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The month of January is often recognized (by American Catholics) as “Respect Life Month.” The reason for this designation is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision (Roe v. Wade) legalizing abortion as a “right” under the US Constitution on January 22, 1973. The topic is often a sensitive one—even among Catholics—as some choose to see it as a political issue or “one of many” moral issues. In reality, however, it is a fundamental issue since, without the basic right to life and the defense of said right, all other issues cease to be relevant. Although we are still several months away from “Respect Life Month”, given everything going on around us today, the topic is really timeless. So, what does the Church teach about human life? What does it mean to respect life?
Quoting an instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Gift of Life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that:
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (par. 2258).
God is the source, sustainer, and end of all life. It comes from Him, is sustained by Him, will return to Him—it belongs to HIM. Even “our own” life is not ours—it’s HIS! Furthermore, He wishes to have a special relationship with us who are created “in His image and likeness.” We are created to know, love, and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next (as the old Baltimore Catechism taught us). This very basic principle is the foundation of all moral and ethical teaching of the Church, from personal justice to social justice.
The dignity and sacredness of human life must, therefore, be considered, upheld, and defended first and foremost whenever considering “where we stand” on what our culture often wishes to portray as “political” issues. The basic question to ask is always: “Does this or that position truly uphold the dignity and sacredness of human life?” If the answer is not a definite “Yes!”, the issue being considered is immoral. Paragraphs 2263-2283 of the Catechism go into detail about specific human acts such as self-defense, capital punishment, abortion, medical procedures, euthanasia and suicide and the morality and implications of these. There are others which are not as clearly addressed in the Catechism which are, nevertheless, offenses against the dignity and sacredness of human life: self-harm, reckless and immoral behavior, prejudice and racism, bullying, and the spiritual evils of scandal, slander, and detraction.
So what does it mean to truly foster a culture of life? It means that we see all human life—from the very moment of its conception to its natural end—as a gift of God. It means that we treasure that gift as something sacred, something to be protected and defended, something to be fostered and promoted so that it is always lived and witnessed as worth living. What importance and respect do we give to the lives of those around us? To our own life? What are the attitudes and ways of thinking in us still in need of conversion so that we can bring about a true culture of life in ourselves? In our homes? In our parish? In our workplaces? In our country? In the world?