October is a month that has a different meaning in Florida that it does in many other parts of our country and especially the Northeast. As the season of autumn quickly comes upon us, we do not experience the changes that takes place in nature such as much cooler days setting in or the magnificent foliage which the cooler weather produces. While we do experience shorter days of sunlight as well as longer shadows cast by the sun, the usual signs of autumn are not present in southern Florida. We still have some very warm and humid days and the leaves on our trees pretty much stay the same.
However, there is one sign of autumn that we begin to experience in October that is very particular to southern Florida and to our Diocese of Palm Beach. As autumn makes its way into the Northeast as a prelude to the winter which is quickly coming, many people return to their part-time homes in Florida for the winter season when we experience our most beautiful weather and pleasant days. We see a marked change in many parts of our population as people "come home" and our churches become more alive with worshipers. For us, it is a wonderful sign of autumn as the rhythm of the seasons which God has put into nature makes itself visible here. There is no more beautiful sign of the change of seasons anywhere than the sign of living people, made in the image and likeness of God, enjoying life. We welcome our residents back and rejoice in the gift of life.
October is a month set aside in a special way to draw attention to the gift of life and the respect that must be shown to it. The first Sunday of October is always Respect Life Sunday which marks the beginning of the Respect Life program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in our country. The theme for this year's program is a phrase from Pope Francis, Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God's Creation. How appropriate for us to celebrate the gift of life during the month of October in southern Florida as we welcome so many masterpieces of God's creation for the coming season. We experience the variety of gifts and backgrounds which people possess and form a wonderful mosaic of life in southern Florida. This mosaic realizes that while we are all different, which makes for a richness in God's creation, we are all equal as made in His image and likeness. From the moment of conception in a mother's womb until natural death, each person is given the gift of life from God which is a share in His very existence.
We are all aware of the many challenges that face the gift of life in our society today. Pope Francis frequently speaks of our culture as "a throw away culture" which experiences life more in terms of possessions than the quality of life in itself. We try to get as much as we can for instant gratification and when we tire of what we get we throw it away for something else. This attitude affects the very gift of life itself which is no longer seen as an end in itself but merely a way to gratification. Life is given to us by God in order that we might share in His life and know the joy which only He can give us. Everything else which God has given to us, including the magnificence of His created world and all that comes from it, pales in comparison to the masterpiece of His creation which is the human person. God made the world for us and not the opposite way. When this is forgotten and not lived so that other things become more important than the gift of life, a sense of emptiness sets in which naturally leads to destruction.
Appreciating the masterpiece of God's creation that is each person, means rejecting everything that is destructive of life and is not nurturing of it. Abortion, destructive embryo research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty, domestic violence, human trafficking,
terrorism, unjust war, lack of concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the homeless and the immigrant all mar God's masterpiece and only bring more unhappiness into the world. Respect for life means working to enhance the conditions which enable all people to realize their full human potential. As more people come to southern Florida at this time of year, we should appreciate how instrumental we are in using God's creation to enhance this potential.
Over the summer and at the present moment we see in the media horrifying images from around the world of wounded and slain men, women and children, due to the ravages of hatred and violence. Last month we commemorated the tragedy which occurred in our nation on 9/11 resulting from terrorism in a blatant lack of regard for life. We wonder how people can commit such atrocities against others and realize that they occur because life is thrown away when it is made inferior to another cause which can sometimes be materialism. As believers in Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to a greater respect for life ever realizing that violence against the person takes many forms which disguise themselves as good.
As we celebrate the season of autumn during this month of October, we realize that God gave us the seasons to enhance the gift of life. We realize that every single person is a masterpiece of His creation and we welcome so many of these to southern Florida at this time of year. May we live as God's family supporting each other in faith and giving thanks for the gift of life at every single stage.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
October 10, 2014