The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 5, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Start with one human life's value

Ten men in New York had no concern for value of thousands of lives

By Bishop Robert Banks

The picture of that trellis of steel sticking up from the rubble of the World Trade Center is probably as good a reminder as we could have for the message of this year's Respect Life Month.

Ten men, seduced by the message of a prophet dedicated to violence, had no care for the six thousand lives to be destroyed, the thousands of homes to be left without a loved one, the thousands of children to be left without a parent. In fact, they had no care about even one human life if it stood in the way of their plan.

That is where our reflection about life should always start -- with the value of one human life. If we cannot come up with compelling reasons for always respecting a single human life, then it will be easier to come up with reasons why one life or many lives should give way to some cause, political or personal.

A political contest?

Here in the United States, it can seem that the pro-life struggle is basically a political contest. The noisy battle is carried on in polling places, legislatures and courtrooms, as the contending parties try to change the laws concerning abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. We all use the media to get out our message as loudly as possible so we can affect the way a vote will go. In frustration, some on both sides resort to verbal violence, using labels that hurt rather than convince. And a very few individuals totally pervert the pro-life cause by turning to physical violence, even murder.

I fully agree that the pro-life cause has to be carried on as vigorously as possible on the political level. Laws are needed both to prevent lives from being taken and also to give the message that human life is special. So we need legislators and government leaders who favor that kind of legislation and who will work for it.

But a culture of life begins with individual people being convinced of the unique dignity of human life. Persons can come to that conclusion for philosophical, religious or simply personal reasons. As Catholics, we have the teaching of the Church: "Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2319)

A more striking way of stating this basic teaching of the Church is the heading for this year's Respect Life Month: "Every human life has its origin in the heart of God." That lifts up the fact that each human being is not only created by God, but is loved by God. Or rather, it is out of love that God brings us to life in the womb of our mothers. So, from the very beginning of a person's existence, we are always dealing with someone who is loved by God.

Recently, I received a letter from one of our priests who suggested that our diocesan pro-life effort should be located in our office for evangelization. His reasons were focused on mobilizing our people to vote the right way. I agree that our pro-life effort should have more to do with evangelizing, but the reason would be to help all of us have a deeper appreciation of the sanctity and dignity of an individual human life. That sanctity and dignity are intrinsically connected to our faith in God and in God's view of each individual human life.

What about attacks?

I still remember giving a homily on abortion when I was a pastor in Boston. After Mass, a white-haired lady, one of our most faithful parishioners, stopped as she was leaving church to tell me that she did not agree with what I had said. "I'm sorry, Father, but I can't agree with you. If my grand-daughter was ever attacked, I would want her to be able to be helped." (I am softening the language somewhat.)

The concern for what might happen to her granddaughter is understandable, but I do not think the example she gave is why we have so many abortions in our country. According to one reliable source, the highest rate of abortion in the United States is among college-aged women. While that does not mean that all college-aged women are actually in college, the statistic does raise the image of a young girl in college not being attacked, but still suddenly finding herself faced with the decision whether or not she should become a mother. It can take a great deal of courage and faith to make a decision that will completely change her plans for the future.

Seduction avoided by faith

Demands on our faith are also involved in other questions concerning life. When a person has actually seen a loved one cruelly killed by a murderer, it will usually be faith that will enable the person not to seek the death penalty in those states where it is easily available. When a wife is suffering the pain of a terrible chronic and terminal disease, faith once again is what helps both the patient and her husband endure and not give in to the seductive arguments of assisted suicide.

There are also other good and solid reasons not based on faith for choosing life rather than death. That is the case, for instance, in the current controversy about using embryonic stem cells for medical research. Some researchers point out that the use of adult stem cells has similar promise and that not enough is being said about the problems involved with embryonic stem cell experimentation. (For more on stem cells, see pages 4-6A.)

Once again, however, it is faith that will help people be more open to the practical reasons that lead one to choose life. It is also faith that will help all of us do those things that support people who are making the difficult decisions in favor of life. Finally, by focusing on faith, we encourage those who are ardent about abolishing the death penalty to also support efforts to limit or abolish abortion. And those who pray outside the abortion clinic will be supportive of those who pray outside the prison death chambers. It is faith that tells us "Each human life has its origin in the heart of God."

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