A Shepherd’s Message: Respect Life Month

October 2, 2012

Each year, the first Sunday in October is observed as Pro-Life Sunday and the entrance into a whole month of reflections on the Gospel of Life. It has been a treasured observance in the Catholic Church in the United States for many years. The materials and resources sent out in advance each year by the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Bishops and its Pro-Life Committee, which I am honored to chair, are always thought provoking, clear and excellent aids to catechesis and evangelization on this central issue of our Catholic faith and a major concern for our own country.

In 2013, our country will observe a sad and shameful anniversary marking 40 years of an essential disregard for the gift of life that began when the United States Supreme Court, in its decision on the case, Roe v. Wade (Jan. 22, 1973), struck down all state laws restricting abortion. With that decision and the “legality” of abortion, over 53 million children have lost their lives and their parents, family and friends have been deeply marked and changed for the worse. The past 40 years have seen a decline in the respect for human life across the spectrum, an erosion in the understanding of appreciating human personal life as a gift and a growing toleration, even acceptance, of “death” as a solution to problems faced both by individuals and by our society at large.

Perhaps the most disquieting development in this is the push in certain parts and segments of the country for euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, particularly for the elderly and for the disabled. The disability community is rightly acting strongly against this pernicious move. Further, the continual recourse to the death penalty does not ultimately give peace to victims of violent crime and their sorrowing families, nor uphold the gift of life even for the violently guilty.

Amidst these and other negative developments there have also arisen great positive signs, especially among the young, of a renewal of respect for the human person, especially in its most vulnerable moments at the beginning and end of life, and when the life of the person is threatened by poverty, addictions, mental illness and war. If our faithfulness to life has been gravely tested in these past 40 years, it has also shown itself resilient and ready to keep prayerfully calling on the Lord and finding solidarity among more and more people in our country for genuine victory. Such faithfulness calls for repentance and renewal, a genuine conversion to “charity” – that is, God’s love.

Earlier this year, the Holy Father announced the celebration of a “Year of Faith,” a year for the whole Church to set out on a pilgrimage of deeper understanding of and witness to her mission, evangelizing the cultures of the world. Pope Benedict calls this a new evangelization for it reaches out not only to those who do not know Christ but most especially to us who know Him but have grown tepid or grown distant or even have fallen away from the Lord. The new evangelization starts with the evangelizers, with those of us called to know our faith, deepen its substance and witness openly to its beauty and its truth. The Year of Faith begins in October as the Church on October 11 begins a Synod of Bishops on the theme of evangelization. This year’s Synod also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

The bishops of the United States have asked us all to make the opening days of this Year of Faith a time of prayer, especially a prayer for life and religious liberty. They have asked us to pray a novena of Rosary recitation from October 14 to 22. In our own Archdiocese, a vast majority of our parishes recite the Rosary before daily Mass and some parishes follow through even on Sundays. I ask that these groups make a special intention of respect for human life and religious liberty during the days of October 14 to 22. There are resources available through our own Pro-Life Office in the Archdiocese. I hope that the rest of us will also find the needed time to beg the prayers of the “protecting mantle” of Our Lady of Guadalupe by also saying the decades of the Rosary during this time.

I also ask our priests and deacons, our consecrated women and men religious, our catechetical directors and catechists, our principals and school teachers – all those who have the privilege and responsibility to shepherd the faith and proclaim it loudly – to use this month of October to share the riches of our pro-life teaching. We need to be known as the visible community of respect for life, of God’s overwhelming mercy towards humankind. We are the bearers of the culture of life and of the Gospel of Life.