As we enter the month of October, designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as Respect Life Month, with Sunday, October 2 designated Respect Life Sunday, perhaps it might benefit all of us if we were to look at the Church’s teaching regarding what it means to respect life and what it actually means to be pro-life. This is especially important in light of media coverage, which often even refuses to consider who we are as pro-life, focusing instead on our stance against abortion.
The Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life is rooted in scripture, with the passage from Genesis, stating, after having created the heavens and the earth and all other creatures: “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-8). The human person, thus created in God’s very image and likeness, is the highpoint of all of creation, having dominion over all that God has created. This is reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reminds us that this divine image in which we are created finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ:
“Christ,… in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, makes man fully manifest to himself and brings to light his exalted vocation.” It is in Christ, “the image of the invisible God,” that man has been created “in the image and likeness” of the Creator. It is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior, that the divine image, disfigured in man by the first sin, has been restored to its original beauty and ennobled by the grace of God.(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1701)
It is in the person of Jesus Christ himself, then, that every single human being, whether a believer or not, finds his or her dignity, in that every single human being shares in that same image of the God who became human in the person of Jesus, who took upon himself the fullness of what it means to be human in order that we might learn what it means for him, and what it means for each of us through him, to be God.
Our discussion of what it means to be pro-life, therefore, must always be rooted in our belief in the goodness of what it means to be human and the ramifications of what it means for us to share our humanity with the very God who has created us in his image and likeness. For us simply to classify ourselves as “anti-abortion” or “anti” any other violation of the dignity of the human person, whether that is euthanasia, capital punishment, human trafficking, or physical or mental abuse of anyone, is simply missing the point. If we are pro-life, then we embrace rather than reject. We embrace the fullness of what it means to be human. We embrace the fullness of what it means that God has called us into existence, breathing the very life of his Spirit into our lungs and into our lives.
We embrace what it means to be redeemed by our Lord and Savior, who calls us into communion with himself and communion with one another. In doing so, he calls us to live lives of beatitude, lives in which we recognize what it means to blessed and what it means to share that blessing with all of creation. He calls us, moreover, to become partakers of his divine nature and of the eternal life he shares with us through our Savior Jesus Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1722).
Let us pray, then, this month and always, for a growing appreciation for what it means for us to be human. Let us pray for a growing appreciation for what it means for each of us to be created in the image and likeness of God. Let us pray the believers and non-believers alike may come to understand the great dignity of what it means to be human and what it means to cherish and protect the gift of life in every stage, at every moment, from conception to natural death.