A Life-giving Week

Next week provides providential “bookends” to remind us of one of the most basic lessons God has revealed to us: that we are made in His image and likeness, that we are all His children, brothers and sisters, that each life is inherently sacred, and thus worthy of dignity and respect.

On Monday we will celebrate the birthday of a modern prophet who preached that pivotal lesson in a most compelling way: the Reverend Martin Luther King. He was many things—a philosopher, political leader, civil rights advocate, promoter of justice and peace, and a martyr. First and foremost, though, he was a disciple of Jesus Christ, and an ordained preacher of his word. That message he preached as a Christian pastor was unequivocal: we are all God’s children, equal in his eyes, made in his image and likeness, so that each human life was sacred, worthy of dignity and respect. Color, size, age, economic background, creed, nationality, usefulness—all were second to the fact that we were first of all children of God.

Reverend King found in the American experiment a validation of Christian revelation, in that our formative documents held that every one of us has certain inalienable rights, given us by God—not by government, or the wealthy, or the owner—rights such as life itself, which could not be taken away by a Supreme Court decision (e.g., Dred Scott), an unjust culture (segregation), or economic inequity. His cogent call for a society that reflects this basic belief of equality, justice, and respect for life still rings timely in our day.

Now jump ahead to Saturday, Jan. 22, the 38th anniversary of the chilling, morbid Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that did in fact take away from an entire group of people —babies in the womb—the most fundamental of all rights: that to life itself. This is the rawest injustice of all, which has ushered in a “culture of death.” If the life of the baby in the womb is worthless, able to be destroyed when inconvenient or troublesome, no wonder we are callous to life destroyed in war, the life of the homeless, or the life of the terminally ill. As Blessed Mother Teresa spoke at the White House, “The poorest and most unjust country in the world is the one that cannot make room for the baby in the womb.”

Thus our Catholic consistent ethic of life: human life is sacred, inviolable, from conception to natural death. To crush it or destroy it—whether by slavery, racism, unjust war, human trafficking, crushing poverty, violence, abortion, or euthanasia—goes against God’s plan, the most noble principles inherent in our human nature, and also, by the way, against the philosophy of human rights at the very foundation of our Republic.

Jesus would agree, and the Reverend Martin Luther King would shout out “Amen.”

It’s good to recall the words of Pope John Paul II right there on the mall in our capital, during his first visit to our beloved country 32 years ago: “America the beautiful! Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person…The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person…from conception until natural death.”

What a “life-giving week”!