By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
The fundamental truth of our faith in Jesus Christ was proclaimed in last Sunday’s first reading with the creation story from Genesis, so fitting to begin Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church throughout the United States.
From the encyclical Evangelii Vitae (The Gospel of Life) of St. John Paul II we read that God made the human person with the capacity to love and reason, and to live in relationship with the Creator. The human person, male and female, bears an indelible imprint of God, made in God’s image and likeness, the foundation of all human dignity. However, the struggle to elevate the dignity of human life over and against a culture of death, decried in Evangelii Vitae, requires courage and compassion, perseverance and encouragement. To proclaim Jesus is to proclaim life itself.
Evangelii Vitae encourages a spirit of mission because gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of the human person impel us to bring the Gospel of life to the hearts of all people and make it penetrate every part of society. We are therefore called to reverence and love every human person, loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is our privilege and responsibility to care for and protect human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
At the outset of Respect Life Month we rightly direct our gaze to the foundation of life, the wellbeing of the unborn. During this year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis has brought the beloved patron of the Universal Church to the forefront as a model for righteous living. In his splendid pastoral letter, Patris Corde, (With a Father’s Heart) we hear the pope’s encouragement. Each of us can find in him “an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.” (PC, Intro)
Joseph shows us how to say “yes” to life, despite our own fears, frailties and weaknesses. For it is Joseph who was chosen by God to guide the beginnings of the history of redemption. He was the true ‘miracle’ by which God saves the child and his mother.” (PC 5) The infant Christ “came into our world in a state of great vulnerability. He needed to be defended, protected, cared for and raised by Joseph.” (PC 5)
The humble and often hidden carpenter of Nazareth accompanied Mary in her pregnancy, assisted at the birth of the Messiah in a stable, presented Jesus in the Temple, fled with his family far from their homeland to protect them, and lovingly raised Jesus as his own son in the years to come. May we, too, be miracles in the lives of those who are most in need, especially at the beginning and end of life.
Dear St. Joseph, you who were “able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence” (PC 5), help us to imitate your faithful trust and courage.”
Prayer, outreach in ministry, and advocacy on behalf of mothers and their unborn children is not only the work of the church. For example, our diocese has had a strong partnership with the State of Mississippi through our Born Free, New Beginnings program for nearly 30 years.
Catholic Charities is the guardian of this ministry which is snugly housed at the former Norbertine Priory. The promotion of life, justice and peace is well grounded in our Catholic Social teachings, but this world-view is embraced by many who belong to other faith traditions, or by those with no religious ties. Respect Life Month serves to highlight the labor of love that occurs on behalf of the unborn throughout the year.
Advocacy on behalf of the unborn will occur at the highest judicial level on Dec. 1, less than two months out, when our State’s Attorney General, Lynn Fitch, will argue the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization before the Supreme Court. It is commonly referred to as the fetal heartbeat bill that could have landmark consequences. It is a substantial document, but one that is largely readable.
Grounded in our nation’s legal tradition and rule of law it fundamentally seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood and return this life issue back to the 50 states. “The Court should hold that the Act (Bill) is constitutional because it satisfies rational basis review.” Or, it is reasonable because it seeks to provide greater protection for the unborn, and authentic concern for women, and to restore integrity to the medical profession whose fundamental standard is to do no harm.
The fetal heartbeat bill is a serious step to advance protection for the unborn. Underlying all of its rationale is a profound respect for life, from the outset to the end. This vision of human life requires an ongoing conversion toward all that is true, good and beautiful about God’s creation, most notably, all of us created in the divine image. We all have had and will have our St. Joseph moments compelling us to dig deeper to discern, decide and act on behalf of life. We give thanks to all who labor on behalf of the unborn and their mothers, and for all who labor on behalf of human dignity throughout life, seeking greater justice and peace at every step on the journey.