Each year the month of October is used to inaugurate the Respect Life Program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is designated as Respect Life Month. Since we are already in the fall season, even in southern Florida we are reminded of the seasons of nature which reflect the seasons of life. We are graced with life from the moment of conception in our mother's womb and our lives experience growth until our passing from this world. As John Henry Cardinal Newman so wisely stated, "Growth is the only evidence of life." Life is a gift from God and is sacred at every moment and stage of its existence.
The theme for this year's Respect Life Program is Every Life - Cherished, Chosen, Sent. It speaks to us of the inherent dignity and value of every person no matter his or her background, race, sex, abilities, disabilities, merits or failures. We not only respect but cherish life because it is a gift from God in whose image and likeness we are made. Because God is love, our vocation is also love. God's love for us knows no bounds and His gift of life is one for which every person is chosen and sent forth. Cherishing the gift of life calls for decisions that respect the reality that every person is chosen and sent forth by God. Sometimes this entails difficult but clear decisions as not choosing an abortion, giving life-sustaining care to an elderly person and respecting the human dignity of a criminal who also has the right to life. It also entails caring for the poor, vulnerable and outcasts.
Respect for life is not only about opposing abortion. However, the matter of abortion is a threshold issue which always must be primary in our commitment to the protection of life. The legalization of abortion has put us on a slippery slope which erodes respect for life at every stage. Life comes into existence at the moment of conception. Once it is ceded that the life of an innocent child can be taken, it logically flows that the life of any person, vulnerable or not, can also be taken. That is why physician assisted suicide and the denial of natural care to an elderly, infirm and physically or mentally challenged person are so closely related to the issue of abortion. The care and respect that society gives to the unborn child is a sign of the care and respect it affords to all vulnerable persons.
In the Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exultate, which Pope Francis gave us just this year, he states clearly that "Our defense of the innocent unborn ... needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development." The Pope makes clear that if we do not recognize the sacredness of an unborn life which cannot be aborted, then we will also not recognize the sacredness of "the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection." Pope Francis voiced an extremely strong condemnation of abortion in June of this year when, speaking to an Italian family association about abortion, he said "Last century, the whole world was scandalized but what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves!"
Pope Francis has also given us a strong affirmation of the respect we are to have for life when, just recently this year, he reformulated the wording of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in regard to its teaching on the death penalty so that it now makes clear that its practice today is “inadmissible.” This is an affirmation of the teaching of St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI which stresses that the death penalty is no longer an alternative to the protection of life in modern society as it may have been in former times. Society can protect itself through other means than the death penalty. Pope Francis again makes clear that life is sacred and to be cherished from the moment of conception until natural death.
As we turn our attention to the matter of cherishing life, we naturally turn our attention to the family. Pope Francis has given us a renewed emphasis on the Church's teaching as well as the priority of the family in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. His teaching emphasizes how marriage is the primary vocation to which God calls most men and women and that it involves a lifelong commitment of love which is based on sacrifice. This is not an easy concept for our society to understand today which the Pope characterizes as a "throwaway culture." It is imperative to reaffirm the Church’s constant teaching on marriage as an exclusive lifelong relationship between a man and woman. There is a need to support families and encourage young people in understanding the true meaning of marriage and family life and in discerning this vocation. In a day and age when families are drawn in so many directions, it is important to realize that the time we spend with our families is a priority. Taking meals together with our families, sharing time together with our families and praying with our families are not luxuries. They are a necessity from which true joy in life comes. I am always personally edified by the strong families we have in the parishes of our Diocese.
The month of October is also dedicated to Mary as it is dedicated to the Rosary. Mary truly is a model of not only how to live life but how to respect and cherish it. Her conception of the Son of God in her womb at the moment she said yes to the Angel Gabriel's message is the strongest reminder that life begins at conception. Mary faced many difficulties since she was open to accepting God's invitation to be the Mother of His Son. Her life was not an easy one from that moment to the moment when she stood under the Cross and experienced the unfair condemnation and death of her Son as a criminal. However, her life was filled with a great peace because of her willingness to do God's will and to cherish the gift of life. The prayer of the Rosary reminds us, as does every prayer, that all things are possible for God. In all of our efforts to promote, respect and cherish the precious gift of life, may we never underestimate the power of prayer in all that we do. Mary, above all, reminds us that every life is a gift which is to be cherished, chosen and sent.
Let us, during this Respect Life Month of October, rededicate our efforts to respect life as we realize that every life is cherished, chosen and sent. Thank you for all you do and for all your prayers in this important matter.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 28, 2018