My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we come to the end of October, during which we celebrate Respect Life Month, we have an opportunity to reflect upon the 25th anniversary of “Evangelium vitae” (The Gospel of Life), the Encyclical of St. John Paul II. Christ reveals the value of every human person because He has taken upon Himself human flesh. Hedid not, as the Scripture tells us, hold on to His dignity as God, but rather He made humanity god-like by the Incarnation. How important the gift of life is and that it be preserved in this world.
Certainly, during this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic, we recognize the importance of life itself, from its very beginning to its natural end. In the wonderful encyclical of St. John Paul II, we recognize that that Gospel of Life is at the heart of the saving message of Jesus to the world. The human person bears an indelible imprint of God and is the pinnacle of creation. Therefore, life is God’s most precious gift to us in sharing of the holiest and most vulnerable conditions of human life. Even by death on the Cross, Jesus showed us that life is always good, even in the midst of suffering and pain. This is the lesson that we have learned well during this pandemic. Even if our suffering has
not been physical, for those who have not contracted COVID-19, it certainly has been psychological by the necessity of the months of quarantine, and, most recently, the loss of our short-lived ability to return to Church in some areas.
“The Gospel of Life” is meant, “To proclaim Jesus is to proclaim life itself. Gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of the human person impel us to bring the Gospel of life to the hearts of all people and make it penetrate every part of society.”
Obviously, the beginning of life is most important. The theme for this year’s Respect Life Month is “Walking With Moms in Need, A Year of Service.” Our parishes and other entities have been asked to support Moms in Need who are pregnant and are in difficult situations. I am so happy this year that the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens has been able to help our own The Bridge to Life organization by requesting a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation so they can continue the important work they do to assist mothers in need. Also, The Bridge to Life has been able to relocate to a new facility owned by a diocesan related agency, which will give them some stability in the outreach that they do to mothers who are in distress during and after their pregnancy.
Yes, the beginning of life is so important. During these days of COVID-19, however, we recognized how the end of life assistance is also important. This time of the pandemic has been a trying time for those families who have been affected by the Coronavirus, especially through the loss of their elderly family members. Again, this virus seems to attack those who have co-morbidity factors, meaning underlying diseases, that prevent their bodies from being able to combat this pernicious virus. We recognized that we must do all that we can to protect our elderly, the most vulnerable of the population, with underlying health issues, from contracting this virus. Sometimes it might seem
that precautions went too far, however, we can ask the question; what is human life worth? We must recognize that certain sacrifices are necessary to successfully combat this life-threatening virus.
It is especially important to recognize the role of caregivers, not just now during this pandemic, but at all times. Caregiving has become more and more a responsibility of the children of the elderly who themselves have entered into senior status. Of the most difficult situations are those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s or other such related diseases because the caregivers, as much as they are able to show love to their beloved, sometimes do not receive care themselves in return.
Those elderly who suffer from various forms of dementia, have lost their human capacity inch-by-inch and are not able to respond as they once were able to do. These situations may cause great difficulty for caregivers to show, day-after-day, the true love that they have for those in their care.
During this time, we all can pray for caregivers that the Lord will give them the graces necessary to sustain them, as they care for those most in need who are entering their final stages of life. Psychologists have come to recognize how important it is that caregiving never cease. And although the humanity of those who are assisted can be diminished, these people still are humans who possess life and whose lives must be nurtured and honored.
At times, the statistics of the mortality from this virus are overwhelming. Currently, we hear that approximately 225,000 people have died from the virus. I remember a course on demography, part of my doctoral studies, which taught that statistics always need to have comparability in order to truly make sense. Recently, I was reading an article that made this exact point. In the 2017/2018 flu season, nearly 80,000 people died from that flu, a fact of which I was not aware. Again, because of the notoriety surrounding COVID-19, every death is counted as Covid related, as it may be, not recognizing that because some of those who have died of the virus were elderly with co-morbidity factors,
that may have normally been the cause of their death. If we are truly to understand the 225,000 COVID-19 deaths, we have to understand the number of people who would have normally died during the period as part of the normal life processes.
Sometimes numbers are used to frighten people, although we never underestimate the death of even one person. We must put all things into perspective. Remember, as I once reported, over 600,000 people died in the United States alone during the 1917 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
“The Gospel of Life” means that life is good news. Life is God’s most precious gift to us all. As we put out into the deep understanding of life itself, we are given the opportunity to pray for all those who assist those who are ill, those who are elderly, those who are in the final stages of life, as well as those who are helping women who are bringing new life into the world. Yes, life is God’s most precious gift, and for this, we are thankful.