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“Fear not to defend and respect life,” a message from Bishop Sullivan

Annually, the Catholic Church in the United States observes the month of October as RESPECT LIFE MONTH and the first Sunday in October is observed as RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY. However, the need to RESPECT LIFE cannot be limited to one month or just one Sunday each year. Every month and every day of the year we need to affirm that human life is a gift of the Creator that must be respected. Each person created in the image of God is endowed with a God given dignity. The truth of who we are is that our origin is in God.

Life chains — A man participates in a life chain at Routes 47 and 9 in Rio Grande, Cape May County on Oct. 1. Life chains were held at more than a dozen locations in all six counties of South Jersey. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

This year the theme selected for RESPECT LIFE is “BE NOT AFRAID,” words found multiple times in the New Testament. At the Annunciation to Mary of Nazareth by the Angel Gabriel that she was chosen to be the Mother of God, Gabriel says to Mary, “Fear Not” (Lk 1:30). Those same words are repeated by an angel on the first Easter morning to the women who went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint His body and found the tomb empty, “DO NOT BE AFRAID” (Mt 28:5). On Lake Galilee during a storm the Lord said to His Apostles, “Fear Not” (Mk 4:35). These powerful words speak to us who live in a society in which human life is assaulted on many sides. FEAR NOT to RESPECT LIFE.

The horrific events in Las Vegas this week remind us of how guns are too often used as a means that lacks a respect for human life. However, there are others that we must keep in our hearts and minds as well: unborn life in the womb of a mother; elderly life suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s; handicapped life whose movement is limited and dependent on others; embryonic life; those born with Down syndrome; prisoners facing capital punishment and patients terminally ill. FEAR NOT to respect the life of these as much as the life of a normal healthy person. They are not less life because of their condition, and they must be protected because there are those who have determined that they do not deserve respect.

We cannot fear public opinion because our Catholic teaching is not accepted by some and even mocked by others. Too frequently our teaching is drowned out by the popularity of the distorted opinions of others about life. In our country influential forces threaten life and law permits the extermination of unborn life. We are surrounded by a culture whose agenda is anti-life. For example, the dangerous practice of assisted suicide is now legal in five states and the District of Columbia. In our state, New Jersey, powerful political efforts continue to seek to legalize this practice. We cannot fear to build a culture of life that seeks to defend and protect human life. Despite being in the minority, we cannot fear to speak the truth.

Individuals stand up for life at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine on the White Horse Pike in Lindenwold. Photo by James A. McBride

There are many who wish we would go away. But, the truth about life needs to be fearlessly defended and respected. There are those who say we are wrong. To them the truth must be fearlessly spoken. There are those who are doing their hardest to silence the Catholic voice.

Recently, this was on display at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett who was nominated to be a federal appellate judge. Barrett is a professor and constitutional law expert at Notre Dame University and has clerked for appellate and Supreme Court judges. Professor Barrett is eminently qualified for the position. She is also a practicing Catholic.

At the hearing, Senator Diane Feinstein of California expressed a concern to Barrett that based on her past speeches, “dogma lives loudly within you.” The implication of that comment by the Senator is that because Barrett accepts the position of the Catholic Church on human life and other issues she could not be a judge. Feinstein’s outrageous comments were followed by those of other committee members who were obsessed with Professor Barrett’s religion. The implication of their interventions is that by virtue of being a faithful Catholic, Amy Barrett excluded herself from a federal judgeship.

This was not only a clear demonstration of anti-Catholic bigotry but also was aimed at the Church’s teaching about respect for life of which Amy Barrett is a defender and believer. Apparently, in our country if you are pro-life you are eliminated from serving as a Judge and you can be subjected to scorn in a public venue by elected officials.

FEAR NOT the political powers who put on that show in Washington, D.C. unlike anything ever seen before. FEAR NOT their misguided attempt to allow onto benches of law only those who are not pro-life.

As Missionary Disciples we must fearlessly build a culture of life. We begin with our own encounter with Christ and sharing that with others. We do it by prayer and by influencing public policies. Pope Francis has reminded us that the weakest and the most vulnerable, the old and the sick, the unborn and the poor and even the criminal “is a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in His own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost respect.”

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden