Building a Culture of Life in the Year of Mercy
In the first book of Scripture, we read how God selflessly shared of himself so we could have the privilege of enjoying paradise. Only God has the vast imagination to create with uniqueness, pouring selfless love into each stroke of his masterpiece.
God made the crown jewel of creation — the human person — in his own image and likeness (Gen 1:26)! As descendants of Adam and Eve, we each share in the gift of life bestowed upon us when God (with our parents as co-creators) breathed life into our soul.
As part of my summer reading, I ventured into Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si. The Holy Father encourages us to take responsibility for all God has created — for all of life. Above all, though, we must remember to uplift the dignity of each human person, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Pope St. John Paul II coined the term “Culture of Life” during his visit to the United States in 1993. He encouraged a deeper appreciation and respect for all human life from conception to natural death. As the saint of our day, John Paul condemned the Culture of Death, a term that needs no explanation. All we have to do is watch or read the news for a litany of vile and violent acts. However, as Catholic Christians, we have a responsibility, not an option, to reject death and promote life. It’s with this spirit that we celebrate Respect Life Month each October — a time to focus on our individual call as disciples to build a Culture of Life. Here are a few suggestions:
The power of prayer can never be underestimated. When it comes to matters of life, we must pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). As people of hope, we must guard against burnout in prayer. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, known for her Little Way, said: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven.” Pray from the heart for a greater respect for life at all stages — from conception to natural death. Pray from the heart for those who, at this very moment, are considering an offense towards life through abortion or another violent action. Pray from the heart for those who have been affected by poor decisions in the past, that the mercy of God will embrace them and bring about sincere conversion. Please consider setting aside a day of the week or month to offer a Holy Hour for life. Perhaps you can make an extra effort to attend Mass on First Friday and offer your time and sacrifice in thanksgiving for life?
We build a Culture of Life through advocacy and education. We must be a voice for those in our world whose voices aren’t heard because no one is listening. Are you inspired to march at a local abortion clinic or prison where an execution is about to occur? If not, your silent witness of prayer while sitting on the curb may also be effective. Perhaps you are inspired to support life through visiting residents in a nursing home, engaging the forgotten of our disposable society in a dialogue of respect. An act of presence, care or concern for the marginalized and forgotten is an act of love. It’s also important that we teach the next generation and beyond — children and grandchildren — to support pro-life politicians and leaders and to be vigilant in protecting the sanctity of life. Parents and grandparents help define the culture of their family. Does yours follow a Culture of Life?
Finally, we must be cognizant of the example of our own actions. How can we respect (and protect) life we don’t see if we fail to respect and protect the lives that we do see? The manner in which we treat our fellow human beings — whether they’re a part of our inner circle of familiarity or not — is a witness and is proportionate to our support of all human life. There is no material cost to practicing courtesy, kindness and patience throughout our day at work and at home, yet can be priceless in our relationships.
Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy — beginning Dec. 8 and ending Nov. 20, 2016 — with the theme “Be Merciful Like the Father.” If “God looked at everything he had made and found it very good” (Gen 1:31), then we also must see the life He created and find it good — and in need of our constant prayer, advocacy and witness. This month, please commit to building a Culture of Life by being loving and merciful like the Father and by following His Son’s example.
FATHER STEPHEN PARKES is pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs, Fla., and chaplain of Legatus’ Orlando Chapter.