Annually, the Church in the United States dedicates October as Respect Life Month which is observed in a variety of ways by our parishes, faith formation programs and Catholic schools. These range from Life Chains to letters petitioning politicians on behalf of the unborn; from prayers offered at Mass to the peaceful recitation of the Rosary at abortion clinics; from the 40 Days for Life, an interfaith initiative, to information sessions on recent life issues surfacing in the State of New Jersey, such as physician assisted suicide. Additionally, a variety of other Right to Life topics such as gun violence, affordable housing, violence in society, the care of the elderly, capital punishment, scientific experimentation and the care of creation are included in the Respect Life program.
Right to Life Month kicks off yearlong activities concerning Respect for Life which is much needed in our country given the disregard for human life that is so prominent in our culture. Respect Life Month provides a forum to put before the faithful and the public the teaching of our Church on the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death.
This year the theme of the Respect Life Program is “Moved by Mercy” which references the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. As Pope Francis has said, “We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.” God’s mercy to us impels us to be moved by mercy and respect the gift of life.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued a statement on behalf of the bishops in which he writes, “God made each of us in His own image. He desires to be united with us in a loving relationship. God loves us, treats us with respect, and asks us to do the same with others. Every person is sacred and must be treated with the dignity they deserve. No one should ever be treated callously or carelessly … everyone should be cherished and protected. From each tiny child waiting to be born, to individuals nearing death, all are precious and deserve our care and protection. Women and men suffering after abortion, individuals tempted to end their lives, couples longing to conceive a child, people pushed to the margins of society by a ‘throwaway culture,’ expectant mothers facing challenging pregnancies, and every other person — each ‘has a place in God’s heart from all eternity.’ Amoris Laetitia (168)”
The Cardinal’s statement reminds us that we have been created in God’s image and likeness and called to eternal destiny with him. Our human dignity has its origin in God. We are surrounded by a culture that attacks this fundamental truth about the human person created in God’s image. The war on life encompasses a wide range of attacks, including the baby in the womb, the sexual exploitation of women, religious persecution, bullying in schools, economic deprivation, terrorism, the death penalty, the failure to enact a gun control program, all of which make it easier to dismiss or even destroy persons when they become burdensome, unproductive, or too costly to care for. The vulnerability of so many persons has been created by this culture of death that does not value life. It’s all very sad and very frightening.
Recently an ad ran in our area in some newspapers by a group calling itself Catholics for Choice. This group has No connection to the Catholic Church and in fact is sponsored by a private powerful foundation that promotes abortion as a method of population control. The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey responded with this message: you cannot be Catholic and pro-choice. The only choice for Catholics is Life. As Pope Francis has reminded us, “every person from the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick and the old, the unborn and the poor to the criminal who is least supportive of our values has an inviolable right to life and is a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Respect Life Month helps us to be clear about our understanding of this teaching of our Church on the sanctity of human life and to commit ourselves to do whatever we can to Respect Life.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden