Oct. 4, 2013
Just one day after the publication of the now famous interview with Pope Francis that had many wondering if the new Pope would somehow be “soft” on the issue of abortion, he made some of the strongest remarks I have seen from a Pope condemning this moral and social evil. In an address to OB/GYN doctors our Holy Father had the following to say:

“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection. And every elderly person — I spoke of children: let us move to the elderly, another point! And every elderly person, even if he is ill or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”

Those are pretty strong words to help us begin this Respect Life Month. Oct. 6 is Respect Life Sunday, which begins this one month period of prayer and reflection with the aim of promoting a culture of life and combating a culture of death which condemns the unborn child and the frail members of society to death and destruction. Pope Francis has coined a new way of expressing this culture of death. He describes it as a “culture of waste.”

“A widespread mentality of the useful, the ‘culture of waste’ that today enslaves the hearts and minds of so many, comes at a very high cost: it asks for the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. Our response to this mentality is a decisive and unreserved ‘yes’ to life.”
A “yes” to life! That is what we are about as disciples of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Father’s call for us to recognize the face of Christ in the unborn, the elderly, the sick and in all frail human beings struck a particular chord with me, since I chose as my episcopal motto “To contemplate the face of Christ.” I have often said that part of this is to recognize the face of Jesus in every person, especially the suffering — the poor, the homeless, the unborn, the elderly and infirm, the lonely, the abandoned and the marginalized.

But we must also show forth from us the merciful face of the Savior. We must do all in our power to love these with the love of Jesus Christ at work in us. We owe a special love to the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn child and the elderly and sick.

As a relative newcomer to this beautiful state of Oregon, I am saddened beyond words that I now live in a state where assisted suicide is available and practiced. We have allowed a culture which says we can “throw away” those who suffer from terminal illness, even if it is their own choice. We have created a culture which makes them feel useless and which may even subtly pressure them to exit the scene. This is just one step away from euthanasia where we make the choice for them.

So what can we do? Pray, sacrifice, educate ourselves and others as to the dignity of human life, and advocate in the public square through the political and social process for the defense of human life. That is what this Respect Life Month calls us to do. But it must not be something we pay attention to just once or twice a year. It will take a sustained and tireless effort every day.

With regard to the issue of abortion, we must first pray and sacrifice for the protection of the unborn child. Since the tragic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, more than 55 million unborn children have lost their lives in the wombs of their mothers through abortion. That is more than 14 times the total population of the state of Oregon! This is an unspeakable evil.

But we must not forget those women who struggle with unplanned, unwanted, crisis or difficult pregnancies. They deserve and need our love, support, prayers and help. We must create for them the environment in which they can choose to say “yes” to the life of their unborn child. We must love and support them individually and through the organizations in our communities which serve them in this way.

We also must not forget the women and men who have been deeply affected by an abortion in their lives. The emotional, spiritual and physical harm must not go unrecognized. One of the biggest lies told in this whole public debate over abortion is that it does no lasting harm to the woman who procures an abortion. We must reach out and love them, helping them to find the mercy and forgiveness offered by Jesus.
We must pray for and work to soften and change the hearts of those who perform abortions and who support them in this horrific act. Again, let us hear Pope Francis:

“Dear friends and physicians, you are called to care for life in its initial stage; remind everyone, by word and deed, that this is sacred — at each phase and at every age — that it is always valuable. And not as a matter of faith — no, no — but of reason, as a matter of science! There is no human life more sacred than another, just as there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another. The credibility of a healthcare system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”

Finally, we must pray for publicly elected officials and our judiciary, that those entrusted with the care, promotion and protection of the common good will not forget the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn. The right to life is the foundation for all other rights enjoyed in a civil society. We must also speak with a loud and united voice whenever we step into a ballot box.

Please take up this call to prayer and action in defense of the defenseless, especially during this Respect Life Month. I conclude with the words of Pope Francis to those OB/GYN doctors, but which are just as meaningful for us:

“Never fail to ask the Lord and the Virgin Mary for the strength to accomplish your work well and to bear witness courageously — courageously! Today courage is needed — to bear witness courageously to the ‘gospel of life’!”