In the spring of 1972, the Catholic bishops of the United States passed a resolution that during the month of October, every year and in every diocese of the land, there will be a week dedicated to respect for life. That week begins today. Through prayer and study the bishops hoped that we all would come to a clearer vision of the sanctity of life and would pledge ourselves to defend and promote life in every way available to each of us in our particular circumstances.
The threats to life in our day are more varied, pervasive, powerful and subtle than ever before in human history. That is true not only because of the availability and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction; it is also certified by the existence of evils such as pollution, widespread poverty, abortion on demand, drug abuse, hunger & homelessness, domestic violence, and so on.
Let’s be clear on this point: not every attack on life is necessarily evil; sometimes it is unavoidable and may indeed serve life in a broader context. I am aware that there is another, opposing opinion on what I am about to say and I respect it; nonetheless, I’ll say anyway that the soldier who goes to war against a truly evil enemy and kills only as a last resort does so in the cause of life and the essential properties that belong to human life, including freedom and security and the pursuit of happiness. His situation is somewhat analogous to that of the surgeon who kills a part of the body only so that the whole body may live and thrive.
But another question belongs here, too: Do you and I realize adequately our personal responsibility for the stewardship of life? Are we convinced that we must not leave war completely to the government and the military? We must not leave abortion on demand to the clinics, the hospitals, and the courts. We mustn’t regard the slaughters on our overcrowded roads as solely the business of Detroit or Ralph Nader’s successors. We should not consign our elderly to institutions, or the poor to welfare, without our involvement.
All of the above are our problems too, because life is God’s gift to all of us. Together we cherish and preserve it, or together we waste and destroy it.
Our stewardship means not only that we protect life in all its forms from wanton destruction, but also that we do our part in guiding life to ever greater fullness and richness. The potential of life seems limitless. How many melodies or symphonies can be composed? How much beauty can artists create? How many different human faces can there be? How deep can human love become? How far into the heavens can humans explore? How long can human lifespan be? How healthy can we be? These are questions that will never be fully answered since there is no limit to life’s potential.
Commitment to life, respect for life, necessarily demands of us that we act for God in our responsibility for life.
The bible tells us we are “made to the image and likeness of God.” That means that we stand in place of our Creator and that we are charged not only with preserving life but also keeping it growing into its unfathomable potential. The fact that we are exercising that responsibility poorly in some significant areas does not take away this sacred trust in which we most resemble God. Through humble prayer and the counsel of all good persons, let us learn in our day what respect for life really means.