Greetings to all during this October Respect Life Month, which carries the theme “Every Life is Worth Living.” From the child in the womb to those facing their last days of life, each and every one of us is called to the joy of the Gospel, invited to life in the family of God. Family is so important. I have shared about the foundation I received in my family, my mother a nurse and my father a postal worker. From their work to the faith and love that was passed along to me, I knew life to be a precious gift. We also are called to love and service in the greater family of God. The month’s theme brings to mind the great preacher and teacher of faith in the years when I was growing up, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, and his series entitled “Life is Worth Living.”
There are so many ways that we celebrate life and work to protect it. There are times when we need to act together in a concerted way as the Church with other advocates, such as we have done and will continue to do in the face of assisted suicide legislation in California. We have supported efforts to ban late-term abortions and to redirect funds from Planned Parenthood to community health centers, where many of our people work to help foster a culture of life and offer alternatives to the efforts of Planned Parenthood, the worst of which we have witnessed in these past months. These efforts in our centers are heroic and endless and are essential, and I ask for your continuing support. We advocate directly where interventions are necessary in a coordinated way. Working through the Catholic Legislative Network (cacatholic.org) or the USCCB (cqrcengage.com/catholicbishops/home) we contact our legislators on important areas of advocacy for life and dignity ranging from abortion, to the death penalty, to homelessness, to immigration, to religious liberty, to end-of-life issues.
I encourage you to connect with your parish ministries and our diocesan Respect Life ministry through the Office of Life, Justice and Peace (rcbo.org/lifejusticepeace) and get involved in the many activities that are available. While there is a time and a place for protest and outrage, these can become a distraction when overused or can even begin to cause a sort of spiritual amnesia or myopia. What we are in need of at this moment is a whole-scale engagement in powerful practices that witness to life. In responding to the tragic reality of abortion, for example, these include the peaceful prayer vigils of 40 Days for Life (and throughout the year), training of Sidewalk Advocates, actively supporting our network of pregnancy centers, shelters and clinics (the Pennies from Heaven campaign (rcbo.org/penniesfromheaven) is a great way to do this!), advocating for nonviolent, life-affirming choices in medical care and developing relationships with legislators around the full range of our Catholic social issues. By supporting these important ventures through the Diocese of Orange, we together give a powerful and ecclesial witness to the sacredness of life. Together we give a powerful witness to life that is much more effective than scattered efforts. Being “one” with the local Church and our brothers and sisters who minister with us is a source of blessing and support.
However, there is another significant set of practices that bring light into the world’s darkness. I see these practices every day when I am out in the community. I see families welcoming children into their lives. I see individuals, families and communities caring for kids and adults with disabilities. I see parishes working to welcome single mothers and provide child care. I see parishes with pastoral care initiatives for the homebound and sick, for those who are terminally ill and approaching the end of life. Having just spoken at the Gathering on Mental Health and The Church, I think of parishes like St. John Neumann, recognized recently for its mental health ministry, and other parish groups with ministries of domestic violence awareness and response. I was recently able to visit Juvenile Hall and was struck by the crucial role of restorative justice to healing and preventing violence. In other words, all of these are the pastoral practices that comprise our social mission, our holistic witness of love to those in need around us. This is all pro-life work! In this sometimes dark and violent world, where the practices of euthanasia and abortion hearken unfortunately back to the totalitarian times around the Second World War, your witness and courage , as a part of the life of the Body of Christ, is needed more than ever.
Living a respect for life every day is living the human encounter. Every life is worth living and every person we meet has an inherent dignity. Will we welcome them? Will we welcome life? Pope Francis spoke these words to Congress about the refugee crisis, but they apply to all those in various degrees of crisis and need that come across our path:
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Mt 7:12).
God bless you in these days, as together we go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
– The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange