Respect Life Sunday – October 2, 2022
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, on this 27th Sunday of the Church year, as we do every year, we gather with Catholics from throughout our country to celebrate Respect Life Sunday. This day, we would do well to reflect upon the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has so consistently proclaimed to us that every person, including ourselves, has a reason to hope, because every person “has a place in God’s heart from all eternity.” From the weakest and most vulnerable – the unborn, the sick, the old and the poor – to those who are least supportive of our values, the Holy Father goes on, every person “has an inviolable right to life” and “is a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Sadly, however, it is quite apparent that this fundamental teaching of our faith hardly resonates with many. As a Church, we are grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout our land. Yet, the division that has emerged in our country these past few months is a stark reminder of the fact that many fail to appreciate the dignity and value of all human life, especially the life of the unborn.
In response to this division, it is incumbent upon us, as a people of faith, to not merely point fingers of derision at those who fail to embrace the teaching of the gospel regarding the value of human life. To the contrary, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to be light in the midst of darkness – a leaven to transform our misguided world. As such, it is our responsibility to witness to our beliefs by caring for life – from life in the womb to the lives of all who are in need, particularly for many women and their children who struggle past the time of birth.
As Catholics, we too often allow voices contrary to gospel values to control the narrative about the good work that our Church – through all of you – continues to accomplish. We so rarely hear in the public forum of our Church’s long history of service to those who are most vulnerable. Few are even aware of the fact that the Catholic Church remains the largest private provider of social services in the United States to this day.
In the midst of the tension that this moment in our history continues to generate, we need to acknowledge with humility that the Church has not only advocated for life in the womb but has worked tirelessly to support life in all its forms from conception to natural death. In addition to serving the countless numbers of suffering lives that make their way into our midst, the Church in the United States and right here in our own diocese has developed scores of ministries dedicated to helping mothers facing challenging pregnancies and those who may struggle to care for their children after they are born. Through pregnancy care centers and parish-based ministries such as Walking with Moms in Need to Shepherds Maternity House in East Stroudsburg that provides a safe home and assistance for pregnant woman and mothers and their newborn babies to ministries like Project Rachel that offer hope, healing and spiritual renewal to women and couples who suffer after participating in abortion, our Church continues to offer a way forward to those who seek to live the gospel of life.
In today’s gospel from Saint Luke, Jesus quite providentially speaks to the heart of this Respect Life Sunday by offering a series of pronouncements. Two are spoken of in the passage proclaimed today. Two others are found in the verses immediately preceding today’s gospel. … Jesus warns against causing scandal. … He demands forgiveness. … And Jesus proclaims that if we have faith the size of mustard seed, incredible things can happen.
Jesus also teaches a lesson from the relationship between a master and a slave. When we do what Jesus commands us to do, we don’t become heroes for a cause nor should we expect adulation or praise. In doing what Jesus commands, we simply do what the Gospel asserts and demands of its adherents.
These words of Jesus regarding scandal, forgiveness, faith and so much more don’t point to heroic living but reflect the minimum for a life open to the Kingdom of God. They challenge all of us – those of us who embrace the teachings of the Gospel as well as those who struggle with the tenets of our faith that call us to respect life – to avoid the self-justifying posture of the Pharisees and embrace Jesus’ call for mercy, forgiveness and love.
Simply put, brothers and sisters, if we desire to live our lives as Christians with authenticity, we have no choice. We cannot merely speak of our respect for human life or self-righteously criticize those whose beliefs may be different from our own. We must enliven our words with action. We must both choose and serve life – life in the womb, life that is found on the margins of our world and even life that struggles to respect and reverence others.
The challenge to defend human life cannot be side stepped in an effort to create a false peace or sense of harmony. We must be fearless in our defense of the unborn – but also mothers in need, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the disabled, the prisoner, the immigrant and all whose lives are in jeopardy.
Nor must we ever shrink from confronting life issues in our prayer, in what and how we teach as a Church and in the pastoral care that we offer. But we must also never shrink from confronting life issues when we vote, in the initiatives and public policies that we are able to influence, in our volunteer efforts and in the daily activities and choices of our lives that can even unwittingly exploit the most defenseless among us.
Ultimately, may we be guided by other words from Pope Francis, as he challenges us to give witness to our faith by lives of selfless love and service, “Being Catholic entails a great responsibility … to contribute to recognizing the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of the creative work of God, from the very first moment of conception. … The Lord counts on you to spread the Gospel of Life.”
Sisters and brothers, the Lord counts on us to be light in the midst of darkness, to be hope in the midst of despair and to be his presence embracing and respecting every human life as made in the image and likeness of our Creator.