By Bishop Gerald Barnes
October is Respect Life Month, a time when we are called to pray and reflect on the fundamental belief that we have as Catholics in the dignity and the preciousness of every human life that God has created.
Over the past 40 plus years many have come to associate this exclusively with our advocacy for the unborn, our dogged opposition to abortion, which has tragically claimed millions of innocent lives. Those who have embraced this important ministry have been called “pro life.”
When you reflect on the great gift that God provides in his creation of us (“you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb – Ps. 139) you would think that everyone would be “pro life.”
Of course, we know by now that such a label has been absconded by the partisan divisions that plague our society. Pro life, for some, means anti-women’s health. To some extent, we as Catholics have not done enough to push back against this oversimplified and inaccurate characterization of what it means for us to be pro life.
Our passionate advocacy that every life be cherished and protected compels us to engage on the issue of abortion. In being pro life, we are also called to stand up for other lives that are threatened, persecuted and suffering. This includes the elderly, the mentally ill, the condemned, the homeless, those who are bullied and harassed, those who suffer in natural disasters, live in trauma and suffer the loss of loved ones. It also includes those living in the shadows created by our broken immigration system.
If we are to be truly pro life, we must be a champion of all of these children of God. In catechetical circles this is sometimes called “a consistent ethic of life” or “the seamless garment.” The Lord Jesus points us to this in his many Gospel encounters with unlikely characters, from the Samaritan woman at the well to the tax collector to the leper, who others would not deem worthy of his love and attention. If we are to follow His example, then we must love not just the most sympathetic lives (an innocent unborn), but the ones we do not understand or the ones we fear or the ones who have a completely different lived experience than we do.
There is no qualification or criteria for our defense of human life. Pro life means all lives.
Let us reflect on the full spectrum of this important teaching of our faith this month. Let us talk about it among family and friends, and let us consider further support of the many “pro life” ministries in our communities of faith.