This weekend begins “9 Days for Life,” a period of prayer, penance and pilgrimage. Catholics across the United States, along with other ecumenical partners, are called in a particular way to the celebration of life that we seek to live out faithfully all year long.
Like Samuel in this Sunday’s readings, we often hear a call or are awakened to a reality before we are even sure quite how to respond or answer. God hears our simple response of “Here am I” and promises to open up our lives to a new appreciation of his abundant life. Responding to this call begins and ends with prayer. Whether through that still, small voice tugging on our hearts, or a life-changing event that shatters the status quo, we find ourselves communicating with God in a new way, learning to pay attention to and be led by the Holy Spirit. As God communicates with us, however, there is always penance, that is, there is always and in many forms a conversion, a turning, a renewal.
So, for example, in this time, we pause to remember that more than 56 million children’s lives have been lost to abortion, and that countless others suffer that loss daily, often in silence. We also acknowledge significant failures to protect the lives of women, men and children from domestic violence, war, torture and the death penalty. As our state considers legislation to legalize assisted suicide, we look for another way to address difficult situations at the end of life and worry for the unintended consequences of such legislation on the most vulnerable in society.
We ask for mercy, for forgiveness, for another way. We remember that the Church has always cared for those who are discarded by society, not because of any ideology but because all human beings are created in the image of God.
As Pope Benedict reminded us, quoting at the end from Pope John Paul II: “God’s love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother’s womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness (Gn 1: 26) in each one … human life is always a good, for it ‘is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory’ (Evangelium Vitae, n. 34). Or, as St. Paul puts it, also in Sunday’s readings: Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we answer this call by continuing on the pilgrimage toward that heavenly city where there will be no more death.
As God’s holy people, we witness to life in Christ. This call to life was clear to me at a fairly young age when I watched my mother as a maternity nurse … As a young person I was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s courageous commitment to life and the dignity of every human person, not unlike so many who are inspired by Pope Francis today.
Please join with others in the Diocese of Orange as we commemorate these days and celebrate the incredible gift of life. In particular, you are invited to join together with Catholics throughout Southern California at OneLife LA on Jan. 17, and for our local Evening Prayer for Life on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. Lastly, thank you to all those who labor daily for the life and dignity of every human person. You are gifts to our diocese. May God bless our every effort as we respond to the call to share in his abundant life. For more information on the events mentioned, go to lifejusticepeace.org/respectlife.
The Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange