By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In his brief time as the Holy Father, Pope Francis has challenged all Christians, and most especially all of us as Catholics to live the joy of the Gospel. We are called to be missionary disciples wherever we live, and in whatever circumstances. The joy of the Gospel through prayer and action during the month of October in recent decades is the promotion of the gift of human life from the first moment to the final breath. It is the Church’s insatiable quest for a more just social order.
Pope Francis reminds us in the “Joy of the Gospel:” “It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven…An authentic faith which is never complacent or completely personal, always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave the earth somehow better than when we found it.”
The call to live lovingly and justly is the heart and soul of the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures. In Psalm 85 we hear the inspired poetic words: “Loving kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”
I think that we would all agree that Pope Francis has embodied in a more apparent way the loving kindness and truth that Jesus Christ wants from the Chief Shepherd of his Church. This is nothing new; it is rather ever ancient. Saint Peter in his letter to the early Christian communities wrote, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1Peter 3:15). Remember that Saint Pope John Paul visited in prison the man who attempted to assassinate him, and embraced and forgave him. This is not restricted to the Pope; it is the call of all the baptized.
Loving kindness and truth are the streams that feed the quest for justice and peace in our society. Remembering that the sun shines on the good and the bad, the just and the unjust we bring the goodness of God to the public square even as we stand unflinchingly in the face of injustice, indifference and hostility.
The foundation of all human life is the right to life of the unborn. Where else can our quest begin, but to be the voice of those who have no voice? Medical advances and technology are drawing us deeper into the miracle of life in the womb to experience its wonderful complexity at the earliest stages.
Pope Francis in the Joy of the Gospel avows: “Among the vulnerable for whom the church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.
Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “Every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the creator of the individual.” (213)
Francis concludes this critical consideration with a complete call for justice. “On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”(213)
In the preceding section of his exhortation he refers to the grim reality that many women face, often depriving them of human dignity. “Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights. Even so, we constantly witness among them impressive examples of daily heroism in defending and protecting their vulnerable families.” (212)
Pope Francis throughout the Joy of the Gospel laments the widespread assaults on human life and dignity including the plight of the poor, the victims of war and terrorism, the horrors of human trafficking and the plundering of creation. Indeed, many Christians and people of good will are laboring to create a more just and peaceful world order, but there is much to be done. Too many, at home and abroad, are without basic education, adequate health care, clean water, and a healthful diet.
Yet in spite of all of the assaults on human life and dignity, in the power of the Lord’s cross and resurrection, we are a people of hope who know that we can cultivate the image of God in our world. We have not received a spirit of timidity, but of love, power, and discipline.
May the Lord strengthen our resolve in our thirst for a more just, humane, and compassionate society that will continually give birth to loving kindness and truth, justice and peace.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz