I had the privilege very recently of celebrating Mass at St. Anne Church in Rochester to commemorate a decade of the Project Rachel ministry in our diocese. Father James Hewes, who has led the program these past 10 years, and many of our brother priests and deacons, joined me at the altar. The national founder of the program, Vickie Thorn, also was present at the Mass.
The beautiful liturgy celebrated the healing nature of the Project Rachel ministry, which reaches out to women and men whose lives have been hurt by abortion. Hundreds of people — mothers, fathers, grandparents, all those who have some way been involved in the future of a child whose life was sadly ended between the time of conception and birth — have experienced the unfathomable love of our Risen Lord through this ministry. Leaders and volunteers from Birthright and the Women’s Care Center who work closely with our Pledge for Life program also were present.
The late-September Mass, at which I was able to spend some time with many people who have worked tirelessly in our diocese to nurture life in all its aspects, also reminded me that October is Respect Life Month. I encourage each of you this month and beyond to make a point of learning more about the teachings of the church on life.
What is that belief?
“We proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in 2001. “That each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self, and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. These beliefs flow from ordinary reason and from our faith’s constant witness that ‘life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception’ — a teaching that has been a constant part of the Christian message since the apostolic age.”
This belief that all life is precious and must be upheld, protected and affirmed is what we call the consistent life ethic. This ethic invites us not only to prayer, but also to action. It calls us to protect life that is threatened by forces we oppose: abortion, the death penalty, economic injustice, euthanasia, violence and war.
The consistent life ethic calls us to hold up what Pope John Paul II termed a “culture of life,” one that seeks always to build a society that affirms and defends life from conception to death through education, personal service and public advocacy.
As Catholics and disciples of Jesus Christ, we must treat all people with dignity and respect because, as a gift from God, all life is sacred. We are called to defend all people, especially those who are powerless and marginalized — and certainly the most powerless of all, the unborn.
We also accept the challenge that we must work to encourage our lawmakers, on both the state and federal levels, to pass laws that protect life. For example, the church, including thousands of people in our own diocese, has been a consistent advocate for an end to the death penalty; for the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion; for peaceful, non-military means to settle the world’s conflicts; and against stem-cell research involving human embryos.
Yet our work is far from done.
For example, the number of induced abortions in recent years is tragic. New York state reports that in the year 2004, more than 5,200 abortions were performed in the 12-county area of our diocese alone; more than 100 nascent human beings are lost to abortion every week. Of all women having abortions in New York state, the number of women who have had at least one previous abortion — and some as many as five previous abortions — has reached 52 percent. All of us — parents, grandparents, clergy, catechists, teachers — must continue to educate our children about abstinence, that sexual activity is reserved for the sacrament of marriage, that human life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong.
We must somehow, in this age of the Internet, cable TV and other forms of popular entertainment, work to thwart the coarsening of attitudes about sexuality, the random violence and destruction of human life that abounds on TV and in movies and which cheapens life. We must work for peace in Iraq and to bring our troops home.
At the Mass to celebrate Project Rachel’s anniversary, I was struck by the commitment and energy so many good and generous people give to this cause. It was encouraging to see familiar faces from Rochester Area Right to Life, the Knights of Columbus and the Diocesan Public Policy Committee, all of whom work so very hard to promote legislation and policies that support the consistent life ethic.
These good people are helping to nurture a culture of life. If you are willing and able, please join in this work of love.
Peace to all.