The month of October is in many senses the beginning of the work year. By October, school has been in session for several weeks and students are preparing for midterm examinations. The Supreme Court begins its work on the first Monday of October. Autumnal activities like raking leaves, visiting apple cider mills, and winterizing houses and pools are in process.
The same is true with the Church year. While the new Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent (usually the last Sunday in November or the first Sunday of December), for most parishes, autumn brings a flurry of activity and pastoral planning. A quick glance at typical parish bulletins reminds us that most parishes are very busy: Religious Education classes, the 40 days of life, CROP Walk, Blood Drives, Membership drives, Donut weekend, and list goes on.
This Sunday, October 7th, is Respect Life Sunday. Indeed, the month of October has traditionally been dedicated toward the defense of all life from the moment of conception through natural death. The readings this weekend remind us that Jesus became one of us. God so respected human life that God chose to become human in order that we could become like God. The Orthodox Churches refer to this as the “divinization” of humanity. Moreover, God consecrated human love by allowing human beings to share in His creative power through the sacrament of marriage. Because we are all children of God, every child, especially those in utero, is considered sacred and holy. In short, all life, human, animal, and vegetative is to be treated with respect, dignity and love.
This past Thursday was the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Not only did he found the Franciscan order which is dedicated to preaching the Gospel and service of the poor and needy, St. Francis is the patron of animals. Many parishes have animal blessings around October 4th. Just as we defend the rights of the unborn, the elderly, the disenfranchised, we also care for animals and vegetation. We are encouraged to preserve our natural resources and not to abuse them. We are invited to conserve oil, water, lumber and be attentive to how we treat the environment. Picking up trash and planting trees and flowers are some simple ways to preserve the beauty of creation.
Ultimately we are encouraged to respect the dignity of all of creation. All life is to be considered sacred in that God speaks to us through living creatures; God teaches us how to be more humane through living creatures; and God leads us closer to Himself through living creatures. It matters not whether the creature is human, animal, or vegetative: God uses creation to proclaim the Good News. We are the highest form of God’s creation because human beings possess free will and intellect. Because of these gifts, we are able to discern God’s presence in the world around us and proclaim God’s presence to all the nations.
On this respect life Sunday, we are invited to reflect on our own attitudes and opinions regarding the sanctity of life and of human life in particular. Here are some questions which will help guide this discernment process:
- Do I view all life as God-given?
- Do I respect the dignity of all human persons, whether they are: in the womb, at the end of the life cycle, suffering some kind of debilitation (mental or physical), incarcerated or ill, of my same ethnic, racial or socio-economic background?
- Do I pray for an end to abortion and euthanasia?
- Do I pray for peace and justice?
- Do I work to promote life issues to the best of my ability?
As we continue to celebrate life during the month of October, we ask the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Francis to guide us in respecting the dignity and sanctity of human life in all of its forms and expressions.