The basis for the movement to respect life, brothers and sisters, is the fifth commandment: You shall not kill (Ex 20:13). The Catechism is very specific: “Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: ‘Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.’ The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.” (CCC 2261) And that would seem simple enough, don’t you think? God said not to kill another human being, and so refraining from doing so reverences his gift of life and obeys his commandment.
But life isn’t that simple. Life is a complex issue involving a right to life, a quality of life, a reverence for life, and a sanctity of life. Jesus himself stirs up the waters of complexity with his own take on the commandment. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells us: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:21-22)
We know the issue that has brought us here this evening. Planned Parenthood has quietly been building a large clinic in Aurora, very near to us here at St. Raphael. The clinic was set for opening on the 18th of this month, although that date may change, based on news today. That a large clinic which provides abortions may open in our area is abhorrent to us; we hate to think about that kind of thing happening so close to us. But the truth is, whether it’s happening next door or two states away, it’s still wrong.
Our bishop has called us to spend this day in prayer and penance for the cause of life. He says, “Prayer is our most powerful weapon. Pray that the Gospel of Life will take root and flourish in the seven counties that make up our diocese. Pray for all pregnant women in need, particularly those who find themselves in seemingly desperate situations. Pray for a conversion of heart in those who support and work at abortion facilities. Pray for healing of those who suffer the impact of abortion.”
I would like to invite us all to begin that prayer by examining our own consciences. We may proclaim ourselves as exemplary witnesses to the sanctity of life because we have never murdered anyone nor participated in an abortion. And those are good starts. But if we let it stop there, then the words of Jesus that I quoted a moment ago are our condemnation. The church teaches that true respect for life revolves around faithfulness to the spirit of the fifth commandment. The Catechism tells us, “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (CCC 2319)
And so we must all ask ourselves, brothers and sisters in Christ, are there lives that we have not treated as sacred? Have we harbored anger in our hearts against our brothers and sisters? What have we done to fight poverty, hunger and homelessness? Have we insisted that those who govern us treat war as morally repugnant, only to be used in the most severe cases and as a last resort? Have we engaged in stereotypes or harbored thoughts based on racism and prejudice? Have we insisted that legislators ban the production of human fetuses to be used as biological material? Have we been horrified that a nation with our resources still regularly executes its citizens in a futile effort to stop the spread of crime? Have we done everything in our power to be certain that no young woman should ever have to think of abortion as her only choice when facing hard times? Have we given adequate care to elder members of our family and our society so that they would not face their final days in loneliness, nor come to an early death for the sake of convenience? Have we avoided scandal so as to prevent others from being led to evil? Have we earnestly petitioned our legislators to make adequate health care available for all people?
Because every one of these issues is a life issue, brothers and sisters, and we who would be known to be respecters of life are on for every single one of them, bar none. The Church’s teaching on the right to life is not something that we can approach like we’re in a cafeteria. We must accept and reverence and live the whole of the teaching, or be held liable for every breach of it. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. On this day of prayer for the sanctity of life, our prayer must perhaps be first for ourselves that we might live the Church’s teaching with absolute integrity in every moment of our lives.
Our God has known us and formed us from our mother’s womb, from that very first moment of conception. Our God will be with us and will sustain us until our dying breath. In life and in death, we belong to the Lord … Every part of our lives belongs to the Lord. Whether that clinic in Aurora opens or whether it doesn’t, our call is the same. We must constantly and consistently bear witness to the sanctity of life at every stage. We must be people who lead the world to a whole new reality, in the presence of the One who has made all things new.
Bishop Sartain ended his beautiful letter with these stirring words. I can think of none better to send us forth as witnesses to life. “May we never tire of proclaiming the dignity and worth of every human life. May we never tire of serving the vulnerable and their caregivers with generous hearts. And may we never cease to pray for the day when all people, and all societies, will defend the life of every human from conception to natural death.”