Marina, a young adult from the Midwest, traveled more than 500 miles to Kentucky for a retreat experience. At the retreat, she shared with us that everywhere she turned it seemed as if life did not matter. Her grandfather was denied life-saving surgery; her brother served in the military in Iraq and witnessed the ravages of war; the death penalty was legal in her state; there were two abortion clinics in her city; and the children she taught in school often spoke of the violence and murders in their neighborhoods.
Marina told us that when she found herself in an untimely pregnancy, she had an abortion. Her reasoning was unfortunately simple — she felt as if life didn’t matter.
This retreat was one of many ways Marina sought healing from the remorse she felt. She yearned for peace and hope. Through this retreat experience, she found peace and hope through the people, the tradition and the teaching of the Catholic Church that all life is sacred. She found a faith tradition that is outspoken and consistent about the dignity of all life from conception to natural death.
What do we believe about the sacredness of life? We recognize that all life is a gift from God. The book of Genesis tells us, “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:2).” My daughter’s pregnancy and miracle of birth this summer once again affirmed for me how only God can create such a miracle. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator” (CCC 2258).
Recognizing life as a gift has many implications and involves a variety of issues. How we treat prisoners, those with disabilities, those who live in poverty, and the elderly, and how we communicate and interact with others all reflect — or not — our understanding of life as a gift. For example, creating a culture of life includes addressing the issues of bullying in an age of social media where hurtful messages are transmitted across the world.
Sister of Mercy Mary Ann Walsh writes in Why Catholic? LIVE, “The huge impact of such bloodless violence (in social media) calls for stepped up protections for the Web” (84).
The statements from the Catholic Church against assisted suicide and euthanasia fuel our respect for the elderly and the dignity of their lives.
“Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not acts of mercy but acts that are never morally acceptable” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities). Near the end of my father’s life, the prayers of the rosary were the only thing he could remember. The dignity of his life was exemplified as he pulled the worn out beads from his pocket.
Creating a culture of life also includes respecting the earth. We are stewards of God’s gifts on earth when we conserve natural resources and protect the environment.
How can we affirm and promote our belief that all life is a gift? As disciples we begin with prayer for the transformation of individuals and culture. As people of faith our actions become experiences of living out the Gospel message of respect for all of God’s creation as we treat each person we encounter with dignity. We can take action on life issues, such as donating old household electronics to a recycling effort sponsored by Catholic Charities that protects the environment from the harmful dumping of toxic materials into landfills. We can advocate for systemic change that addresses life issues such as abortion, bullying on social media, euthanasia, poverty and capital punishment.
Respect and dignity were evident in Marina’s reflection at the end of her retreat experience. On the last day of the retreat Marina and I walked the Stations of the Cross together. We both stopped at the eighth station: Jesus meets the women. Marina told me how profoundly she felt that Jesus had met her on the retreat and how grateful she was for the compassion and love she felt from others on the retreat. As she mourned the life she lost amid a world that seemed only to embrace violence and death, Marina found hope in our church’s call to recognize all life as a gift.
Sharon Schuhmann is pastoral associate for Holy Family and St Stephen Martyr Churches.