For Catholics across the country and for us here in the Diocese of Orange, October marks Respect Life Month. In this month we focus in a particular way to “understand and value the gift of human life and help build a culture that cherishes and protects it.”
You can find some resources on our Diocesan Respect Life Month page (rcbo.org/life-justice-peace/respect-life-month) and opportunities provided through the Life, Justice, and Peace Office (rcbo.org/lifejusticepeace), which you are welcome to follow as well on social media.
Close to my heart, I would like to invite you personally to participate in your parish’s Walking with Moms Collection (formerly Pennies from Heaven) or give online at rcbo.org/walking-with-moms, to support women, children, and families in crisis. They work with a whole network of resources in Orange County.
“Respect Life” is sometimes presumed to have a “single-issue” focus, misunderstood because of how particular ministry focus areas might be named (that’s why we encourage “Life, Justice, and Peace” teams with different focal areas within wherever possible). Moreover, in our deeply polarized and politicized culture at times our radically Catholic concern for the life and dignity of every person and care for all creation can be pigeon-holed or even co-opted for partisan ends. This compromises our Gospel witness and is a temptation we ought to resist.
I love the way Archbishop Jose Gomez challenges this temptation by reminding us: “There are no single-issue saints.” Our Bishop Kevin Vann, in the context of assisted suicide and on several other occasions, has reminded us that although “our teaching is often characterized as a list of ‘no’s’,” in reality it is a robust “yes to the dignity and worth of each human life, a yes to the mission of each one of us to be alert for and support families…a yes to pray for and with those in need.”
Where do we start to address the violence and conflicts among us here in the U.S., from the trauma stemming from the effects of historical wrongs going back to the nation’s founding against indigenous peoples and enslaved persons, to the contemporary, seemingly intractable debates over life, dignity and death that divide communities, parishes, families?
We begin with God. Before the foundation of the world, the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, simply is. And this perfect love, truth, goodness, beauty, trust, joy, difference in unity, communication, perfect relation, is our origin and is God’s intention for us in creating the world. We, each of us, and all that is, are utterly gift, coming from and made for God. So, what went wrong? Tragically, humanity rejected God and sin and death entered the world. One way to understand the tragedy of humanity’s rejection of God and the presence of sin in human history is how we struggle to see our creation and destiny in God as a gift and instead we see God and we see one another as threats. Instead of celebrating the incredible diversity and beauty of God’s creation and honoring one another, we compete and reject and dominate and get into power struggles. Instead of being a source of enrichment and blessing, diversity becomes an object of wounding. Instead of seeing an unborn child, or a struggling pregnant woman, or someone from another ethnic or racial group from our own, or someone who is currently unhoused, or a person living with a terminal illness as a gift, a person in whom we can encounter the living God and know the blessing of solidarity, communion and interdependence, we see a threat. Instead of participation in the very abundance of God, life becomes a zero-sum game.
Over the past few years, we witnessed what should be the most obvious of affirmations became a source of complete controversy: that “Black lives matter.”
We might point similarly to any other number of polarizing divisions in our politics – right now in California we face Proposition 1 which would enshrine the most extreme, unlimited and unmitigated right to abortion into the state constitution and a broad coalition of concerned citizens, organizations and our bishops are asking us to prayerfully vote No On Prop 1 (cacatholic.org/prop1).
Jesus, the Word and Son of God through whom all things are made, bears not only our sin but also our wounds.
And together, starting with the Body of Christ, we – each of us – face the challenge of bringing our own wounds to the foot of the cross and inviting God to heal them.
When it comes to prenatal justice, or women’s justice, or racial justice, or climate justice, or justice for persons struggling with homelessness or domestic violence or gun violence, or those at the end of life, we will struggle to truly see one another and know what it means to live with respect for one another’s lives, if we do not know our origins and our destiny in God. As we partake of Jesus’s own Body in this Sunday’s Eucharist, may we bring our sin and our wounds to Jesus and ask for the reconciliation that we need: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”
Greg Walgenbach is Director of the Office of Life, Justice, and Peace; and the Mission Office for the Diocese of Orange.