My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Once again we are celebrating Respect Life Month together with all our brothers and sisters throughout the church in the United States and beyond, who are invoking the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide our country and our world in upholding the right to life of every person. For so many years now, I have given homilies and written articles on this subject. And yet, the attacks against human life continue and, in some cases, greatly have escalated. Violence, anger, hatred, prejudices and terrorist attacks are now among the many threats to human existence. Naturally, it can cause one to grow weary. But then I reflect back upon the many marches for life I have attended in Washington, D.C., and I recall experiencing a new generation of young people joining an older generation in raising voices for the protection of the sanctity of all human life. These sisters and brothers have not grown weary. I think of the many pro-life efforts in our diocese and the faithful’s outreach to people in crisis. So, indeed, I am encouraged, and I continue to march with you in proclaiming that every person is made in the image and likeness of God.
At this moment, our nation continues to seek solutions and to develop critical legislation to provide adequate and affordable health care for all people. This is a vital life issue that calls upon legislators to work cooperatively to enact just and equitable laws that truly defend one’s inalienable right to life. Several years ago, Cardinal Francis George, of beloved memory, as archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed these words to nation’s legislators: “…health care legislation, with all its political, technical and economic aspects, is about human beings and hence has serious moral dimensions. Our focus is on the reality of families with children, the poor and the elderly, the mother carrying a child in her womb, those with limited or no means of access to doctors… We will continue to raise our voices in public and in prayer; we ask our people to join us in making the moral case for genuine health care reform that protects the life, dignity and consciences and health of all” (statement of Nov. 17, 2009). Throughout the years, the Catholic Church has remained consistent in this position, as it has remained consistent in proclaiming the culture of life.
Building upon St. John Paul II’s theme of creating a culture of life, Benedict XVI, in his address to those gathered for World Youth Day in 2008, emphasized: “Do we recognize that the innate dignity of every individual rests on his or her deepest identity – as image of the Creator – and therefore that human rights are universal, based on the natural law, and not something dependent upon negotiation or patronage, let alone compromise? And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?” (Pope Benedict XVI, Welcome Celebration by the Young People at Barangaroo, Sydney, Australia, July 17, 2008). Pope Francis continues this same message: “Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development” (Laudato Sí, No. 157).
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul provided wisdom and sound counsel on how to advance the Gospel of Life. Paul advised that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). The gift of human life embraces all of this and brings to culmination all of creation: Human life is a true gift of God of the highest honor, beautiful beyond comparison, worthy of all glory and praise, ever to be upheld and protected!
In accepting and reverencing the gift of life from the very moment of conception until natural death, we accept and reverence Jesus Himself. In confronting opposition to the pro-life movement, one must recall that while Calvary stands as the rejection of Christ, it became the source of our salvation for all who later would follow Jesus and some, through martyrdom like our patron, St. John Fisher, would ascend to their own Calvary and merit eternal salvation. If our message is rejected, we continue in charity and in faith to imitate Jesus and continue to proclaim that all life is sacred. On that via crucis, from the blood of the Lamb that drenched its soil, hope was born, a culture of death was transformed into a culture of life. Through the Savior’s sacrificial love, a frightened, overwhelmed young mother becomes the new Elizabeth, and the child in her womb leaps for joy; through Jesus, the sick, the outcast, the foreigner, the refugee, the forgotten and the lost see even here on earth a glimpse of eternity and echo “into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” In Jesus, those who have become physically weak become internally strong and know their lives are precious, hardly a burden to society!
In this month of October dedicated to sustaining the precious character of every human life, we are encouraged by gazing upon the One Who conquered death. “Reflecting on the healed wounds of the Risen Christ, we see that even in our most difficult trials can be the place where God manifests His victory. He makes all things beautiful. He makes all things new. He is always with us. Jesus promised this when He gave the disciples the same mission He gives to each of us: Go” (USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Resource Information, October 2017). Let us go in charity to those who look to us to bring Jesus, beginning in our families, then our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, wherever a child of God is suffering, alone or abandoned. “Walk with each other. Do not be afraid to embrace God’s gift of life. Whatever storms or trials we face, we are not alone. He is with us” (Ibid.).
In this Year of the Eucharist, let us incorporate in our parishes, schools, charitable institutions and outreach programs our church’s teaching on the gift of life: “Since entering into the communion of the Eucharist brings us into closer conformity to Christ, we should be filled with a truly Christ-like love for our neighbor that takes us beyond a narrow concern for ourselves and moves us to promote the common good and to uphold the human dignity of every person.” (USCCB, Happy are Those Who are Called to his Supper, Washington, D.C., 2006, p. 5).
Invoking the intercession of our Mother, Mary, St. John Fisher, our Patron, and asking the Lord’s blessings upon all who pray and work for life, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester