American Catholics mark October each year as “Respect Life Month.” Reverence for the sanctity of the human person rightly starts with a defense of the unborn child, for if it didn’t, then all the other pro-life arguments would have no real foundation and would be severely weakened. The right to life is foundational; without it, all other rights and all other discussions of justice and human dignity would be built on sand. No other issue or combination of issues can eclipse the priority of the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death. But, we must recall the teachings of the three last popes about being truly “prolife.” It involves a great deal more than just working to end obvious evils like abortion and euthanasia. The poor, the infirm, the disabled and the strangers among us also have a claim on our Christian discipleship.
In the United States we live at a time of intense confusion and debate about many human issues. High among these is the polarizing issue of immigration. As one of many pressing national issues, this one too often gets stalled in controversial arguments. This can obscure the personal suffering of otherwise innocent deportees with no criminal record.
Also, millions of persons have been dislocated in recent years by war and poverty, and they’re on the move globally. Though wealthy nations have a definite right to secure their borders and protect their citizens and societies, do they not also have a grave duty to help and to welcome immigrants as generously as possible? That was the scenario that originally helped make our nation #1.
Calling on all Christians to live out the full scope of the Gospel message, Pope Francis has asked us to be sensitive people of good will regarding today’s migrant crisis. As individuals, as parishes, as dioceses with our charitable organizations, and as strong nations, he begs us to reach out to assist immigrants and refugees in their need. More than a century ago, many numerous charitable organizations were called upon to welcome the immigrant from Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, France, Poland and other European countries that flooded Ellis Island and more ports of call. Some of them answered swiftly, while others soft-pedaled the crisis of that era and ignored the teeming masses waiting to be free from all kinds of oppression, whether it was economic, political, or religious.
This was vital work, and it’s going on right now despite the equally serious needs that have beset our land due to fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and the like. But the effort is just beginning, and a good, simple place to start in understanding the Church’s approach to the migrant crisis is “Welcoming the Refugee and Migrant,” an excellent pamphlet, nicely produced by Catholic News Service and available from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at www.usccb.org.
Additionally, we need to become more aware of several subtle attacks that threaten our ability to live out our Faith as guaranteed in our nation’s Constitution. This has happened in the last eight years under the Obama administration, and shows just how ugly the situation can become, especially when one of the communities that best embody the full, Catholic approach to the “respect life” cause was challenged. The Little Sisters of the Poor are extraordinary religious women who dedicate their lives, not surprisingly, to serving the aged and the poor. They’re a blessing to all and a threat to no one – unless you’re a federal agency determined to impose an unneeded and vindictive contraceptive coverage mandate on nearly all U.S. businesses and non-profits as part of the nation’s health plans. A sassy Wall Street Journal editorial of support for the nuns, titled “Little Sisters of the Government,” helped bring the fight to light. The battle over the federal mandate, with resistance led, in part, by the Little Sisters of the Poor, consumed massive amounts of time and resources for the past several years. Fortunately, there’s been a welcome change in attitude now, for recently (on October 6th, to be precise), the Department of Health and Human Services, at the White House’s direction, issued interim rules that will finally allow the moral and religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate that the nuns have fought all along on the grounds of their Catholic beliefs. While this is good news, the struggle isn’t over, for the matter is still in the court system; and abortion-friendly (so-called) “progressive” groups have already filed lawsuits to challenge any easing of the mandate.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in yet another editorial (this one on October 9th)“A Nun’s Right to Choose”: “That so many resources in government and so much litigation are necessary to allow nuns to practice their faith is a testament to the toxic identity politics that corrodes American life.”
The moral of the story: Respect for human life comes in all forms of witness and all kinds of challenges that motivate us to respond as Catholics, following true Catholic teaching. That’s one of the glories of living and loving our Catholic faith!