It is hard to believe, but here comes the month of October! We already finished with the first month of the new school year! For me, October has always been a special month because it was the month of my mother’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary. It is also the month that the Catholic Church in the United States dedicates to the “Gift of Life” and the ongoing need to inculcate a greater reverence and respect for life from its conception to natural death.
A couple of weeks ago in this column, I shared with you an excerpt from a “Joint Message for the Protection of Creation” written by Pope Francis and other Christian leaders. In it they made this appeal: “God mandates:‘Choose life, so that you and your children might live’ (Dt 30:19). We must choose to live differently; we must choose life.” This week will find us at the conclusion of the Season of Creation—a period of time arising from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home)— where we have been invited to focus on all of God’s creation and our care of the environment for the sake of the human family. It naturally leads us into October as “Respect Life” month as we focus specifically on the greatest gift of God—man and woman made in the very image and likeness of God (see Gn. 1:27).
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us: “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 circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (par. 2258). Yet, what I see as lost today is the notion of “a special relationship with the Creator.” I fear too many persons have come to see the gift of life as theirs to do with as they please and have lost sight of the stewardship of ALL of God’s creation that we have been entrusted with by our very birth.
In his encyclical Sollicitudo rei Socialis (On Social Concerns), St. John Paul II declares: “The dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to ‘use and misuse,’ or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to ‘eat of the fruit of the tree’ (cf. Gen 2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.”
Sisters and brothers, have you and I forgotten or overlooked the words of the Prophets calling God’s people back to right relationship? “I have called you by name: you are mine” (Is. 43:1). “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” (Jer. 1:5). “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you” (Is. 49:15-16a). “With age-old love, I have loved you” (Jer. 31:3). “Come back, return to your God…” (Hos. 14:1-3).
The 2021 “Respect Life” Month—in this year dedicated to St. Joseph, Husband of Mary and Foster Father of Jesus—takes Joseph as model and patron. As the faithful protector of both Jesus and Mary, we find in St. Joseph a profound reminder of our own call to welcome, safeguard, and defend God’s precious gift of human life. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but recently I read a reflection that spoke of Joseph not walking away from it all. He didn’t have to take Mary as his wife. He had a legal out…the child wasn’t his! Yet, when God spoke to him through His messenger in the dream, Joseph awoke and knew what his creator was asking him—to be the steward of the life God was putting on Joseph’s path in life.
Joseph’s call is our call as well! He models for us what it means to care for the life God has created as you and I travel the road of life in our world today. The dignity and sacredness of human life must, therefore, be considered upheld and defended in the consideration you and I give to what our culture often wishes to portray as political issues. The basic question to ask is always: “Does this or that position truly uphold the divine image in which the human person is created?”
In paragraphs 2263-2283 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one can find the Catholic Church’s teaching about the morality of specific human acts such as self-defense, capital punishment, abortion, medical procedures, euthanasia and suicide. There are others which are not as clearly addressed in the Catechism which are, nevertheless, offenses against the dignity and sacredness of human life for they are a clear violation of the Great Commandment to “love one’s neighbor as oneself” (see Mk. 12:31). Such acts include: self-harm, reckless and immoral behavior, prejudice and racism, bullying and any type of bearing false witness, including scandal, slander and detraction of another.
So what does it mean to foster and nurture the gift of life—to choose life? It means that we see all human life—from the very moment of its conception to its natural end—as a gift of God. It means that we treasure that gift as something sacred, something to be protected and defended, something to be fostered and promoted so that it is always lived and witnessed as worth living. What importance and respect do we give to the lives of those around us? To our own life? What are the attitudes and ways of thinking in us still in need of conversion so that we can bring about a true culture of life in ourselves? These are the questions we are invited to consider as we look at the life of St. Joseph as our example.
Let me conclude my column this week with a “Prayer for Life” provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Father and maker of all,
you adorn all creation
with splendor and beauty,
and fashion human lives
in your image and likeness.
Awaken in every heart
reverence for the work of your hands,
and renew among your people
a readiness to nurture and sustain
your precious gift of life.
Grant this through our Lord
Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in
the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.