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Life is a gift of God’s love

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Life, joy, and peace to you by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! I keep you all daily in my prayers, and I ask you to pray always for me, for your pastors, for all priests, deacons, and religious, and especially for each other. Christ tells us that we have only to ask in faith to receive every good thing from him, whose hands created all things with infinite love. So ask Christ for the good things you need, especially the things of the spirit: faith, hope, and love, along with prudence, fortitude, understanding, wisdom, and joy in the face of worldly sorrow. He gives so generously to those who ask in faith.

RESPECT LIFE MONTH

October each year is designated as “Respect Life Month;” and the first Sunday in October as “Respect Life Sunday.” Remember that life is a gift. No one deserves to be created by God, to be born, to be loved. God does not create out of justice, as if compelled by our needs; He makes us out of love, compelled only by His desire to share the joy and perfection of His own being with us. “What is man that you care for him; the son of man that you attend to him? Yet you have made him little less than a god!” (Ps 8:5-6) God’s gift of life to each of us is utterly free, utterly gracious; the only possible response worthy of such a gift is love. Thus, respect for life flows only from respect for the Lord, the giver of life. If we love God, we can learn to respect all His creatures, however weak and vulnerable.

Every person is first conceived in the mind and in the heart of God, before being conceived in the womb of a mother. “Before I knit you in your mother’s womb, I knew you,” says the psalmist (Ps 139). “Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” (Evangelium Vitae, 2) We are made only for love; God’s very gift of foreknowing of our being calls us to love Him for His gifts.

But God does not compel our love. Just as He is free to create or not to create, we are free to love or not to love. The truth is that none of us loves God as we ought. St. Bernard of Clarivaux wrote that, at our best, we still love God less than we ought, but as much as we are capable. At our worst, we do not merely fail to be perfect, but actively choose not to love God. This active refusal to love God in ways both subtle and crude is the root of the “culture of death.” As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, preached last year, “Many, especially young people, are attracted by a false exaltation or rather, by the profanation of the body and the trivialization of sexuality; so it is difficult to list the many challenges bound up with consumerism and secularism which call into question believers and people of good will. To say it in a word, in Rome one also notes that lack of hope and trust in life that constitutes the "obscure" evil of modern Western society.” (Homily for Vespers, December 31, 2007) Evil, that is, the choice not to love God, attracts us by its glamour. It promises pleasure, and a false freedom, at the cost of the freedom of others, then at the cost of the life of others, and ultimately at the cost of our own life, if we do not repent.

The “lack of hope and trust in life” that the devil exploits in seducing us to the culture of death is rooted in our fear. We fear the death of the body. This is not surprising, because physical existence is good. Our body is not just a “place” for the soul; it is part of us, part of the gift of life and creation from God. The separation of the body and soul at death is not good, not what we were first made for. It occurs because of the original sin of Adam and Eve.

The life which God gives us when He first conceives us in His mind and heart is gracious, but incomplete. The life of Christ, true and eternal life, which He gives us in the waters of Holy Baptism, is equally gracious, and complete; but it is not yet perfect. What remains is that we should actually choose to live that life. We must choose to love God: to live the life of Christ is to choose to love God in all the myriad little things we do, day in and day out. We must choose life.

On October 1 we celebrated, the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.” She was a perfectly ordinary girl from a perfectly ordinary, middle-class family in nineteenth-century France. She became a Carmelite nun at age 16, lived simply in her Carmel for nine years, and died of tuberculosis before her 25th birthday. On the hundredth anniversary of her death, Pope John Paul II declared her to be a Doctor of the Church, because she taught so clearly the “little way:” do small things with great love. This is exactly what it means to choose to love God every day, and thus to choose life.

Therese’s “little way” is true everywhere, in every station in life. Do small, simple things – the daily chores of the house and the duties of work, simple acts of charity and compassion – with great love. Choose to do these things willingly, because God has loved you into existence, and holds you in existence by His utterly gracious gift of love. Choose to do these things willingly, without complaint, because our Lord Jesus Christ loved you from the Cross, and gave you the gift of eternal life. Choose to do these things willingly, because the alternative is death.

The depth of our love for God is directly proportional to the strength of our love for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. If we do nothing for those whose life is most tenuous – the unborn, the abandoned, the dying – we prove that we aren’t choosing very deeply to love God. Love demands sacrifice; love does not straddle the fence. We have to give up what we are not choosing, in order to choose something else with commitment. Jesus showed us how to love with commitment: He chose the Way of the Cross. He died so that His love could be ours. His life becomes our life in Baptism; we no longer love with the weak, corrupt, inept love that is ours by nature, but with His love: His heart, mind, and soul in us, fulfilling the promise of God’s foreknowing each of us “before knitting you in your mother’s womb.”

So we have no reason to fear death. That weak and inept fear of merely physical death is replaced by His victory over death. “O death, where is thy sting?” we can cry, standing in the very shadow of the Cross of Life. But if we do not fear death, then no part of the culture of death can be attractive to us. We rejected the glamour of evil when we were baptized, and we reject it again every single time we repeat or invoke our baptismal promises. We reject it every time we do something good for someone weaker than us – if, that is, we do so with love. In love we reach out to so many in need: the unborn, the handicapped, the abused, those who are ignored and forgotten. Let this month be a special reminder to us all to choose to support life in all the goodness that God intends it to be.

God gives each of us freedom to choose our own actions. There is no avoiding the choice; it is impossible not to choose. Whom do we love? We are spiritual beings, not only physical. We are called to desire our shared spiritual goods more than our individual physical goods; to seek spiritual life in Christ more than merely bodily living in this world. But ask our Lord Jesus Christ to strengthen your faith and hope, so that the fear of death and the culture of death will have no power over you, as it has no power over Him who won the great victory of the Cross. Only to the extent that we, as Christians, remain free from the culture of death can we hope to evangelize the culture around us, so that all the children of God can respect life, and the gift of life, and the One Lord who gives all life, and all good things.

40 DAYS FOR LIFE

This month of October, as Respect Life Month, should encourage us to do something special to support life. Once again, I encourage all who can join in vigil, prayer and fasting during our 40 Days for Life. In Sioux City, please consider joining those who are praying 24 hours a day, seven days a week in front of Planned Parenthood, 4409 Stone Avenue. I can think of no better way to put our words and prayer into action.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

 

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