For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord
Each year on the first Sunday of October, the Catholic Church in the United States re-dedicates itself to the defense of human life in our society. Today is Respect Life Sunday . For decades now this first Sunday of October has been dedicated to prayer and education aimed at the renewal of respect for all human life from conception to natural death. Since the Supreme Court decision on abortion in 1973, which established the right to kill the unborn child, quite literally on demand, respect for life has taken an awful hit. Since that fateful decision in 1973, more than 40 million unborn children have been killed in this country. The number of abortions worldwide is even more staggering, far exceeding the deaths from all the wars in human history.
In recent years, the push for legalized euthanasia has been intense, and several states now have that right established in their legal system. The addition of one more liberal justice on the Supreme Court will almost certainly establish that right in the “penumbras” of the U.S. Constitution and extended to all the states. How long will it be until euthanasia becomes obligatory for certain classes of human beings, the severely ill, the mentally retarded, and the aged? Several European nations are already close to establishing this legal obligation to kill.
The recent Supreme Court decision legalizing homosexual marriage has opened the door to the destruction of marriage and the family as established by God and enshrined in the legal institutions of Western civilization. The family, as established by God, has been the most powerful source of respect for life and nourishment of life. The new understandings of the institution of the family have little or nothing to do with life. The destruction of the biblical understanding of the family and the biblical notion of marriage has been the target of the most radical elements in our educational institutions and government. The number of nongovernmental organizations working towards this goal is stunning, and yet most people know very little or nothing about them or their work.
Unfortunately, the ultimate disrespect for life, the mass killing of unborn children, the growing acceptance of euthanasia, which is at the very least a killing of oneself, and the destruction of the nourishing institutions of life, marriage and the family, are seen by all too many Catholics today as just one issue among others in the political arena, and for many unfortunately not even a very important issue. In fact, there is a growing consensus among certain Catholics, that these issues have basically been settled by the courts and are now the law of the land, and we should move on to other issues rather than this lost cause.
In effect, these Catholics have handed pro-choice Catholic politicians, supposedly personally opposed to this killing, just what they were looking for to justify their voting with their party leaders for pro-abortion legislation. They can claim that it’s just one issue among others, that it’s basically a lost cause, and thus they also are pro-life by voting for things like extending unemployment payments or welfare payments even while voting to support the right to kill millions of unborn children.
The situation has so deteriorated that today Catholics who continue to see the deaths of millions of unborn children as the greatest and most important moral issue of our time are labeled as fanatics, small minded, single issue voters and hopeless activists. Already in the seventies, many people in this country, again including all too many Catholics, thought that even this day of prayer was an overreaction on the part of the bishops and the Catholic Church, focusing too much on one divisive issue regarding life when there were so many life issues we could agree on as Americans.
But history has proven those pro-life advocates who have long been opposed to the so-called seamless-garment approach to the life issues all too correct in their conviction that such an approach would only dilute the opposition to killing in favor of more popular political programs. Today the opposition to the pro-abortion juggernaut has become so weakened that even the minor victories scored over the years, such as the Hyde amendment which prevented government funding of abortion, are now under threat. While little has been achieved even in restricting the range of legalized abortion, today the very religious freedom of those who oppose tax supported abortion is under serious threat. Indeed, religious freedom is also under threat for those who refuse to provide job benefits that include payment for contraceptives, and for those whose consciences will not allow them to supply various business services connected with homosexual marriages.
But the profound loss of respect for life goes beyond the disrespect for the lives of the unborn. For instance, crimes like rape are also on the increase, and that too is a sign of the times that indicates a decreasing respect for life. Or simply watch the news and see how many people are being murdered in our large cities, like Chicago, almost without the least remorse. Youths in many of our cities are being mowed down in gang wars and mindless acts of violence. And the next in line are the aged.
As our Medicare expenses explode with the retirement of tens of millions of baby boomers over the next decade, the problems in funding social security and medical care will have to be solved by politicians drawn from a culture that is no longer respectful of the right to life for anyone who burdens others. Given the decline in the number of children being born today and the increase of retirees going on to Medicare, the Congressional Budget Office asserts that by 2030 there will be only 2.2 tax payers for every 1 enrollee in Medicare. How will the government pay for the care of the elderly? Death, voluntary or otherwise, may well seem the logical decision in such a society as ours.
As Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa constantly reminded us, respect for life is ultimately measured by our respect for the most defenseless persons, for the unborn, for handicapped children, for chronically ill persons and for the aged. Jesus did not heal every sick person he met, but can you possibly imagine him ever considering another human being as not worthy of life, not worthy of health care?
Mother Teresa used to go about the streets of Calcutta and pick up the maimed and sick who were tossed into the street like garbage; and then she would take them to her convent and wash them and make them feel like valued human beings, perhaps for the last time as many would die in her arms. But they would know before death that they were of great value, worth loving, because she and her sisters loved them.
The saints have always understood that the poor and the defenseless are God’s special treasures and are given to us so we can love them, can serve God in them and thus can mount our way to heaven. Men and women without faith do not see the poor or the defenseless in this way, and their solutions to the problems of poverty and sickness and weakness is often simply to get rid of the poor and the helpless. That is what happened in Germany under the Nazis – it was not just the Jews and Christian leaders who were murdered, but it was also their final solution to the problems of mental defectives and those with terrible physical diseases. They may have thought themselves to be a highly civilized people, but having lost their faith and respect for life many Germans became mass murderers. Death was the final solution for the problem of the poor and the weak, and death is rapidly becoming the solution today in our world.
How many innocents, the young, the aged and the sick, must lose their lives in the countries of the victors and vanquished in World War II, before we finally will recognize that our own civilization is now in decay precisely because it too has loss the respect for life due to all human beings? Christians promoting respect for all human life, but especially for the most defenseless among us, are the true patriots today, the true rescuers of civilization, the only hope left keeping this nation from totally sinking into the barbarity of our old enemies.
Early Christians were at times considered to be the enemies of the Roman civilization because they would not accept and imitate its moral degeneracy. They were in fact the best Roman citizens because they continued to have families when the Romans were having fewer and fewer children; they had stable marriages and homes when the Roman household was collapsing. They would not kill their children nor murder the innocent. They were the best citizens Rome had ever had, and yet they were hated nonetheless. It’s the same today.
And how did those hated Christians of old respond then to their countrymen who considered them enemies? Did they respond with hatred, with contempt, or by withdrawing from society? No, they responded with love, with truth, and even with help when their pagan neighbors were sick, thus showing their deep respect for the value of all lives, even if they were not returned that same respect. And in this way they eventually converted an empire and kept it alive much longer that could have been predicted given its collapsing morality and culture.
That also has to be our response to our society which is in such great danger. We too must continue to promote respect for life, and continue to speak the truth without fear. We too must love all our neighbors as God does, and we must help them when in need and teach them the value of their own life in God’s eyes and in ours. But above all we must help the defenseless by doing what we can to help them survive in a world that judges their lives are not worth living. We must be Apostles of life and messengers of God’s love – that is our task today, and one day God, and perhaps our society even, will bless us for that witness to the value of all life. That will be, as St. Paul says, our testimony to our Lord in a culture of death.