January 22, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

All life is sacred, especially the most vulnerable

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

All life is sacred, especially the lives of those who are most vulnerable—the aged, infirm, disabled and unborn. All life is sacred, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. All life is sacred, even the lives of heinous criminals, terrorists and psychopathic killers. All life is sacred. Period.

In society today—and even in the Church—we too often look for exceptions to this rock solid principle of our Christian faith. Sure, we believe life is sacred, but aren’t there times when we have to soften our stance? Self-defense is surely an example of a situation where it’s OK to take the life of another.

What about extreme cases such as rape or incest? Isn’t abortion permissible (even if regrettable) under these circumstances?

What about a serial killer? Isn’t capital punishment the surest way to guarantee the common good?

What about end-of-life situations or terminal illnesses where no “quality of life’ appears to exist? Isn’t it an act of mercy to help someone “die with dignity,” or escape from certain excruciating pain?

No. Even self-defense, which is the one clear-cut, morally acceptable exception is a tragedy, an act of violence caused by one who forces us to defend ourselves. Self-defense is permissible, even necessary, but it is not “OK.” Any time a human life is taken, the sanctity of life is diminished.

All life is sacred. All life is sacred. All life is sacred. All life is sacred (holy, of God).

Year after year, especially on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the tragic decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to make abortion legal throughout our nation, we repeat this fundamental article of our Christian faith. And year after year, we witness the advance of socially acceptable and legally protected violations of the sanctity of life.

Surely in this Holy Year of Mercy, we should beg God’s forgiveness for our failure to uphold the sacredness of all human life. We know that God forgives us. Can we forgive others? Indeed, can we forgive ourselves for the callous indifference to life that has come to characterize so much of our society today?

Since his election as the bishop of Rome nearly three years ago, Pope Francis has been a consistent advocate for the sanctity of life. He has urged us to throw off complacency, and become directly involved in proclaiming the joy of the Gospel.

Our Holy Father strongly affirms the pro-life teaching of our Church, but he doesn’t stop there. He urges us all to go with him to the peripheries, to the margins of society, where the poor, the outcast and the most vulnerable are huddled together. These, the “least” of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, demand our attention. Even more, Pope Francis says that they demand our protection and our watchful care.

We are called to be stewards and protectors of the gift of life, all life. The pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was a powerful witness to the sacredness of all human life as an integral part of the unity of all God’s creation.

That’s why Pope Francis’ powerful encyclical on caring for all that God has made—“Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home”—quotes the saint from Assisi who believed so profoundly that materials things, plants, animals and even the most wounded human beings (such as lepers) are all worthy of our love and respect—and our protection! St. Francis addressed everyone—and every thing—as “brother” or “sister.” He firmly believed that all creation belongs to the one family of God and, therefore, commands our love and respect as children of the same merciful Father.

“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away” (“Laudato Si’, #120).

All life is sacred. Made in the image and likeness of God, every human being regardless of his or her circumstances or state of life is deserving of dignity and respect. Made by a good and gracious God, all things visible and invisible are worthy of our protection and care.

On this anniversary of a tragic, anti-life Supreme Court decision, let’s respect and defend the sanctity of all human life. Let’s ask God for the courage to speak—and to act—as protectors of life! †

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