Recently, on the occasion of my 49th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, one of my brother priests gifted me a lovely framed card on which are found these words: LIFE IS NO LESS BEAUTIFUL WHEN IT IS ACCOMPANIED BY ILLNESS OR WEAKNESS, HUNGER OR POVERTY, PHYSICAL OR MENTAL DISEASES, LONELINESS OR OLD AGE. Those words were written by Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, shortly before he died on Oct. 6, 1983, at age 62, following years of physical suffering with leukemia. The Cardinal ordained me a priest in 1971.
Annually, during the month of October, our church observes RESPECT LIFE MONTH. Living in a society in which increasing acts of violence against life surround us, we cannot tire of this annual observance. Perhaps we need to get louder in voicing our church’s prophetic witness to the right to life. Every month of the year the right to life should be our concern because of the growing threats against life; threats against life both inside and outside the womb. Some of these threats originate from elected officials who flaunt their anti-life agendas and present them as if they represent us!
Regarding the in-the-womb violence against life, the tragedy of abortion, our Holy Father, Pope Francis has recently written that a “firm and passionate” defense of “the innocent unborn” is needed. Regarding the outside-the-womb threats against life, he further stated that: “Equally sacred are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” The Holy Father wisely sees the whole picture of the right to life and so should we.
The bishops of the United States have reminded us that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.” The sacredness of human life is affirmed by that statement. Further, the bishops remind us that “we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life, such as racism, the environmental crisis, and the death penalty.” Protection of the unborn and protection of the born. The right to life is about both: violence to life in the womb and violence to life outside the womb. The bishops see the whole picture of the right to life as we should.
Last week the Governor of our New Jersey, an elected official, announced his intention to quickly write into state law the Reproductive Freedom Act, which will expand contraceptive and abortion services if the Supreme Court reverses ROE v WADE, which guarantees a constitutional right to abortion. (See page 4.) It has been a few years since I read the Constitution of the United States; however, I do not recall anything in it about abortion or government-sponsored abortion. I pay taxes in this state which will go into the pot to fund this Reproductive Freedom Act if it becomes law in New Jersey. You can call me an unwilling supporter of violence against the unborn. And, an unwilling supporter of violence against the born who, for example, when facing the end of life in New Jersey may receive a lethal drug from their doctor under a program called Physician-Assisted Suicide. I wonder how the doctor who involves himself or herself in this understands the Hippocratic Oath they pledged? First Do No Harm.
Twenty-five years ago Pope Saint John Paul II wrote the encyclical, THE GOSPEL OF LIFE, in which he reaffirmed the value and inviolability of every human life. The Holy Father appealed to all people to respect and protect every human life. Human life is a gift of God that reflects the glory of its Creator in whose image and likeness we are created. On this silver anniversary year of this encyclical, the theme of this year’s respect life month is taken from the encyclical, Live the Gospel of Life. An appropriate theme for our country, our state, and yes, our world, each of which suffers under a culture of death.
The response to this anti-life deep darkness is to announce to society this month and every month the Gospel of Life. Cardinal Cooke’s powerful words about the beauty of life were written on his death bed 37 years ago. In 2020 they remain as relevant as they were in 1983, perhaps even more so, for the attacks on human life have increased with the passing of each year.
My sisters and brothers: LIVE THE GOSPEL OF LIFE!
source The Catholic Star Herald
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