The right to life is an expression of who and whose we are

When I was in my teens and in the early days of television so long ago, my family like so many, though not Catholic, “religiously” tuned in to then Bishop Fulton Sheen and his “Life is Worth Living” weekly program. It surely influenced me on my spiritual journey, though I clearly was a slow learner. I pray he will soon be formally declared a saint, though he already is to me.

This Bulletin’s theme, “Human Dignity: The Ultimate Gift from God,” was a constant theme of these programs. Below is my column from October 2015, which reflects that message and truth:

“EVERY Life is Worth Living” is the theme for this year’s Respect Life month. Every life means every person beginning at conception through pregnancy, at birth and all the years after birth until natural death. That is because every life is a gift from God. Deep in our souls is planted that truth. Our secular culture however seeks to bury that truth. Yet truth is truth.

Sometimes instinctive reactions, “gut responses,” are teachers. I recall in the days before my conversion when I viewed abortion as simply a matter of personal choice. I visited my doctor’s office. In order to do so I had to walk past a door that had written on it “Madison Abortion Clinic.” I instinctively felt uneasy. Now having been led by the Spirit to the truth that every life is a gift from God to be respected and when necessary supported, I know why I experienced that queasy feeling. Every life is worth living.

I recall visiting my grandmother in a nursing home where she was surrounded with many other elderly dealing with physical and mental challenges. Life is not perfect; suffering is real.

Yet the promise of the world to come for those who are faithful offers strength. Watching her deteriorate before my eyes with little I could do about it raised the question common in our day: Why go through this? Then she smiled at me. I knew then that her life and all lives are worth living.

Our diocese is a special place where faith and family are deeply rooted; life is valued. This is in part because of those who went before and in part because of the hard reality that the land, the prairie, brings forth. How inspirational are those who farmed and ranched, those who raised families and built communities and churches, those who taught and cared for one another, those who appreciated the gift of life and thanked God for it by sharing it with others and passing on their values to us.

As our state changes with the shifts in population and lessening of agricultural focus to high tech, we need to be alert to the threat to those values. The “throw away” culture Pope Francis refers to is not unknown in our midst.

We perhaps need a history lesson on what has made our state and country great and an investment of effort to restore those values which guided that history. Recognizing the sacredness of all life is not a church or Catholic thing, it is a human thing—God’s law written in our hearts. It is under direct and indirect attack.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States a few years ago he spoke of a uniquely American brand of secularism which he said results in “a growing separation of faith from life: living ‘as if God did not exist.’…Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age.”

That conformity leads to a lowest common denominator attitude of let’s all just get along, tolerating aberrant behaviors but not tolerating one another or religious liberty, expecting quick fixes without responsibility, seeing others as objects to be used, abused, discarded or ignored.

Saint John Paul the Great put it so beautifully, “Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.”

If we believe that, it raises our sights above the low road of the culture that leads to emptiness. It motivates us to respect life every day and in everything we do. It inspires us to pray for and to walk with those who are misled or confused or are hurting.

The recommended intentions for Respect Life Sunday can guide our prayer:

  • For Catholics throughout the world: May the Holy Spirit help us bear witness to the truth that every life is worth living;
  • For all who are vulnerable, especially unborn children, persons with disabilities, and those who are poor, elderly or suffering from illness: May they be respected and cared for according to their God-given dignity;
  • For women who are unexpectedly pregnant and filled with anxiety: May the Blessed Mother help them to know they are not alone;
  • For public authorities: May God grant them the humility, wisdom, and courage to defend life;
  • For those facing a terminal illness: May they be comforted by God’s love through the support of family and friends, and the local community;
  • For married couples considering adoption: May the Holy Spirit grant peace and clarity as they seek the will of God;
  • For people with disabilities: May those around them recognize that every person is a good and perfect gift and treat them accordingly;
  • For single adults who desire marriage: May God help them grow in perfect love and fill them with trust in His loving care;
  • For young people: May they discover the freedom and peace that comes from following Jesus’ call to purity,

For all these we pray to the Lord.

Right to life is more than an issue; it is an expression of who and whose we are. May all of us in little and big ways witness with our lives respect for the lives of all persons by doing what we can to allow God’s children, whatever age or condition, to live and to become who He created them to be.

EVERY life is worth living because every life is a gift from God.