The month of October brings with it a number of themes, topics and prayers to be considered here in the United States, as it has been designated “Respect Life Month” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The packet that the Bishops receive, and accompanying materials, suggestions and prayers have always been helpful. However, it seems to me, what can speak the strongest in this month (or indeed at any time) is when one encounters a “living Gospel” or living example of living the theme of Respect Life: or indeed when one sees the living result of “choosing life” in a person or family. This echoes the words often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi “preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.”
This was certainly the case this year when for the second time, I celebrated the Intercession Mass for Families of Children with Disabilities, or in Spanish “Misa de Intercesión para Familias con Hijos Discapacitados.” This year was a celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of this Mass, sponsored by the Office for Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Orange and the Hispanic Consortium of Orange County. The Mass was held at the parish of St. Boniface in Anaheim, and the care, love of the families – many of them probably with financial struggles and some probably without proper documentation – had for their children (some of them adults by this time with elderly parents or aunts or uncles) was evident. Some of the children couldn’t speak or had to be restrained and have constant attention by their families. What was evident to me was how they loved their children and did not see them as a burden in any way. Many introduced them to me proudly by name and asked for pictures. I was deeply moved again this year, as was Fr. Gilberto, the pastor at St. Boniface.
These families chose to bring these children to birth, in spite of most likely, great culture and societal pressure for abortion. It was clear here that a “no” to abortion means a resounding “yes” to life, to care and to support. The witness of the families present at this Mass certainly mirror the words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (213). This is a theme that the Holy Father takes up elsewhere also when he ways that “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care for with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them 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 efforts 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 always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”
Finally, speaking of “passing whims”, these families and their children are “easy targets” for language of “compassionate choice” that the currents of the assisted suicide and right to die movements use so often these days. We always have to be very attentive and vigilant in this regard and commit ourselves to the proclamation of the inherent dignity of each and every human life. The Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation certainly does this and urges us on. Even more so, the love, faith and support of the Faith community for these families at yesterday’s Mass at St. Boniface does so even more!