January 21, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Life is a gift from God to be cherished, defended

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 22, is a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children observed by dioceses throughout the United States “as a particular day of prayer for the full-restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for ­violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of ­abortion” (Lectionary: 516A). These two objectives—restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and penance for acts violating human dignity—both spring from a single conviction: Life is sacred. It is a gift from God that must be cherished and defended.

Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and, so, must be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. This is true from the moment of conception until the time of natural death. No one has the right to violate the sanctity of human life. No one is free to decide that an individual person’s life is unnecessary or that a group of people are inferior or subhuman and, therefore, expendable.

The inviolability of human life is a fundamental moral principle recognized by nearly all societies and religions, but sins against human life and dignity are as old as humanity itself. (See the story of Cain and Abel in Gen 4:1-16).

Human sinfulness requires that we protect the dignity of human life by every means available to us, including the legal guarantee of the right to life. And when these legal guarantees are abrogated, as in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal, the law of God inscribed in human hearts must supersede civil laws and be observed regardless of the consequences. Life is sacred. No civil authority has the right to devalue or destroy human persons made in God’s image.

The Day of Prayer we will observe tomorrow calls us to ask the Lord of Life, his Blessed Mother, and all the angels, saints and martyrs to join us in working to change existing laws that permit (even encourage) violations against human life and dignity.

Abortion is a particularly serious violation because the persons involved are totally vulnerable and dependent on others for their defense. The elderly and infirm (mentally and physically) are also especially vulnerable and, therefore, deserving of special protection. Even criminals convicted of heinous crimes need to be recognized as worthy of human life and dignity. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2267.)

Finally, history shows that people on the margins of society are too easily regarded as unworthy of the legal guarantees that make life worth living. Those who are seen to be different from us are often mistreated; they are denied the rights and opportunities that should be guaranteed because of their fundamental human dignity as children of God, the sisters and brothers of all.

Tomorrow’s Day of Prayer is also a call to action. The penance that we are called to do—fasting, self-denial, reparations for past sins—should help to raise awareness about the seriousness of human life issues, and it should actively promote changes of mind and heart as well as legal and policy changes at all levels of our government.

Respect for human life and dignity calls us to love all our brothers and sisters and to extend basic courtesy toward everyone.

As Pope Francis frequently reminds us, gossip is a violation of someone’s human dignity. Racism, sexism, nativism and homophobia are also sins against human dignity. Anytime we look down on others with indifference or contempt, we violate their dignity as persons made in the image and likeness of God.

As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ traveling together on a journey to our heavenly homeland, we are called to be active, not passive, in our defense of human life. This means that we must be vocal in our opposition to unjust laws and social policies. It means that we should vote our consciences, and we should work to see that the right to life is truly guaranteed by our laws and by the way we treat one another as citizens and fellow human beings.

Let’s pray for a conversion of mind and heart that begins with each of us and extends to other people in our families, our neighborhoods, our state and our country. Life is a beautiful gift from God that we are called to cherish and defend. By respecting one another, by listening to one another (especially those who disagree with us), and by working to build a more just, compassionate and dignified world, we can help to guarantee the right to life and, at the same time, do penance for past violations against vulnerable persons caused by abortion and other serious sins against human life. †

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