In the 10th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, we read the familiar and heartwarming story of the Good Shepherd. It is here that Jesus tells His disciples, “I came so that all might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This is the theme for this year’s Respect Life Program, which begins on the first Sunday of October.
“As Catholics we believe that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities towards God, self and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every state of its existence” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, November 2001).
Often as I travel through the diocese I am asked by people of every age group and every way of life what can be done to further the Church’s Respect Life Program. I always remind those who question me that respect for human life happens one person at a time. We all need to be apostles of life, to carry the message of the Lord’s precious gift and to reverence and respect human life at every stage. For as Blessed Pope John Paul II said when he visited our country in 1987,
“… every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God” (Remarks, Departure Ceremony, Detroit Airport, 1987).
This year’s Respect Life Program prepared by the United States Conference of Bishops emphasizes certain basics. The program offers eight pamphlets that call attention to important human life issues. A consideration of the titles helps us to recognize the range of life issues and the main attacks on human life and dignity: Abortion, Contraception, The Death Penalty, Embryo Research, Persons with Disabilities, To the End of Our Days, Reproduction Technologies and Love and Marriage.
As I reviewed the pamphlets, many passages succinctly captured the life issues that confront us as we try to live the Gospel of Life in a culture that often does not reverence and protect all human life, especially the most vulnerable among us. “We are asked to love and honor the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that, our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and love” (Gospel of Life, # 77).
To the End of Our Days addresses some of the most challenging decisions that come in the final month and even hours of life, as we face the complex issues of nurturing life and respecting the dignity of the human person. It reminds us that the manner in which we deal with persons in the last stages of life, when they may be completely dependent on others, “says a great deal about the kind of society we live in and the kind of persons we are… We owe to those who are dying or severely impaired the same respect and love we give to anyone else, regardless of condition. And as a Church we must be particularly committed to defending the rights of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, just as we are for the unborn and for those challenged by disabilities.”
Persons with Disabilities reminds us that the measure of civilization is its relationship with life. “A civilization which rejects the defenseless would deserve to be called a barbarian civilization, even though it has great success in the field of economics, technology, art and science” (Blessed John Paul II, Homily at the Shrine of St. Joseph, Kalisz, Poland).
The pamphlet on the death penalty recalls the inherent dignity of every person, even a criminal. “The death penalty may make us think that we have eliminated a problem – but a person, even a criminal, is never a problem to be destroyed. It lulls us into thinking we have addressed the problem, but we have not really dealt with the deeper issues of what has gone wrong in society when violent crime is so widespread” (What Matters: The Death Penalty).
In a society that bears many marks of a culture of death, the Church community must commit itself to the defense of the culture of life. This commitment begins with the recognition that “human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstances claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2258: citing the Gift of Life, #5).
The word “respect” comes from a Latin verb meaning “to look at.” October, Respect Life Month, is naturally a time to look at life and discern ways to cherish and promote life. Together, let us commit ourselves to a way of life that reverences the gift of life in every human being and sees in every person, the face of Christ, who “came so that all might have life and have it to the full.”
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.