Editorials

Authentic definition of the person

Human life is sacred to us, not just because it is a good, but because human life is precious to God. As the end of this month of October draws near, a month dedicated to the cause of life, we do well to reflect upon this fundamental tenet upon which the Christian pro-life movement rests. The true origin and destiny of human beings are so basic to the Christian witness for life that to ignore them is to lose sight of the reason for the cause. Every aspect of our pro-life activities should be permeated with an ever-growing awareness of the origin and meaning of the human person as the image of God, and the glorious destiny of the human person restored to this likeness by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ and Savior of Man.

Human beings, male and female, are God's delegates. Out of love, and in his infinite goodness, God chose to create a creature that would be his royal representative, his own image on the earth. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, every human being reflects some aspect of God uniquely. The image of God presents a kind of revelation of God himself. The likeness is beyond anything merely physical. It is a matter of having the capacity to represent God, who calls each person into being to continue the work of creation.

God created with the intention of making human beings the only persons in his entire creation with both a supernatural soul and body. While we live, from conception to death, each human being manifests himself or herself in and through the body. This truth has two implications which must be emphasized, perhaps today more than ever. The bodily life of every living human being is sacred from the moment of conception, regardless of one's capacity to reason. And, beginning at the time one can reason, the actions performed in and through the body have moral significance and eternal consequences.

No combination of all the scientific information known can capture the meaning of God's human creation. Christians know from the truth of faith the falsity of the abortionists' claim that the embryonic human and human fetus constitute nothing more than a grouping of cells or a mass of tissue. We know that personhood is not established on the basis of an individual's ability to function. Our biology can be studied and compared to other similar beings. But the biology of the human being does not exhaust the full meaning of the human person who is, at the same time, both physical and spiritual.

Thus, it is of significant consequence that the law and many schools of ethical thought are founded upon erroneous notions of human personhood which are irreconcilable with the authentic view of the human person revealed by God. In all matters of justice, attempts at securing rights that lose sight of the authentic definition of the person, inevitably lead to gross violations of human dignity. None more serious has occurred in the United States than the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision with its political, moral and intellectual consequences.

Peace in the Mideast

In a plea to "shut the gates of death, hatred and terror" and stop "the Mideast's spiral of violence," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem called for an end to the clashes in the West Bank that have resulted in so many deaths and injuries. In the most recent escalation of military action in Bethlehem following the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet member, Church leaders said Israeli armed forces were restricting the movements of Palestinians, preventing residents in the Palestinian territories from going to work or school.

"It is enough with the bloodshed; it is enough with the fighting," Patriarch Sabbah said in a letter released Oct. 21, insisting that the way to bring an end to this circle of violence is to restore "the occupied land to the real owners." Indeed the real owners must include both Palestinians and Jews, as the Catholic leader readily acknowledged. "To the Israeli people we say: You merit also security and peace. In everybody and in every one of you we see the dignity that derives from that of God, which is a gift to every human person, Palestinian or Hebrew," he said.

The question remains: Who will stand with Patriarch Sabbah to represent a legitimate and authoritative voice for the Arab-speaking people of the Holy Land? How will radical terrorist elements be contained so that the necessary logic of dialogue can bear fruit in peace?

Celebrating All Saints, All Souls

All Hallows was the early English designation of all the blessed ones or all of the saints. Children dressed as their patron saints. The theme of the observance was Christian hope. The injection of ghostly figures and skeletons came from St. Matthew's description of the death of Jesus: "Many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised."

In Rome the magnificent Pantheon, built by Emperor Marcus Agrippa in 27 B.C. served as a temple in honor of all the pagan gods. In 609 A.D. the Emperor Phocas gave the edifice to Pope Boniface IV, who rededicated it in honor of Mary and all the holy martyrs, and established a feast in honor of all the martyrs on May 13. Eventually the feast honored all of the saints and was transferred to Nov. 1.

The feast of All Saints, Nov. 2, is a reminder that not only the relatively few canonized saints, but all the holy men and women of every time and place, who have attained the perfection of charity, now participate in the glory of God. Surely holy people we have known and loved are among the blessed of God. This insight gives life and meaning to our credal declaration of belief in the Communion of the Saints. The preface of the festal liturgy reminds us: Around your throne, the saints, our brothers and sisters, sing your praise forever. Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength, as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them."

The feast of All Souls is a companion to that of All Saints and dates from the ninth century. It underscores our belief that those who die in God's grace, but have not fully atoned for their transgressions are cleansed in a state of purgation (Purgatory). Their salvation is certain and we can assist them with our prayers.

Again the theme of this feast is the Christian hope and the sure knowledge that our God is a loving and merciful God, who reaches out to us despite our frailty. The liturgy of the day expresses throughout the hope of resurrection in Christ. "In him who rose from the dead our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality, Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven."

As we enter November may our prayerful thoughts for those who have gone before us be renewed in the hope of the Gospel. All you saints, come to our aid.

What can we do?

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, many of us ordinary folk are asking what we can do to further the cause of peace and bring an end to terrorism in the world. Simply going about our everyday lives just doesn't seem to be enough. Each of us also needs to assess our life and look for areas where we can place more emphasis on doing God's work on earth.

Everyone reading this, for example, prays every day but now we need to pray more. Prayer is a powerful force in bringing each of us peace and in strengthening us to see and spread God's love. We can, as Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Justin Rigali recommend, say the rosary daily. We can say the rosary as we commute to work or perform sundry other daily living tasks. We can participate in the Mass and the Eucharist more frequently. We can join small faith communities, such as the Renew groups currently meeting in parishes. We can answer Archbishop Rigali's call to increase our eucharistic adoration. Some 16 parishes in the archdiocese offer perpetual adoration 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than 120 offer weekly adoration. Eucharistic adoration also is available daily at other locations, such as the Pink Sisters in North St. Louis and the Discalced Carmelites on Clayton Road. Visit the archdiocese's Web site www.archstl.org for details.

Many of us are already involved in some area of social justice but now is the time to consider doing more or getting involved for the first time. The archdiocese's Web site is a resource for social justice opportunities, and the Renew program is challenging participants to study and reflect, to share faith and to discover new ways to work for peace through justice here in our own backyard. Social justice opportunities also exist in civic and community organizations, as well as organizations reaching out to the poor throughout the world and other groups focused on serving others. For those of us itching to be actively involved in bringing peace to the world, social justice work is a hands-on answer. When motivated by Christian love, we can accomplish great things.

We also can further the cause of peace by finding ways to be more gentle with ourselves and with those we love. Our lives can be so busy that we miss the joy, beauty and love God gives us each day in this world. We can make time for ourselves to take a quiet walk, read a book or listen to music. We can make time for our family to do things together, such as preparing and sharing a meal, cleaning out the garage or raking an elderly neighbor's leaves. We can reach out to our extended family, perhaps with a letter or e-mail, an invitation to dinner, a phone call or even a family reunion. We can make time for friends and be more open to co-workers. We can express our love daily to those we otherwise take for granted.

Perhaps a good way to start this self-assessment is with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It offers us opportunities for self-reflection and renews and strengthens us to go back out into the world. With trust, not fear, with hope, not despair, we can spread the message of God's love to the world by striving in our everyday lives to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

World Mission Sunday

"Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him." These words of Pope John Paul II are the underlying dynamic of the whole evangelization work entrusted to the Church on Pentecost Sunday. They are thematic to the 75th World Mission Sunday, celebrated in every diocese, parish and institute of the Catholic world this weekend, Oct. 20-21. As we have known Jesus Christ, so also we must bring him to all people everywhere.

Father John E. Kozar, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, wrote in the fall edition of Mission magazine about the sorrows of Sept. 11 in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. He observed that in the missions, in such times of violence, persecution and war, "it is always the missionaries who are there at 'ground zero.' Some bring medical help; others bring food and clothing; still others provide shelter. All offer the love of our Lord."

The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, sends out a frequent request for help in their evangelization work in one of the largest, most difficult missionary areas of the United States. The newsletter for the Catholic missions of Northern Alaska reminds its readers of something that can be said of all the Church's missionary work: "Some give by going to the missions. Some go by giving to the missions. Without both there are no missions."

This Sunday Catholics are encouraged to "go by giving" - to unite in prayer and sacrifice for the missionary heroes of our world; those who day after day proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ - his love and his peace - by their words and the very witness of their lives. At the end of holy Mass, we hear the words that give the Mass its common name. In Latin the Church says, "Ite, missa est." Go! the Mass (missa) is ended. We are also "missa," that is, sent as missionaries. We have heard Christ in his Word, we have experienced him in one another, we have received him in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We must share him in the encounters we now have with each other. "Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him."

Respect Life Month

The Catholic Church in the United States designates time each October to launch a program that highlights and reflects gratitude for God's first gift to us: the gift of human life. Beginning the first Sunday of October we recommit ourselves to building a culture in which every human life is valued, no matter how poor or sick, how old or microscopic that life may be.

Recent tragic events may tempt us to think we are very far from living in a world that values life. When terrorists can readily destroy themselves and thousands of innocent people to promote their cause, it may seem that human life has become cheap.

However, as so often happens in times of crisis, we also have seen humanity at its very best. We learned of office workers, fleeing for their own lives, who stopped to carry their disabled coworkers to safety. Of firefighters who risked, and sometimes forfeited, their own lives in the effort to save others. Of ordinary people facing death whose last words were to reassure their spouses and children that they loved them.

Here was the Christian message about human life in action. As Pope John Paul II reminded us in his encyclical "The Gospel of Life," it is by emptying ourselves in service to the lives of others that we become most truly alive, most truly human. The "Gospel of Life" is nothing but the Gospel itself, and that Gospel is the truth about our highest human destiny.

Our culture sometimes seems to teach that life is not a basic good, that love is but a feeling rather than a commitment to serve others, that we may reject or ignore those who seem burdensome or inconvenient. Women with difficult pregnancies are encouraged to accept abortion, then abandoned to grieve in silence for a lost child. Commercials aimed at elderly citizens subtly caution them not to burden their families or society, while groups advocate suicide and assisted suicide as an end to their problems. High-profile executions become headline-grabbing media events, while society pays little heed to the many anonymous prisoners with inadequate legal counsel who face death with no fanfare. In recent debates on embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, some try to dismiss respect for human life as an obstacle to the noble goal of curing disease.

The Respect Life Program aims to bring to the attention of Catholics information about these and other issues within the context of the dignity and sanctity of human life. Catholics individually and in community are encouraged to help build a culture in which every human life, at every stage and in every circumstance, is defended and cherished. More than ever before, promoting this culture of life and love is essential to our civilization.

This is the text of a statement by Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler in conjunction with the beginning of this year's Respect Life Program.

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