The first Sunday of October is Respect Life Sunday in the Catholic Church – a day when we focus on the sacredness of all human life, from conception to natural death. The sacredness of human life, of course, is something Catholics believe in throughout the year; but on Respect Life Sunday, our belief comes to the forefront as we remind ourselves what we believe, what we must do, who we are.
In his 1995 Encyclical Letter, “On the value and inviolability of human life,” Pope John Paul II, quoted from one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council:
Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity … , where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons, all these things … are infamies, indeed.
In other words, while abortion is an especially grievous attack on life (because it’s a sin against the innocent), it is not the only life issue. In 1986, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, then Archbishop of Chicago and the incoming chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life activities committee, called for a ” consistent ethic of life” approach to moral issues. He called the Church’s approach to these life issues a “seamless garment.” The phrase has since been widely used to describe what Catholics believe.
Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, has paid special attention to the elderly and to the life issues that are peculiar to them. Rather than looking upon older persons as a burden, the pope has called them a “blessing” for society. “Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it,” he affirmed in speaking to a group of the elderly. He insisted that “the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much as an act of generosity, but as the payment of a debt of gratitude.” The Little Sisters of the Poor, in Oregon and throughout the world, have incorporated this idea into their care of the elderly poor since 1839!