The following is the homily given by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell at the Respect Life Sunday Mass held at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield on October 2, 2011.
On this Respect Life Sunday, I’m delighted that we have with us members of the Diocesan Pro-Life Commission, and representatives of many of the organizations that have done so much to show respect for life in all its stages. In a special way, I want to welcome representatives of the Knights of Columbus who are here in number this morning to stand up for life. After the Mass they will be marching for life, and we thank them for their commitment.
The theme of this year’s Respect Life month is taken from Jesus words in St. John’s Gospel: “I came so all might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Here in western Massachusetts, we see undertakings toward making life full proclaimed in the work of organizations like Birthright, Bethlehem House, Liferight, and others that assist pregnant women. We see undertakings toward making life full proclaimed in the outreach of Project Rachel to those scarred by abortion. We see undertakings toward making life full proclaimed in the prayer, fasting, vigil and outreach of the “40 Days for Life” campaign. We see undertakings toward making life full shown to children and families by our schools, youth programs and social service agencies. We see undertakings toward making life full manifest in nursing homes and in hospitals, in food banks and in meal programs for the elderly. We see undertakings toward making life full in services to the poor, the needy and the immigrant. We see undertakings toward making life full in social justice programs in parishes and institutions. This past summer we saw such undertakings in the outpouring of support and compassion in the aftermath of the June tornado and of the August floods. But we also see that despite what is being done there is still more to do.
Recently, the Massachusetts Attorney General ruled that citizens in the Commonwealth may soon be asked to vote on the legalization of what is being called “Compassionate Care,” more technically labeled “Physician Assisted Suicide.” It’s really “Kervorkian Care” because it would authorize physicians to give death-dealing drugs so that people could commit suicide. The proponents will tell you it’s totally voluntary and they are only interested in easing the suffering of the sick and the burden carried by loved ones: “compassionate care.” A few years ago, that was the argument put forth by Dr. Jack Kervorkian when he was found guilty of complicity in the deaths of so many people. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that if it were giving pistols to people instead of pills there would probably be an uproar. But pistol or pill both are intended to be used by the recipient to kill himself or herself. Neither seems compassionate.
If we accept the “compassionate care” rhetoric, we buy into a utilitarian ethic – a judgment on others not because of their intrinsic God-given dignity but on the basis of whether or not they are considered useful by others. And that in a nutshell is why we need this Respect Life Sunday and this Respect Life month. For even some who profess to be firm believers can become infected with the utilitarian ethic that places less of a premium on some human lives, deeming them in some way “less worthy than others.”
We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in the death of 50,000,000 unborn babies. We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in the marginalization of the poor. We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in the isolation of the elderly. We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in the demonizing of people because of their religion. We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in the profiling of persons because of appearance. We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in disdain for those who seem different. We have seen the “less worthy than others” argument in the readiness to execute the condemned even when questions remain. We have seen it in too many ways, in too many circumstances, among too many in our society.
We all need to be reminded of each person’s God-given inherent dignity, reminded not only by our faith but by the basic American creed: “All…are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Acceptance of the inherent dignity of each human being, realization of the role of the Creator, and belief in the fundamental right to life have in too much of our society given way to a judgment that values the individual in relation to how useful he or she is to others. Too many in our society are saying: Stop being useful and you’re no longer of value. What a topsy-turvy world that makes.
Church teaching is about full life for the individual not the individual’s usefulness. This was expressed by Blessed John Paul II and reaffirmed by the Holy See under Pope Benedict XVI, namely, “the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being do not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances of his or her life. A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal’.”
On this Respect Life Sunday, we ask Catholics and all people of good will to witness to the truth about the incomparable dignity and right to life of every human being. This is no sectarian creed. It’s universally recognized, it’s stated very precisely in 1989’s Preamble to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: The “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Or, as Jesus reminded us: “I came so that all might have life and have it to the full.”
Now that is useful – and it needs to be respected.
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service, the USCCB Pro Life Office, Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Sheffield and Catholic Communications.