January 19, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Prayer: A powerful tool for respecting all life, human dignity

I have placed a large number of petitions in my house chapel for which I have been asked to pray. I am pleasantly surprised at the number of requests I have received as a result of my invitation in The Criterion to pray for your intentions. It is a privilege to do so!

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that many of the requests for prayer concern people who are sick. The requests cover those who are terminally ill, those who are disabled in any way, and youth and children who suffer gravely.

Many of the requests come from grandparents who are deeply concerned for their children and grandchildren. Some come from spouses who suffer alongside a spouse who is ill. And, of course, parents worry about their children.

I am edified by the large number of people who worry about their loved ones; family, friends and acquaintances who seem to be spiritually sick. A large number of parents and grandparents ask for prayers that their loved one(s) might return to the practice of their Catholic faith.

I am sorry for the anguish I sense in many of the prayer requests I receive. I pray for the petitioners as well.

Those who are sick or recently have been so will agree that we tend largely to undervalue good health. Only when we are sick do we begin to realize what a gift healthy life is. Sickness and physical suffering bring with them the keen consciousness of what a great gift it is to be healthy.

I think the same realization applies to spiritual illness. In the latter case, though, often people don’t know what they are missing until they return to favor with a wholesome spiritual life. A truthful conscience is the best promise of spiritual health.

On Monday, Jan. 22, we observe the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (1973). The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states for the dioceses of the United States that this day shall be observed in all dioceses as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion. It is to be a day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life (GIRM, #373). It is recommended that the Mass “For Peace and Justice” be celebrated with violet vestments.

The instruction of the Roman Missal underscores the gravity of the illness our society suffers because of the loss of respect for human dignity and the right to life. It is only in addition to Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent that the Church urges a particular day of penance and prayer.

The prescription should serve as a wake-up call lest we become complacent about the spiritual and moral illness that affects our society. Because the deprivation of human life is not particularly visible in everyday life, one can forget about it. The passing of 34 years since the infamous Roe v. Wade decision does not lessen its moral gravity.

I agree with the assertion of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta that a society which is willing to kill the innocent unborn is one that will experience unbridled violence. We see the fulfillment of Mother Teresa’s prophecy day after day.

I believe people who are terminally ill or at least seriously ill are more likely to size up the gravity of the termination of innocent life, not only in the womb but in other forms as well. Some of the prayer requests in my house chapel ask that I pray for the end to abortion and other violations of the dignity of the human person. This is a part of my prayer as a matter of course, but it is encouraging to hear from other people who sense this need.

Praying for the end of abortion and other violations of the right to life is not only the responsibility of bishops, priests and religious. We all share this responsibility, not only as Catholic people of faith but also as upright citizens of our society in the United States.

Prayer is a powerful way to participate in the cause of the right to life and human dignity. Sometimes we underestimate the value of praying because we tend to discount the worth of our personal prayer. It is good to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who makes something good of our prayer. It is also crucial to remember that with God all things are possible.

Besides prayer and attending to our own moral integrity, we look for opportunities to influence the spiritual and moral consciousness of our legislative and judicial representatives. Progress may be slow in this regard, but we march forward with faith and hope. †

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