These teaching editorials focus on issues that are highlighted during October’s Respect Life Month.
We learn our values most profoundly in the context of relationships and family, and the value of human life is one I absorbed from a very young age. You see, my elder brother George was born with Down syndrome. After my mother’s death in 1990, I became his guardian, and George joined me in the parish rectory and then moved with me to the Diocese of Knoxville until his death in 2002.
In the era in which I grew up, Georgie was lovingly included into our family, our Church and our neighborhood. Because there was no special education in those days, he was unable to attend school after seventh grade, so my friends and I would bring school home and “teach” him what we learned that day.
Because of this life experience, I developed a passion for protecting the life of the unborn and the dignity of those with developmental disabilities. Life experiences often lead to a particular focus on certain issues. As we delve into our particular interest, we also are invited to broaden and deepen our commitment to the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching. By doing so, we avoid the temptation to pick and choose among issues and confront the obligation to carefully form our consciences.
Respect Life Month, observed each year by our Church in October, is a wonderful opportunity to find our passions among the many issues that fall under this umbrella and to learn more about the richness and depth of Catholic moral and social teaching. These teaching editorials will focus on a wide variety of issues, as well as pastoral reflections and witness on the importance of each issue.
The theme for the 2020 Respect Life Month: “Live the Gospel of Life,” emerges from St. John Paul II”s landmark encyclical “The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae).” In it, St. John Paul II called us to “see in every human face the face of Christ” (EV 81) and to treat each person as we would Christ Himself.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the values that undergird the Church’s teaching about respect for human life. These values include human dignity and the common good. Catholic social teaching reminds us that our communities are measured by how they treat the most vulnerable among us.
One of the implications of our belief in the Incarnation is that it matters how we treat people in the here and now. A past resource for this month stated this clearly: “The catch is that we will not be fit for heaven until we have learned to love one another as God loves us, as he radically demonstrated on the cross. If we don’t love sacrificially, we may not only fail in reaching heaven, we will make life on earth hellish for ourselves and others.”
Respect for every human life is at the heart of our faith. Whether that human being is a pre-born child, a senior at the end of life, a convicted killer on death row or a person with disabilities, how we treat each person reflects our own decency and humanity. There is no compromise with the standard Jesus set in the Gospel of Life.
Respect life issues present challenges, and there is no doubt that the sacrificial love necessary requires maturity. Our Church does not encourage us to seek out suffering but helps us as we face the inevitable suffering that emerges from lives of love. Seeking to develop the capacity to love as Jesus did will help us as we confront these challenges in life and in the process, we will strengthen our families and communities.
As you progress through Respect Life Month, I encourage you to learn, pray and act. Read the following four teaching editorials. Deepen your understanding of the full spectrum of issues. Connect these issues to your own experiences of life and think about ways in which you can reach out and serve others or make a difference by advocating for an issue. Read this newspaper, which regularly features stories and information about programs and services that focus on respect for human life. Share this information with the children and youth in your lives so that future generations will join our effort in building a culture of life.
Respect Life Month activities take place both on an archdiocesan and parish level. While some activities may be virtual this year because of the pandemic, every parish will share resources and ideas for prayer and action. I also encourage your viewing of the third segment of October’s “Conversations with Archbishop Kurtz,” which focuses on Respect Life Month. See www.archlou.org/conversations. You can view more information about all of the life issues at www.usccb.org.
The Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. is the Archbishop of Louisville.