The Catholic Church honors October as “Respect Life Month,” in which we are called to “cherish, defend and protect those who are most vulnerable, from the beginning of life to its end, and at every point in between.” As Catholics, we believe each of us has inherent dignity. The first chapters of Genesis describe God creating the entire world, including humans. After each creation, we read: “and it was good.” We are inherently good because we were created by a good and loving God. Jesus also revealed for us the profound dignity of every human person in taking on human flesh himself, in dwelling among us and in sacrificing his life for us. Clearly “respecting life” is not only something we should think about in October, but this seems to be the underlying theme of everything we believe as Catholics!
I grew up and am still closely involved in the life of my uncle, Art, who has gone through life with various developmental disabilities and suffered from mental illness. Art is funny, empathetic, loves music and he’s the king of trivia when it comes to actors and musicians. He’s also extremely difficult, temperamental, paranoid and often the cause of much stress and anxiety within our family. Yet as a 63 year old man who’s been in and out of group homes and never held a job for more than a few months, he continues to share stories with us each week at family dinner about getting married and having his own family, becoming a famous writer and actor, or opening up his own nightclub. My uncle isn’t what anyone would consider “successful” or a productive member of society and he most likely won’t accomplish any of these goals he talks about. Yet, for those of us that know him and love him, we see his inherent dignity, as a human being and as a child of God.
Respecting life is a broad challenge. It means we welcome the outsider, ensure the poor have the necessities of life, provide support to those suffering from mental illness, stand up against racism, accept those who are different from us, support victims of trafficking or violence, say the immigrant life has value, honor the lives of those with different abilities, show mercy and compassion to those who have done wrong, protect the environment that supports all life… and the list goes on and on!
This October, let’s take this opportunity to reflect on those life issues that are near and dear to our own hearts. And let’s also accept the challenge to broaden our view of respecting life. Where do you notice the dignity of life not being honored with love and compassion? Is there something you can do to help? God invites us this month, and every day of our lives, to view each and every life as sacred and holy, just as he does.