“Worth,” a recently released Netflix movie explores the daunting task of assigning value to the lives lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The main character played by Michael Keaton is a Special Master assigned by the Bush administration to develop a formula to calculate the compensation to victims’ families.
The initial calculation was based on income alone.
But is income the measure of a life, especially a life cut short?
For the Catholic church, the value of a life and a soul is beyond calculation from the moment of conception to natural death. In generations past, slavery was the basis of considerable moral debate. St. Patrick, once a slave himself, was one of the earliest Church leaders to publicly condemn slavery saying that all were equal in the eyes of God. In the fourth century, the Church condemned the mistreatment of slaves which set into motion events that eventually outlawed slavery in Europe. By the 1500s the pope banned slavery in the new world, under the pain of ex-communication. In the 19th century, at least two popes condemned slavery. Roman Catholicism, while it didn’t have the force of law to outlaw slavery, it was one of the few, possibly only, Christian denominations to offer a pathway for slaves to purchase their freedom in Louisiana.
The questions of abortion or euthanasia are the slavery issues of the modern age.
In 1968, in response to new artificial birth control, Pope Paul VI published his landmark encyclical “Humanae Vitae”, Human Life. During the pontificate of John Paul II, a series of his talks on the sanctity of life were compiled under the title “Theology of the Body.” Together, these two seminal documents lay out the fundamental Catholic teaching that supports the church’s position on life issues.
Ten years ago, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops dedicated October as Respect Life Month.
According to the USCCB, “We proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self, and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence.”
The Diocese of Orange uses this month to create awareness of the value of every human life and raise funds for the many resources that support life-affirming programs.
Greg Walgenbach, who directs Respect Life activities for the Diocese of Orange, said this year’s theme is St. Joseph – the defender of life.
“We want to use this special time to bring clarity and understanding to these issues and rise above polarization. We are looking for clarity, charity and creativity to come to solutions on these issues,” he said.
Rather than screaming louder at each other, Walgenbach stresses the Diocese’s desire to teach what we believe regarding these issues and build a culture of life.
The focus of the Church’s response to crisis pregnancies, end-of-life issues, capital punishment and many other life questions is to support the individuals with the resources and counseling they need to pass through the crucible.
For mothers-to-be, the Pennies from Heaven/Walking with Mom’s in Need programs fund pro-life birth clinics and support a variety of programs to help women through the pregnancy for as long as needed to help them to rebuild their life. The Hope and Healing ministry is a counseling service for women, and sometimes men, dealing with the emotional trauma that often follows abortion. The Diocese also works with foster care agencies such as Olive Crest to form networks of support for both the birth mother and adoptive parents.
Catholic Charities of Orange County has multiple programs that help families, seniors and youth with counseling, domestic violence, aging issues, food and emergency shelter. This is yet another way the church goes out to people in need to make sure they are cared for and respected. To this end, the Diocese works with the California Council of Catholic Bishops on legislative advocacy to support or oppose the legislation.
Most recently, SB 380 passed out of committee despite opposition from pro-life advocates. This is a bill that removes some of the important safeguards around euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide which was passed in 2015. The Bishops are also working to repeal the death penalty “…because we believe in the dignity of every human life.”
Worth, in Catholic terms, is endowed by God on every soul in equal measure. The worth of an unborn child, a terminal cancer patient, a senior citizen or even a death row inmate, is not determined by how much we value the potential of their life, but by how God values them.
“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Mt 25:40
For more information in Respect Life Month and activities, please contact your parish office.