The following is my “column” from our weekly bulletin as the Catholic Church marks “Respect Life Sunday” throughout the United States this weekend. This weeks homily will be on later tonight
Thanks for reading and all your responses as always! Fr Jim
Today the Church celebrates “Respect Life Sunday.” People seem to get uncomfortable with the very mention of “Respect Life.” Probably because in recent years, for some in our country, “Life” seems to have become basically a political issue and debate (and a pretty volatile one at that).
It might be surprising for many people reading some of the different statements the Church has issued on “respecting life,” – why the Church teaches what she teaches would seem to many to be very uncontroversial:
“All human life is sacred, for it is created in the image and likeness of God” – Pope John Paul II
“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person…; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit… all these and the like are a disgrace.” – The Second Vatican Council Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
I would think most people reading those statements would agree with them. They’re statements that reflect Jesus command in the Gospel of Luke 10:27: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
Yet when we say we respect life, that we are “pro-life” the reality is it does cause controversy. That’s not because any of these teachings of the Church are new. In fact, stemming from our Jewish-Christian roots, our pro-life teachings are thousands of years old.
Where “Respecting Life” has become controversial comes from this idea, this theory that “well I don’t agree with that- I think it’s wrong, but I can’t tell someone else how to live – it’s a free country, right?”
When I was in college, I was often swayed by that argument. It seemed reasonable to me on some level. I was (at least I thought I was) always “pro-life.” But I had been lead to believe that I needed to “respect” other’s “right to choose.” Truth be told, I never was fully comfortable with that, but it seemed to be a way to deal with a controversial issue (or, more accurately as I reflect back now – to not deal with it).
What really made me reevaluate things was when Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1995. In one of his homilies during his visit, he said a line that really changed my perspective on a lot of things especially on “respecting life.” He said “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
On this Respect Life Sunday, I share that quote with you and hope the words of the late, great Pope cause you to reflect on what you believe and how you live out those beliefs. How are we as Catholics and Americans not only respecting the gift of life we’ve been given, but respecting the gift of freedom we’ve been entrusted with?
As each of us reflects on those gifts of life and freedom, we’re struck by the times we haven’t respected those gifts. We might mourn the choices, the decisions we’ve made in the past and that can discourage us, weigh us down.
Which is why it’s essential for us to remember that the same God who calls us to respect life, calls us to respect all life, including our own. If we want to help change the culture, to influence the world around us, to bear witness to the fullness of life that God is calling us too – then we have to keep before us always that we too are created in the image and likeness of God – and that in Jesus, our past failures, the sins of the past are wiped away. If we truly believe that in our hearts, then “respect for life” becomes a reality one person, one life at a time.