During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, one of the most striking images was how the Holy Father’s love radiated whether he was greeting a head of state or a homeless person. His gestures, his words, his actions in every encounter proclaimed the truth that every life is worth living. As a gift from God, every human life from conception to death is sacred. It is this fundamental truth the Pope so convincingly communicates.
Today, the Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Sunday, with the theme of “Every Life is Worth Living.” In a special way, people are invited to reflect on the ways they can give witness to the dignity of every human life. “In many places, quality of life is related primarily to economic means, to ‘well-being,’ to the beauty and enjoyment of the physical, forgetting other more profound dimensions of existence – interpersonal, spiritual and religious,” observes Pope Francis. “In fact, in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality.’ There is no human life that is more sacred than another – every human life is sacred.” (Address of November 15, 2014).
The Church has always proclaimed the dignity of each human person. Because we are images of our Maker and are called through Christ to share in the personal life of the Trinity, each of us has a transcendent worth.
The Second Vatican Council addressed a special need of our age when it stressed anew how human life must be honored and upheld, fostered and respected, saying, “whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and willful self-destruction . . . all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed” (Gaudium et Spes, 27).
Tragically in recent times, we have experienced an increase in violent crime in our neighborhoods, our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria are facing genocide, our legislative bodies in the District and Maryland are discussing the legalization of assisted suicide, and some even seem to be unmoved by news of trafficking in the body parts of aborted children. Thus, there is great need now for our Church to give ready witness to the dignity of human life at every stage, including our efforts to bring hope and healing to those who are or have been in crisis situations, leading to pain and despair.
For example, for close to 25 years, through the archdiocese’s Project Rachel Ministry, we have more than 60 trained priests and deacons who assist our staff in helping women and men heal spiritually and psychologically from the pain of abortion. Please take a minute to go here to learn more about this blessed work.
The archdiocese has also created a variety of #TransformFear resources that address the questions related to the end of human life due to illness, age or injury. With Pope Francis warning us of the “throwaway culture,” we must remember that human life is a gift from God – there is no such thing as a life not worth living. Our response as family members, as caregivers, and as a Church to those facing the end of life – with all their feelings of isolation, fear, and burdensomeness – is genuine compassion and reciprocal love, which seeks to provide comfort and hope in the face of fear and suffering.
A human value is realized and fostered only in concrete acts of love and justice. It is not human life in the abstract we are speaking about, but the real life and flourishing of people, of individual persons.
Life can be loved and furthered in an endless variety of ways; no concrete act or set of acts could exhaustively realize any such basic value. To realize, respect and foster human life, or any form of goodness, is to glorify the Creator of all persons and to honor his transcendent and creative goodness.