By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
In 2022 the Catholic Church will mark the 50th anniversary of Respect Life Month in the United States, one year before the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade that continues to cast a shadow over our land and consciences.
The roots for a more formal commemoration of respect for life in the modern world are found in the writings of the Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, provided a Gospel rationale for what would emerge in the decades to follow as the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
“While the Church helps the world and she receives much from the world, she has one object in view; the coming of God’s Kingdom and the salvation of the whole human race. As she pursues this appointed goal of bringing salvation to all, the church not only communicates the divine life to mankind but also in some measure reflects the light of that life over the whole world. She does this especially through her work of restoring and enhancing the dignity of the human person, of strengthening the fabric of human society, and enriching the daily activity of men and women with a deeper meaning and importance. The church believes that in this way she can make a great contribution toward bringing a greater humanity to the family of humankind and to its history.”
In this marvelous section from Gaudium et Spes that translates as joy and hope, we are inspired to keep our eyes on the goal of eternal life, but never aloof from the world where we work out our salvation.
The dignity of the human person, and the fabric of human society are part and parcel of the Kingdom of God and the mission of the church. This is ardently stated in the opening lines of Gaudium et Spes. “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way are afflicted are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ.”
Catholic Social Teaching builds upon this vision of human life, daily activity and our ultimate destiny with the principles of solidarity and the common good that promote family life, gainful employment, along with the essentials for dignified living: food, water, health care, education, housing and safety, in the context of sustainability for God’s creation.
St. Joseph as previously reflected upon is an exemplary model of one who accepts the lives of mother and child. Let us return to St. Joseph and the Holy Family to understand the some of the struggles that plague the human family today and are in need of redemption.
From the outset his “Yes” to God’s will and the gift of life was beset with trouble. A taxing journey was undertaken from northern Israel to Bethlehem in the south with Mary about to give birth with every bounce along the way atop a beast of burden. The disheartening lack of lodging awaited them.
Yet, their resiliency became apparent in their utilization of the stable to bring the Son of God to the light of day. We are not even certain if they had the time to register in the census decreed by Caesar Augustus, because after a brief respite they were on the run to avoid the murderous venom of King Herod. The sacred scriptures tell us that Joseph and Mary with their newborn spent two years in Egypt before they could return to their beloved homeland and begin to build a life of stability in Nazareth for the only begotten Son of God.
Their early years together offer us direction for our Catholic faith and modern world. As a married couple they had a deep trust and respect for each other, a solid foundation to overcome hardship and hate. They had a living faith in their loving God, evident in their capacity to follow the promptings of their better angles to accept God’s will, one another, and the urgency of the moment. Yet, with all of their personal and relational strengths, in their vulnerability they had to rely on some in Egypt who welcomed the stranger and gave them a foothold for survival.
There are a whole host of people on the move in our world today for reasons that parallel those of the Holy Family. Migrants, immigrants and refugees are often stripped of everything except for the clothes on their back. Many have demonstrated remarkable resiliency and have survived. But in their vulnerability, there is always the need for Good Samaritans to accompany them and get them back on their feet.
Extending the reality of vulnerability, we give thanks during this month’s respect life commemoration to all who accompany and serve those who are on the brink of folding. The reasons can be legion, but the goal is the restoration of human dignity, the strengthening of the fabric of human society, and building a more humane world. This is the mindset that is befitting of disciples of the Lord Jesus in service of all of God’s children.