Reflect on Catholic social teaching as we approach Respect Life Month

By Tama Dutton
Respect Life Month is just a few short weeks away. Now is a great time to reflect on the words of Pope John Paul II from his 1999 encyclical Ecclesia in America (The Church in America).
“Nowadays, in America as elsewhere in the world, a model of society appears to be emerging in which the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless: I am thinking here of unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurably ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism.
“Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty when other ‘bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons. Today, given the means at the State’s disposal to deal with crime and control those who commit it, without abandoning all hope of their redemption, the cases where it is absolutely necessary to do away with an offender ‘are now very rare, even non-existent practically.’
“This model of society bears the stamp of the culture of death, and is therefore in opposition to the Gospel message. Faced with this distressing reality, the Church community intends to commit itself all the more to the defense of the culture of life.”
Essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once cautioned, “Let not a man guard his dignity, but let his dignity guard him.” Almost 1,400 years earlier Pope St. Leo the Great made his great plea: “Christian, recognize your dignity.” To truly understand our dignity as human persons is to fully embrace God’s will for all creation.
Catholic social teaching has much to say about living God’s loving plan. It starts with recognizing our own dignity and that of everyone else who shares the image of God. “All of the church’s social teaching is rooted in the fundamental principle of the sacredness of human life and the fundamental dignity of every single individual. Out of these truths flow the rest” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 421).
The theme chosen by the USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat for this October during Respect Life Month is Every Child Brings Us God’s Smile. This particular theme is taken from a quote by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI who said, “Every child...brings us God’s smile and invites us to recognize that life is his gift, a gift to be welcomed with love and preserved with care at every moment”.
Picking up on this theme I would like to end with a special note to parents of children with disabilities. Your receptiveness to the giftedness of all of God’s children brings an important and unique perspective to the dialogue for life. I sincerely thank you for your witness; your family has much to contribute to the one flock that serves a single shepherd.