While our commitment to affirm and defend the life and dignity of the human person is year-round, the Catholic Church in the United States sets aside each October as Respect Life Month.
This year’s theme, “Christ Our Hope: In Every Season of Life,” is particularly appropriate for these times in which the dignity of human persons is under attack in so many different ways.
In the face of increasing polarization, expansion of abortion in a number of our states and attempts to do so in others (my home state of Illinois, for example, and New York), callousness towards migrants, scapegoating of those struggling with homelessness, domestic violence, assisted suicide, and indifference to threats to our common home, we cannot help but be overwhelmed at times by what seem to be such interconnected and deeply rooted problems.
In the Gospel for Respect Life Sunday, in response to the apostles’ cry to our Lord Jesus “Increase our faith,” He responds with the example of a mulberry tree. Now, the mulberry tree is a fairly large tree with an extensive root system. The idea that it could be uprooted and replanted in the deep waters of the sea is beyond belief. And yet, the Lord says that “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…” even the unexpected and seemingly impossible is possible for God.
Anticipating the call to faith of our Lord, the prophet Habakkuk also struggled with the desperate situation in front of him: “I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene…Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”
We are not the first to live in times of distress and discord, to be overwhelmed with changes in the world around us that do not always seem like they are for the better.
But the LORD’s answer to Habakkuk is instructive:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
Our destiny “is the Kingdom of God which has been begun by God himself on earth and which must be further extended until it has been brought to perfection by him at the end of time” (Catechism, quoting Lumen gentium).
Those are the deep waters into which we are called and wherein all that which diminishes and destroys human life and dignity can be untangled, uprooted, and replanted to flourish forever.
In this light, as a powerful example of these depths of faith, I wish to pay tribute to the women who taught me and witnessed to me of the sacredness of human life, especially before birth: My mother, Theresa Vann who taught maternity nursing for years, and who returned to school to earn two master’s degrees while raising the six of us so she could teach pro-life values to student nurses; Mrs. Joan Reardon, Mrs. Fritzi Belz, and Mrs. Carolyn Bodewes who began the “Care Center” in Springfield, Illinois with the assistance of Saint John’s Hospital so they could assist expectant mothers before birth and after who would then not be forced to choose abortion; and finally a premature baby girl from whom I drew blood many years ago at the High Risk Neonatal center at Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois. I held her in one hand so I could draw blood from her heel for blood gases so she could survive. She was the size of some of the life that is aborted now.
Jesus asks you and me, all of us, to be light in the darkness, aflame with passion for God and for people “with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.” Spirit of God, grant us compassion and mercy for all those who are hurting and whose life and dignity are threatened. Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, make us, our families, and our parishes missionary disciples of your Son and centers of missionary outreach such that this world sees the alternative vision of a people who cherish every life. May we hold fast to Christ, our hope.