My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
For several generations, the Bishops of the United States have proclaimed the month of October “Respect Life Month,” for the respect of human life from its conception to its natural end in death. Last week’s horrific events in Las Vegas, the senseless mass murder, makes me think about the value of human life. It seems that life has become cheapened by the numerous murders that we hear about, especially this mass killing of over 50 people.
Many say that this massacre is the worst mass killing in the history of the United States. We seem to forget our history when we waged war against the Indian tribes who were decimated or the slave ships that brought African slaves to the U.S. where barely half survived the journey. Unfortunately, our history as a nation gives us an indication that our respect for human life is less than it should be.
As Christians, we are called to establish a culture of life. St. John Paul II compared it to what he called the culture of death. We readily understand a culture of death as it seems to be all around us. But we must build a culture of life. This is how we answer our missionary call. This is how we build a culture of life, a culture that joyfully proclaims the truth of God’s love, purpose, and plan for each person. Changing the culture is a process of conversion that begins in our own hearts and includes a willingness to be instructed and a desire to be close to Jesus – the source of joy and love.
It is important that we consider the threats to a culture of life that exist today in our own nation. Abortion is by far the most egregious threat to life that we have witnessed in our country. Since Roe v. Wade, nearly one million children per year have been aborted. I use the word children purposely, because everyone who is conceived, who must pass through the stages of life leading to birth, is a human person. Each human person, although their life begins within the life of another, has equal rights and dignity and must be treated as a person, not something that can be disposed of by anyone. Until the people of our country understand the grave situation that abortion brings, we will never establish a culture of life. All of the other threats to life, be it the culture of addiction to drugs or guns, will never be changed. How important it is for us to understand the dignity of human life at all stages of development.
One of the considerations we are asked to confront during Respect Life Month is our attitude toward assisted suicide. Life is threatened at its beginning in our culture and at its very end. The idea of mercy killing and avoiding pain has taken root in our disposable culture. Assisted suicide today has been aided by powerful pain killers. The hospice movement allows people to die in dignity and without excruciating pain. But taking one’s life, no matter what the circumstances, cheapens that life and all life that surrounds that life. In the name of mercy, we are committing murder today.
Another issue deeply connected to the culture of life is the elimination of the death penalty. St. John Paul II, and each Pontiff since, has taken a stance for the elimination of the death penalty that is not necessary in today’s advanced culture, where the death penalty has been proven not to be a deterrent to crime. Rather it is an inhuman and unnecessary taking of human life.
Catholic moral theology sometimes would support the death penalty in extreme circumstances. In the United States, however, it is not a necessary form of law enforcement or punishment for criminals who would instead benefit from long-term incarceration and rehabilitation.
Creating a culture of life is an uphill battle. We have been geared toward a culture that seeks life’s pleasures without accepting the difficulties of life. The creation of a just society will always depend on how we treat the unborn and those at the point of death, as well as all others at various stages of human life. As history has proven, it is indeed a slippery slope when the handicapped, or those not considered worthy of life, or those unable to contribute to society are brushed aside, and eliminated as useless.
Establishing a culture of life will mean truly putting out into the deep recesses of our contemporary culture. We need to eradicate the addictions that enslave us and which diminish our life. We must make it impossible for people to eliminate life when that life is inconvenient. Join me in prayer this October during “Respect Life Month” in which we deepen our understanding and respect of human life.