in the form of speakers, homilies, printed materials are a start for building a culture of life. Educating about the value of life must be at every level from preschool programs through to senior citizen groups. In any ministry there must be prayer, both communal and private, to provide the necessary grace to reach out to others. Collecting food and resources and visiting the sick, elderly or incarcerated must be accompanied by prayer. Legislative advocacy is a meaningful process of putting faith into action. Essential to defending life is systematic change. Everyone understands the concept that teaching people to fish allows them to eat for the rest of their lifetime. It is crucial that Catholics enter the public arena. Pursuit of justice, especially with foreign issues, may be the only voice that will be heard. Even domestic issues, where people have the opportunity to minister directly, public advocacy is vital for long term change.
Edward Cardinal Egan and the New York State Bishops, in collaboration with the New York State Catholic Conference, are building an electronic advocacy network, giving more than 7 million New York State Catholics the power to speak to legislators with one voice. The Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) is a way to be heard in Albany and Washington. Members of CAN receive free alerts, newsletters, educational materials and timely notices of action needed. Becoming a member of CAN is free and names will not be shared by the NYSCC. To join, access the Catholic Conference’s site at www.nyscatholic.org and follow the prompts. Or write to Catholic Advocacy Network, NYSCC, 465 State Street, Albany, N.Y. 12203.
The pictures throughout this online cover story from The Catholic SUN portray society like the pieces of a mosaic, each piece a different color, shape, size and texture. Mosaic tiles are pretty, but of little value alone. But when put together they become a masterpiece. People, like mosaic tiles, are part of God’s magnificent masterpiece. Each human being possesses unique gifts and talents from God that, when shared, become one body in Christ.