Respect Life Mass – October 4, 2020
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

As we join in prayer for our annual celebration of Respect Life Sunday on October 4, 2020, we do so at a moment that is unprecedented in its focus on the care and well-being of the human person.  For over eight months, our world has waged war with a virus that has currently attacked more than 29 million people and has left close to a million deaths in its wake.  In the process, we have engaged behavior that has isolated us one from another and prompted actions from wearing masks to shuttering churches, schools, stores and factories, all in an effort to protect and preserve human life.

Sadly, however, for as noble as all of our efforts related to the presence of the coronavirus may be, even a cursory reflection on our country’s and our world’s current approach to human rights issues reveals that we have yet to embrace and respect human life in its totality as we should.

In his second address to the United Nations General Assembly just over a week ago, Pope Francis offered these challenging words.  “The pandemic, indeed, calls us ‘to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing, a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.’”  In reflecting upon the prevailing culture of our time that invests far more energy in technological progress than the dignity of the human person, the Holy Father went on to offer a sobering assessment of our world.  “It is in fact painful to see the number of fundamental human rights that in our day continue to be violated with impunity.  The list of such violations is indeed lengthy, and offers us a frightening picture of a humanity abused, wounded, deprived of dignity, freedom and hope for the future.”

Pope Francis went on to reflect upon this sad reality, particularly as it has emerged in the face of efforts to confront the coronavirus.  “Sad to say,” the Holy Father noted, “some countries and international institutions are also promoting abortion as one of the so-called ‘essential services’ provided in the humanitarian response to the pandemic.  It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved.”

In a similar vein, the Bishops of the United States offered these words, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.  At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

It’s rather paradoxical that in reflecting upon the teaching of the Holy Father and the Bishops of our country as well as upon all of the efforts being engaged to confront a virus that has the potential to destroy life, we’re often conflicted in our perspective upon this unique and singular gift of God.  So many of us react intensely when innocent life is wounded or extinguished.  And so we should!  Yet, at the same time – wittingly or unwittingly – many of us fail to recognize that the very foundational building blocks of a just world for all forms of human life are being undermined at an alarming rate.

Threats to human life increasingly abound in our world today; threats that we often fail – or refuse – to recognize.  In addition to the tragic and continued widespread scourge of abortion, we’re also confronted with proposals and policies that favor assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide, human cloning and illicit reproductive technologies.  These too are dire threats to our belief in the dignity and value of the human person – as are the death penalty, human trafficking, and unjust immigration laws.

Sadly, while many of us as Catholics and people of good will are deeply committed to the protection of life in its earliest moments at conception and in its final hours after decades of existence, we can often be somewhat arbitrary in our assessment of other lives and their value and worth.  Unfortunately, brothers and sisters, such arbitrary attitudes towards the sanctity of human life have consequences.   We’ve experienced the slippery slope that ensued following the legalization of abortion almost 50 years ago.  When we rationalize why the taking of one life should be allowed, every life is in jeopardy.

In our first reading today, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a friend who started to plant a vineyard.  The friend, in reality, is God, who creates a world for us, a world that has the potential to embrace God’s love and truth and life.  But what happens to this perfect vineyard?  It yields nothing but wild grapes and falls into ruin.  Who ruined the vineyard, Isaiah muses?  Was it God, its creator, who did not take sufficient care of his precious vineyard?  No, he tells us.  No.  The vineyard was ruined because God’s cherished plants – God’s people – answered justice with bloodshed and love with selfishness.

This same theme of unrighteousness is echoed in today’s gospel parable.  It concludes with God, the owner of the vineyard, coming himself to destroy the tenants and handing the vineyard to others who will yield an abundant harvest.

Every one of us has been given a portion of God’s vineyard to cultivate.  What will we do with the vineyard that we’ve been given?  It’s our responsibility to answer that question – not someone else’s.  …  Will we give in to a culture of death, which lays waste to the beauty that God has so wondrously created in his people?  …  Or will we heed the Gospel of Life and love and respect God’s people – even those lives that are hardest to love or appreciate?

Every day of our lives, we are given a choice to treasure life or to cast it aside.  As Christians, we say that we respect life.  We also need to show that we choose life through the votes that we cast and by our actions and efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable in our midst.

Recall the words from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (31:19, 20):  I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life, then, that you and your descendants my live, by loving the Lord your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.