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Called to be defenders of life

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This year we observe October as Respect Life Month under the patronage of St. Joseph. We do so fully mindful of Virginia’s November elections, which highlight our civic duty to imitate St. Joseph’s virtues in defending the most vulnerable among us, particularly the unborn.

St. Joseph, Defender of Life

In this Year of St. Joseph, we recall his example as a steadfast defender of life. As we read in the Gospel of Matthew, when the secular ruler King Herod sought to destroy the newborn King of the Jews, the angel of the Lord appeared to St. Joseph and commanded him to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15). St. Joseph promptly obeyed the angel. He trusted in God’s providential care and made the long, strenuous journey with Jesus and Mary to Egypt.

As a result of his obedience, St. Joseph saved the Lord of Life. He did not allow worldly powers or the difficult journey to deter him from his task. By his simple trust in God’s word and providence, St. Joseph saved the One who gives meaning to all and to each human life. By defending Christ, he also delivered the Holy Family — the foundation of all families and thus of all societies — from destruction. He reveals that the defense of life means the defense of society.

More than an Issue

In our own time, we are called to emulate St. Joseph’s heroic and faithful actions. As he courageously and trustingly guarded the Redeemer, so we are called to defend life in our time. There are many threats to life and to the dignity of human life in what Pope Francis has rightly called our “throwaway culture”: euthanasia, experiments in biotechnology, the death penalty, poverty, homelessness and so on. All these threaten human lives and thus the dignity of human life.

Nevertheless, one threat stands out from all the others: legalized abortion. The threat to unborn life is the gravest. The sheer number of lives taken each year is staggering. Our nation’s approximately 800,000 abortions per year overshadow any other assault on human life in our culture. As Pope Francis recently observed about abortion, “Accepting this is kind of like accepting daily murder.”

Although there are many assaults on human life, abortion assaults the most vulnerable. In this regard, the famous statement from Mahatma Gandhi applies: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

Also, abortion assaults a fundamental cell of society: the union of mother and child. It was there, in our mother’s womb, that we were introduced into the human community. That union reminds us that we are not atomized individuals but members of a society and responsible to one another. Once that foundational union is assaulted, we should not expect other unions in our society to be respected or to endure.

Therefore, the bishops in the United States have unceasingly declared that the right to life of the unborn is of preeminent importance. Indeed, Pope Francis recently observed that abortion “is more than an issue.” It is in fact that daily assault on the most vulnerable that undoes the foundational threads of society.

Faithful Citizenship

In recent years, the Church in the United States has encouraged her members to “Faithful Citizenship.” This means that we are called to be devoted to our Catholic Faith and loyal to our responsibilities as Americans. These two callings are not in conflict. Indeed, the more we live our faith, the more we help our country.

Contrary to what some assert, our witness to the sanctity of human life and our advocacy for the unborn do not mean the imposition of our Faith upon others. After all, it is a matter of science, not faith, that the fetus is a new and distinct human life. We do not seek to impose Catholic doctrine on society but simply to observe the universal truth that we should never deliberately destroy innocent human life.

Our Faith does impel us into the public square to advocate for those who have no voice. It prompts us to reach out to those in need. Women considering an abortion because of challenging life circumstances need to be welcomed to the many ministries available that help expectant mothers bring their children into the world with dignity and care. For those wounded by the pain of abortion, we extend forgiveness and healing in the Sacrament of Penance and various ministries that help women recover, emotionally and spiritually, from that experience.

This faithful Catholic witness in defense of life also strengthens the founding fabric of our nation. Our nation’s founders understood that the “unalienable right to life” precedes any governmental power. Indeed, the government they established is meant to serve and protect that right to life. By failing to defend that right, the government betrays its own purpose.

As Pope St. John Paul II observed, “laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion … are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law … Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good” (“Evangelium Vitae,” 72).

Voting informed by Faith

This has implications also for how we vote. There are many issues in any election. The right to life, however, as the foundation of all other rights, has the highest priority. The government has many responsibilities. The defense of life is its most fundamental. Our defense of life requires us to vote in such a way that we entrust the reins of government only to those who will defend the most vulnerable among us. This is an obligation we must take seriously and carry out prayerfully.

Conclusion

This October, as we observe Respect Life Month and prepare ourselves for the upcoming elections in November, we remember the great example of St. Joseph, who faithfully responded to the call to defend life. We recall also that our government — established to secure the right to life — can only succeed if those who constitute it and we who elect them are defenders of life. This success begins with faithful citizens, reliant on the Word of God and rooted in his Truth, being informed on the issues of upcoming elections and voting for candidates who support the most fundamental truths, particularly, and especially, the sacredness of the child in the womb. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021