October is Respect Life month. This draws our attention to the need to protect all life from the moment of conception to natural death.
The last 100 years has produced two true world champions in the area of respect life, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II.
The image of Mother Teresa holding an infant and staring into the face of the child is ingrained in my mind. Perhaps that was the image that John Paul had in his mind when he wrote in The Gospel of Life, “It is the proclamation of a living God who is close to us, who calls us to profound communion with himself and awakens in us the certain hope of eternal life. It is the affirmation of the inseparable connection between the person, his life and his bodiliness. It is the presentation of human life as a life of relationship, a gift of God, the fruit and the sign of his love. It is the proclamation that Jesus has a unique relationship with every person, which enables us to see in every human face the face of Christ.” (81)
The campaigns leading up to the Nov. 2 elections are well underway, and much of the focus is on the economy and jobs. I do get it. “It’s the economy, stupid!” as one political commentator has stated. However, as followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot forget the life issues. They are essential to a just society.
Many people will criticize the Catholic Church’s position as disproportionately “pro life.” It’s obvious to me that we can’t even begin to address other social issues unless there is a life to be concerned about; for us, abortion is the premier social justice issue.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the right of every innocent being to life (2270).”
True reform in our society must begin with an attitude which respects human life. Of course, John Paul characterized this attitude as the shaping of a Culture of Life. Our current society promotes a narcissistic culture, which explains why we are more concerned with pleasing ourselves and our needs apart from needs of others. (If you remember, Narcissus was a Greek youth who fell in love with his own image.)
The pleasure and convenience of our society seems to be more important than the concern for our future generations and the abuses imposed on human life. It is difficult for our modern society to see the image of God imprinted in each human being because it is blinded by its own false image of perfection built on the destruction of the innocent.
For instance, it’s easy to justify the use of human embryos in scientific experimentation when we fail to see that a human life is being used, manipulated and destroyed. A new type of slavery is being established right under our noses by scientific technology that uses human embryos as a means to an end. No matter how noble the end may be, it cannot justify the taking of innocent human life and if it does, we are all at risk.
Many slave owners claimed that their economic development needed slavery. Many offered that the slave was property and not a human being in order to soothe troubled consciences. The Nazis rationalized that the Jews sent to concentration camps were not persons and therefore not subject to humane treatment; the noble purpose was the purification of the human race.
Today, some claim that embryos are just cells. They do so in order to abdicate their responsibility in the taking of human life. But even from a scientific perspective, there is little doubt about the fact that this is a distinct human life. This is just one of the many issues that we confront in our commitment to defend life at all stages.
As people of faith, we understand the significance of the Incarnation. The word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It is the divine nature of the Son of God in union with the human nature of Jesus Christ. He was like us in all things but sin. Every moment of life has been made sacred by our Creator. Science affirms the imprint of a distinct human life, but revelation allows us to see its sacredness.
The attacks on human life occur in many areas – procured abortion, embryonic stem cell experimentation, human sexuality, procreation, euthanasia and others. We must be informed about the teaching of our faith in the areas of human life. As a church, we hold that our respect is not merely from our system of beliefs but that it is grounded in the natural law which calls us to affirm the uniqueness of human life and the dignity inherent in each person.
As political candidates make campaign promises to create jobs and fix the national debt, let us, as Catholics, challenge them to achieve their goals with a profound respect for human life, ensuring the dignity of life in our laws from the moment of conception to natural death. In sharing the Gospel of Life during this Respect Life month, may our prayers, teachings and actions assist our nation in building a culture of life.