Each year in October, the Catholic Church in the United States chooses to highlight its commitment to cherishing, protecting and defending human life. The first Sunday of the month is designated “Respect Life Sunday”, and the chosen theme for this year is “Christ Our Hope: In Every Season of Life.”
It is interesting to me that whatever anyone has to say about the Catholic Church, whether someone is a believer and a devoted Catholic or whether someone is an antagonistic non-believer, it would seem that everyone understands that the Catholic Church is staunchly pro-life.
As a church we are sometimes criticized for being focused solely on the issue of abortion, but this charge is not supported by the facts. It is true that the Church opposes the termination of life in the womb, and is pretty consistent in its teaching on this matter. However, it is neither fair nor factual to suggest that Catholics don’t care about what happens to children after they are born. The teaching of the church is pretty consistent in that we hold that all human life is sacred, from its beginning to its end, and any and all affronts to the dignity of the human person between life’s beginning and ending are addressed by the Church.
Political polarization in our society has not been without consequences among believers. I have heard people suggest, that to vote for one political party or another might even be sinful. Frankly, I find such language disturbing. It suggests that a person can see into the heart and thought processes of another, and can somehow contravene a choice made in good conscience and pass judgment on it. That’s a slippery slope which demands more attention than this column alone can offer. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1776-1802, treats extensively on human conscience) The plain truth of it is that traditional political platforms rarely, if ever, align with the moral teachings of the Church, and that often presents challenges to believers. Faithful people find themselves struggling to apply the Church’s teachings on matters such as abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, etc. I’m occasionally asked by people who are struggling to make a decision on how they should vote, and I can only advise that they consider all that the church teaches about the different issues (which are often hijacked by the political process to divide the community), but ultimately the decision remains with the individual.
This year’s theme, “Christ Our Hope: In Every Season of Life,” seems to me to be a particularly suitable one for our times. While there are a variety of platforms, manifestos and “gospels” circulating in our world, we are reminded that the gospel of Jesus Christ is ageless, and while it is challenging to live a life of faithful Christian discipleship, nonetheless that is the gospel to which believers are called. It is Jesus who alone has conquered sin and death, who alone has been raised from death, and who alone has promised to remain ever present to his disciples. This is something for us all to keep in mind as we confront difficult decisions, and as we strive to be a witness to the sacred dignity of the human person in our times.
For some, that witness will bring them to prayer outside abortion clinics. For others it will take them to pray outside prisons where prisoners are executed. For still others, it will take them to skid row to serve food to the impoverished, or to labor with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those without shelter, or to foster a child, or to volunteer in any number of ways because we are moved to do so by our reverence for the dignity of the person. Perhaps for some, it will be the simple act of taking some time with some unfortunate soul, speaking with them, acknowledging the reality of their own dignity and humanity. In a world in which human life is often cheapened and even trafficked, the witness of believers is a testimony to our shared hope in the power of Jesus to “make all things new”.
In this month of October, in this “Respect Life” month, perhaps we might reflect on how we can make a difference to uphold the dignity of the human person? Perhaps we can conceive of some concrete ways in which we can witness to our own faith in Jesus, who “was moved with compassion for the poor and the powerless, for the sick and the sinner, (and who) made himself neighbor to the oppressed.” If we can accomplish this, then we will witness, in the living of our own lives, to the truth that God cares for all God’s children.