The pope’s interview has captured the news with his powerful theme: “healing wounds and warming hearts.” His message is compelling and comes right from his heart and, in fact, from the heart of our Savior Jesus. For what person in this world does Jesus look upon and not see a person made in the image and likeness of our Triune God? October is Respect Life Month, and this year’s theme is Pope Francis’ “Open Your Hearts to Life.”
The summary brochure in the Respect Life Month packet (sent to every parish) refers to the popular and yet very faulty thinking in our culture. In the early 90s, there was a decision made by the Supreme Court that seemed to promote the attractive virtue of liberty but did so in a very dangerous way.
In the decision of Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the majority decision provided this rationale: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Read it carefully and reflect. Such a direction, though sounding reasonable at first, is really a recipe for confusion and isolation. Instead, our Church’s teaching emphasizes the common good: that the respect for human life is centered on the great truth that each precious life is a gift from God to be cherished. (Find more about the Respect Life Packet at www.usccb.org/respectlife.)
Seeing the person first is what motivated me to promote the “Blessing of the Child in the Womb.” It is an uplifting way to honor each human life as a precious gift and to recall with joy our stewardship. At times, we too often describe stewardship only in terms of our handling of financial resources, but stewardship actually is a guiding principle for every aspect of creation as we seek to care for God’s universe.
This deep care includes especially what Pope Emeritus Benedict called “human ecology” — care for each human being. I am gratified by the efforts of parishes throughout the archdiocese to provide this blessing for children in the womb and to provide support, prayers, and love for their mothers and fathers.
As we highlight, cherish and rejoice, we also are called to protect human life as a top priority for all of us as baptized followers of Jesus. I look around the 24 counties of the archdiocese, and I see countless efforts to hold precious the gift of life from conception to natural death. We reach out to those living in poverty, and we thank God for the work of pro-life pregnancy centers, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul, which are all pro-life in action.
Some commentators mistakenly see Pope Francis’ call for mercy as somehow a call to lessen our concern to protect human life. However, his very words in the recent interview show that this is not the case at all. In fact, he calls for God’s mercy to flow through the Church with her teaching and convictions.
Our Holy Father mentions two extremes in his interview, calling us to avoid rigorism and laxness: “The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment.
The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘this is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote recently to join his efforts to that of Pope Francis and called us to heal wounds and warm hearts. Cardinal O’Malley says it well: “Only a tender, compassionate love that seeks to serve those most in need, whatever the personal cost, is strong enough to overcome a culture of death and to build a civilization of love. Let us open our hearts and reflect on how God might be calling each of us to witness the sacredness of human life and assist in pro-life efforts. We may be called to help parents welcome their unborn child as a miracle of God’s creation, to visit the elderly or aid those who are sick and suffering, to pray and fast for life, to advocate to our elected officials, or to assist educational efforts in our parishes.” (Read his full statement at https://ow.ly/poBMR.)
This October calls forth true missionaries for life who speak with courage, act with compassion, and treat all, even those with whom we do not agree, with civility.
Welcome, Ed Harpring
I take this occasion to welcome the newly-appointed Coordinator for Pro-Life Ministries in our Family Ministries office for the archdiocese. Mr. Ed Harpring, of St. Barnabas parish, brings a wealth of knowledge and skills as well as a true pastoral instinct for pro-life activities: courage, compassion and civility. May the Lord bless his work!
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz