The materials received at your parish for this year’s Respect Life Month include a poster. It is a collage of images of love in action. An elderly woman receives nourishment from the caring hands of a younger man. A baby with obvious extraordinary needs is cuddled by someone who looks very much like his brother. A woman religious is sharing the enthusiasm of a young child in a classroom setting. All of these pictures surround a monstrance holding the consecrated host.
How fitting it is that the bread of life, Jesus Christ with us, is central to these pictures of caring that are acts of love. Every day in our diocese, thousands of people engage in work that affirms the dignity of each human being at work and at home. I think of the staff at St. Ann’s Home and other facilities who give gentle care to our parents and grandparents when their needs are more then can be met in a home setting. I think of the pregnancy centers such as Women’s Care Center that tend to mothers who often do not have a husband or a family to turn to when they become pregnant. The emotional, material and spiritual support given to mothers allows them to celebrate the birth of their child. I think of a young man I see at church whose spirit is allowed to shine through the problematic body with which he must contend, because of the graceful assistance of his parents and sisters.
While not all those who perform such good works are Catholic, it is good to know that our church has a 2,000-year history of doing unto the least of our brothers and sisters that which we would do for Jesus Christ. In worship we remember that God, who is the creator of us all, is with us. Participating in the Eucharist strengthens us in ways that allow us to care for others. When we gather as the Body of Christ, we remember to love one another as God loves us. So it is not really surprising that we bring values such as respect for the dignity of every human life to our homes, schools, workplaces and government.
Voices of values that emanate from Catholicism help shape policies that encourage respect for life from the moment of conception; that insist that workers are paid fair wages; that promote the stability of the family; and which do not permit killing a person, even when someone is disabled or dying. Grounded in Catholic social teaching, these values have proven to be the foundation of a civil society that flourishes as its citizens grow and prosper, all the while respecting separation of church and state and freedom of religion.
If one listens to public discourse carefully today, however, it is apparent that there are movements that are contrarian, if not hostile to Catholicism and the values it brings forth. Laws that govern the funding and delivery of services in the fields of health care, social work, education and family life are proposed that either exclude or cause Catholic institutions and practitioners to excuse themselves from delivering services. It is becoming increasingly permissible to be dismissive of individuals bringing ideas and practices to the public square that are founded in faith. Health care, family life and education are three areas where we must insist that Catholic voices are heard. We need to insist that the pluralistic nature of our nation gives us a place at the table with policy makers.
During his state visit to Scotland and England last month, Pope Benedict XVI made an interesting statement. He said, "As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society." Let us do all that we can as Catholic individuals, families and members of the greater church to include our values in our society.
Armantrout is life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester.