October is Respect Life Month, a month in which we renew and rejuvenate our efforts to protect human life from conception to natural death and promote the dignity of all persons.
Beginning with Respect Life Sunday, the weekend of Sept. 30-Oct. 1, we focus on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new annual Respect Life Program that includes such topics as assisting abortion-minded women, conscience protection, end-of-life issues and the death penalty. Our protection of human life is driven by who we are as created beings and our created purpose.
In the Book of Genesis, we hear that God “created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” It is such a profound mystery that we are created in God’s image and likeness, whether we speak of the newly conceived child who is only a few microscopic cells in size or a frail person who is terminally ill or an inmate on death row.
Each person is created out of love by God in accord with his desire that each would spend eternity in communion with him. The physical appearances of human life in this world and the actions of man throughout his life do not alter the facts about man’s creation or about God’s desire for him.
In 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued “Donum Vitae,” the instruction on respect for human life. It said: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end.”
God’s image and likeness does not reside in the labels we often apply to human life, labels that speak more of our own limitations than the wideness of God’s love. It is not unusual for us to assign the label “guilty” or “innocent” while we have no way of knowing what is truly in the heart of the one we label.
To use the idea of innocence as our only basis for protecting human life is risky at best. Once a person reaches the age of reason, innocence is arbitrary. At this point, where does one decide how innocent a life must be before it is afforded dignity and protection? All have sinned. All fall short and depend on the grace of God.
As individuals live their lives in various stages of innocence and guilt, what remains constant are the facts that everyone was created in God’s image and likeness, and God desires eternal communion with each of us. Even in our most heinous sins, God does not give up on us. He waits patiently for us to return to him in repentance. Never does he lack hope for our conversion. And in our work to uphold the dignity of every person and to protect his life, neither must we.
When God reviewed his creation on each of the preceding days, God noted that it was “good”; but with the creation of man, God “found it very good” (Gen. 1:31).
The consistent ethic of life that the church teaches and lives applies to all, from conception until death, affording each life a profound respect and working to protect each life. May we prayerfully remember, not only during Respect Life Month, that the value of each human life is not determined by innocence or guilt but rather by the inherent dignity of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God.
For information on Respect Life issues, see respectlife.arch-no.org.