October is Respect Life Month, a time when the church recognizes and celebrates the sanctity of all life, from conception until natural death. This year’s Respect Life Month theme focuses on St. Joseph’s role as protector and defender of life. Just as St. Joseph took special care to protect and defend Mary and Jesus, we are called to stand in witness for all life.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses addresses the Israelites as they are preparing to enter into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. He reminds the people of the miraculous events of the Exodus, when God led the people out of slavery in Egypt, and points to the covenant that God made with them on Mount Sinai.
Moses then offers the Israelites a choice: “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him” (Dt. 30: 19-20).
Like the Israelites, we each must make a choice: will we accept what St. John Paul II called the “culture of death” or will we take steps daily to build a culture of life? To help us make this decision, we can examine the fruits of each culture.
Evil’s job description is to steal, kill and destroy. Look around you. Its manifestations are everywhere, the results of a Godless culture taking hold. We turn on the news and see stories of the loss of life as a result of poverty, violence and natural disaster in places like Haiti, Afghanistan and parts of our own country. We see increasing efforts to legalize the killing of people with disabilities and diseases in the name of “compassion.” And we continue to permit and even expand access to legal abortion in this country, taking the lives of the most innocent, the unborn.
These are the fruits of a culture of death, which can only lead to more death.
On the other hand, the fruit of a culture of life is more new life. Thankfully, we see examples of this in our world as well, though sometimes it is easier to miss.
- We witness the culture of life in our health care professionals, who have sacrificed so much to save people’s lives during the pandemic.
- We see this when young couples make the choice to save themselves for marriage, building a foundation of trust and self-sacrifice that leads to stronger marriages and families.
- We have the beautiful example of our many pregnancy care centers, which devote themselves to supporting mothers in need and women in unexpected pregnancies.
- We must make the choice to continue to build this culture of life.
Beyond choosing life, though, there is another step that we must take to follow the example of St. Joseph in protecting life. We must stand up to the culture of death in our world and call to repentance people who are supporting it.
The scandal of political leaders who claim to be Catholic and choose anti-life positions, not only as a personal choice but as their whole platform, needs to be addressed. They must be publicly called to repentance and told not to present themselves for holy Communion.
Anyone who has committed a mortal sin should repent, go to confession and amend his/her behavior. We must not turn a blind eye to this public, almost gleeful promotion of abortion. Until such time as they have publicly and privately amended their lives, they should not receive holy Communion, as is true for all the rest of us.
The moral teaching of the Gospels and church tradition does not apply differently for the political class and for everyone else. Their actions are causing grave consequences, especially for women with an unplanned pregnancy, who need help in bringing their child into the world, not lifelong guilt for having taken the life of their own offspring.
Thankfully, we have a God who loves us and wants to pour out his mercy on us. Nothing is so bad that Jesus’ mercy will not cover it in compassion and love and draw people back to him. If you have been involved with abortion in the past or supported the culture of death, please make sure that you are healing by embracing the mercy of Christ. Ask Jesus for the grace of forgiveness and healing and commit yourself to defending life from this day forward.
Friends, I know these are strong words. So were the words of Moses when he prepared the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. As your bishop, it is my role to help prepare each of you for the Promised Land, eternal life in heaven with Jesus. I take this role very seriously. So, with Moses, I call on each of you today to choose life, and together, let us all build a culture of life!
St. Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.