Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The sacred right to life"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

October brings with it the crisp air of autumn. Leaves are turning and falling. Sunrise is often filtered through thick fog and mist. October means we can no longer kid ourselves: Summer has once again drawn to a close.

For Catholics, October means a number of month-long observances. We pay special attention to vocations during the month of October, especially vocations to priesthood and Religious life.

Traditionally, October is a month dedicated to the rosary. Interest in the Mother of God seems to have been on the rise the last year or so. Besides Catholic devotion and discussions, a number of Protestant authors also have found inspiration in pondering the life of Mary.

In 1972, the United States Catholic bishops began their Respect Life Program, focused on Respect Life Sunday, designated as the first Sunday in October – this year, the weekend of Oct. 6-7. Information, education, prayer, and public awareness all form parts of this effort to spread the Church’s consistent teaching: Human life is sacred.

The Catholic Church is recognized throughout the world for our consistent teaching about the right to life, a right that is sacred because it is grounded in the fact that each unique human life is a precious, irreplaceable gift from God. Whatever the advances of science, of analysis, of philosophy, the central fact remains that the creation of life is an act filled with mystery. God allows human beings a glimpse of the power and the responsibility that ultimately is his alone.

Just as each human being is unique, irreplaceable, precious in the eyes of God, so we must see each person in the same way – through God’s eyes, not through the eyes of humanity, or through the influences and voices that would happily convince us that we are of no greater importance than a blade of grass.

We live in a culture that does so much to promote the common good. The Church’s charitable arms reach out to those who have wandered, or been pushed, to the farthest margins of society: the poor, the mentally ill, the physically challenged, the stranger who has been driven from our door. I think of Catholic Charities’ many agencies and organizations: the House of Charity, ministering to the street people of Spokane; Childbirth and Parenting Alone, encouraging and enabling young single parents to make a personal choice in favor of bringing new life into the world; assistance for new immigrants. I think of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, with its network of assistance to the poor throughout Eastern Washington. The work of the Washington State Catholic Conference, which lobbies the state legislature on issues of concern to the Church.

The sacred right to life is perhaps most often identified by the Church’s opposition to abortion. Certainly, that issue is emotional and potentially polarizing. There is no doubt in my mind but that abortion is a primary issue of social justice in our nation. Our teaching requires us to be advocates for the poorest of the poor, for those most defenseless, for those most vulnerable. Who more so than human beings in the womb?

But our social justice teaching also insists that we advocate for all human beings in need: for the poor, too often oppressed by economic and societal factors over which they have no control. For the immigrants, like my father, who come to this country with a desire to work, to build a life for themselves and their families, to contribute to our communities. For the sick, caught up in – and sometimes rejected by – a system of health care that can be almost impossible to navigate. For the prisoners, walled away from and punished by a society more influenced by fear than by compassionate reform of a sinner.

Is our work cut out for us? Yes, during October, and throughout the year. There are so very many ways to be vulnerable, to be poor, in our world today. Our Lord reminded us that the poor would always be with us. He did not give us those words to discourage us. Rather, it was a reminder of the centrality of our mission. “Love God,” he told us, “love neighbor.” By respecting all of human life, from conception to natural death, we live out our dedication to doing his will – during October, and throughout the year.

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