The month of October is already upon us. October brings many significant things with it. While not very obvious in southern Florida, October carries signs of life in the changing of the seasons to fall with beautiful colors and cooler weather. In Florida, it is the beginning of the season when many from the north return here as a welcome part of our life in order to experience the friendly atmosphere here as well as the warmer climate for the winter. School is in full session and our children have settled into a familiar routine. During this month, signs of the coming holidays appear. It is also the time in which we become very serious about important decisions we have to make in November on Election Day. Very significant for us, with the signs of life that October brings, is that it is Respect for Life Month beginning with Respect Life Sunday, its first Sunday. It is finally a month dedicated to our Blessed Mother, Mary. It is no coincidence that Mary stands during this month dedicated to respect for life as the woman of life, the Mother of God Himself incarnate in her womb.
The theme for the Respect Life Program for this year is Moved by Mercy. This is a very fitting theme during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Each and every one of us is a free gift from the love and mercy of God. We came into this world, not on our own accord, but through the goodness of God. We came as a gift to enter into a real relationship with Him so we might experience His love and mercy as the most important aspect of our life. As we are created in the image and likeness of God, we are created to share that love and mercy with each other in a very personal way. That sharing respects and fosters the right to life of every individual as a free gift from God. In every instance that we encounter Mary in the Gospels, she showed the deepest respect for those with whom she came in contact, from her cousin Elizabeth to the young couple who ran out of wine at their wedding celebration. She always expressed love and mercy and respected everyone as an image of God. She truly was moved by mercy.
Very prevalent in our world today are so many horrific acts showing base disrespect for human life which treats human life as anything but a gift from God. So recently we have experienced such horrible scenes of terrorism, violence, prejudice, discrimination, religious persecution and many other acts which cause us to fear for our own lives. Also more prevalent today is the matter of bullying which we see among our young people as well as in the workplace and other areas of adult life. Bullying truly is an act of such disrespect for the person and the gift of life that it can lead to serious consequences including depression and even suicide. The face, not of love and mercy, but of hatred reveals itself in such a repulsive manifestation in so many ways before us today and we rightfully want to overcome its violence and to lead our society in a manner that protects us and respects the gift of life.
However, it is alarming that our society manifests a disrespect for life in acts which it considers justified, legalized and even excused as acts of mercy, such as abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty, embryonic stem cell research and others which are the furthest from true manifestations of respect for life. While our society justifies itself as fair and just, it shows that it has traveled on a slippery slope which is not able to discern what the true meaning of life is all about as well what respect for life means. We must be very careful in discerning what true respect for life is all about, not only in regard to condemning acts of violence, but also in caring for others such as the poor, homeless, imprisoned and immigrant. We cannot be pro-life without reaching out to those in need. There is no question that respect for life, from the moment of conception until natural death, is the priority which must be kept above all others.
We are coming to a very significant election within our nation. Many difficult and challenging decisions are before us this year. We must be very careful in informing ourselves of the candidates and possibilities that are before us as well as of the issues that are present which are many and varied. However, ultimately what must be at the heart of all matters is the protection of the right to life of every person at every stage as well as the dignity which is proper to every human being. We must protect and care for the unborn child in a mother's womb, for the elderly and infirm and for those in need and poverty. However, in regard to fostering a proper respect for life, it must be understood that the matter of abortion is a threshold issue and cannot be considered as one among many. The right to life of an unborn child is directly connected to the respect that we give to every person. Pope Francis put this very well in addressing the leaders of Poland on his recent visit there for World Youth Day when he stated: "It is the responsibility of the State, the Church and society to accompany and concretely help all those who find themselves in serious difficulty, so that a child will never be seen as a burden but as a gift, and those who are most vulnerable and poor will never be abandoned." In making our difficult decisions for Election Day, the words of the beloved St. Teresa of Calcutta, just canonized by Pope Francis, are also good ones to keep before us: "If we remember that God loves us, and that we can love others as he loves us, then America can become a sign of peace for the world. From here, a sign of care for the weakest of the week – the unborn child – must go out to all the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then really, you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for."
I have experienced among the faithful of the Diocese of Palm Beach, a tremendous respect for the gift of life from the unborn child in a mother's womb to the elderly and infirm on the verge of their passing from this world. I am impressed by the many outreaches to pregnant mothers that are present in our Diocese as well as by the outreaches to the immigrant and those in need. Respect for life at every stage is not a matter of political correctness but a matter of virtue and truth. Decisions are made on moral principles not on what is popular opinion. This is especially true in regard to the matter of abortion. As we prepare for our national election during this Respect Life Month, let us continue to join our hearts in prayer and mercy in support of the dignity of life which is so needed in our troubled world today. I am very grateful to the people of our Diocese for being men and women of mercy and faith and for giving an example which shows that life is the supreme priority.
During this month of October we look to our Blessed Mother, Mary, in a very special way. She was chosen by God to be the Mother of His Son who became incarnate in her womb from the moment of conception. Always quietly in the background, Mary demonstrated love, mercy and respect for every person whom she encountered precisely because of the One who came into existence in her womb. Mary is a model of a person moved by mercy and of respect for life at every stage. May she assist us in fostering a greater respect for life within our society and in making the critical and difficult decisions before us on Election Day.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 30, 2016