The inherent dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life are part of our fundamental understanding of who we are as Catholics. Sometimes people think that to be “pro-life” is merely one form of activism, or simply a movement that certain people get involved in. Yet to be pro-life, while it certainly includes those important aspects, is much wider and deeper. Reverence for the gift of human life and the dignity of the human person is foundational to the moral life and the first most basic principle of Catholic social teaching. Each of us is called to pray, to educate, to advocate, and to care for those most vulnerable. We are our brother’s keeper and ours is an eternal destiny.
In his landmark encyclical Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life), Saint John Paul II notes, “Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God…life remains a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.” He continues, “The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person – believer and non-believer alike – because it marvelously fulfills all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree…. The Church, faithfully contemplating the mystery of the Redemption, acknowledges this value with ever new wonder. She feels called to proclaim to the people of all times this “Gospel”, the source of invincible hope and true joy for every period of history. The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel” (n. 2).
Each year, on the first Sunday in October, we pause to observe “Respect Life Sunday”, to reflect on God’s great gift of life and to renew our resolve to live out and make known the message of the Gospel of Life. One does not have to look far to see the destruction caused to society when God is forgotten and human life is not revered. Those who are most vulnerable deserve our help and protection. We can and must be God’s instruments of hope and healing to a broken world.
When we celebrate Respect Life Sunday this year, we also launch the theme of the U. S. Bishops’ annual Respect Life Program, “Be Not Afraid”. It has been said that those words – Be Not Afraid – appear in the scriptures 365 times. That’s one for every day of the year! Divine coincidence? Perhaps. But certainly these are words in which we can all take comfort. They are words we need to hear often, and take to heart.
One might wonder, “These issues of life and death are so big, and I am just one person, what can I do?” Be not afraid! We can all pray. In fact, this is the most important thing we can do. As we grow in our relationship with God, when we put ourselves in His hands and seek to do His will, He will show us the right path. We can all educate and inspire others in some way. Sadly, many still have little knowledge of the Church’s beautiful teachings on the sacredness of life. By becoming informed ourselves we can share this good news in a variety of ways that go beyond the traditional classroom setting. Frequently it is through simple one-on-one conversations, as well as through the witness of our own lives, that evangelization (and conversion) happens. Perhaps we are called to concrete acts of service – ministering to those in crisis pregnancies; taking care of the sick, the homebound, and those near life’s end; or offering a listening ear and life-giving answers to difficult questions. At times we may be faced with complex decisions, or find ourselves having to stand up for what is right and true despite the opposition we may face. The possibilities are endless and we can marvel at the ways in which God works when we are willing to be His instruments. Be not afraid! Sometimes it is in those things we are most afraid of that we discover the greatest grace.
Choosing life requires courage. Courage is not simply the absence of fear, but rather trusting God to give us the strength we need in the face of fear and uncertainty. As we observe Respect Life Month, let us remember that Christ’s wounds bear witness to the fact that the love of God for us is infinite and eternal. No matter what trials, sufferings, and difficulties we face, our Lord says, “Do not fear: I am with you.” Let us be not afraid then to protect and defend life, always.