By BISHOP ROBERT J. BAKER
October is Respect Life Month. This year, it follows an event that shocked, frightened and angered a nation while challenging its attitudes about justice and humanity.
On Oct. 9 Archbishop Renato R. Martino, the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, said that the “horrors that the world witnessed” in September would continue to affect people profoundly and make them “realize the frailty of life.”
Indeed, this is a time when we continue to educate ourselves about that very frailty. The Respect Life program provides an opportunity for the Catholic Church in the United States to highlight and reflect gratitude for God’s great gift of life.
Respect Life Month focuses attention on issues such as abortion, assisted suicide, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research, and human cloning. Every year, faith-filled Catholics around our state stand side-by-side holding signs or silently praying along public streets for an end to abortion. This action renews their own commitment and hopefully influences others by this show of faith and respect for life.
That respect for every human life as sacred is the basis for our social justice stance. We have seen firsthand that when life is threatened that the very rights of society and trust in that society are threatened.
Yet in the midst of widespread attack on the value of human life, we have also seen hope. In his statement at the opening of the Catholic Church’s annual Respect Life program, Cardinal William Keeler referred to the recent terrorist attacks saying that may tempt us to think we are living in a world where human life has become cheap, but the response to those acts showed humanity at its best.
In the face of death, ordinary people who were fleeing for their own lives stopped to help their co-workers. Firefighters forfeited their lives to save the lives of others. And other people’s final words to their own families were to assure them that they loved them.
This reflects directly upon what Pope John Paul II reminded us of in his encyclical The Gospel of Life: “It is by emptying ourselves in service to the lives of others that we become most truly alive, most truly human.”
At this time, when we are vulnerable, we must remember that we do not own our lives, that they are individual gifts from God. God has chosen us and we belong to him. Men and women who are questioning the life of an unborn child must be encouraged to see their child as sacred, as precious in the eyes of God. We as society must make the commitment to all whose lives are in peril, including those who cannot care for themselves because they are elderly or infirmed.
Our society is desensitized to death; executions become fodder for media events and stem-cell research is steered away from moral values and turned into a public debate about the importance of further research.
During Respect Life Month Catholics are encouraged to cherish, build, and promote a culture of life and love in everything that we do.
Specifically we can all involve ourselves in some concrete positive way in promoting the cause of life in all its forms.
We can consider joining the annual pro-life rally in January on the steps of the state Capitol building.
We can stand in the annual Life Chain in October in the city in which we live.
We can join the parish Respect Life committee.
We can write our congressmen or congresswomen about issues related to the cause of life and ask them to take a more proactive stand.
If we are elected officials or are considering service in the public-life sector, we should regard ourselves as accountable for all citizens in our care, even unborn citizens, and boldly speak out in their defense, as did Alan Keyes in his bid for the presidency. Holding public office is not an invitation to compromise human values for the sake of obtaining an elected position. Holding public office is a sacred responsibility that often calls for courageous leadership in the face of opposition. President John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage described courageous political leaders who took unpopular stands for the sake of principles.
We regard such people today as statesmen/women, because principle prevailed over popularity.
Finally we can continue to pray daily that the cycle of violence and lack of respect for life that seem to prevail in our society may be replaced by a cycle of peace and a respect for life in all its forms. Ultimately it is through the intervention of the author of life that we will as a human race finally and fully be the stewards of life we are called to be.
In the month of October in this year of reconciliation, we seek to be a church reconciled with those whose lives are lost or threatened to extinction by a society which has ignored their pleas and forgotten their rights. On their behalf we take up their cause.