The first Sunday of October is designated throughout the American Church as Respect Life Sunday. Often in people’s minds, “respect life” is synonymous with and limited to standing against abortion, and sometimes euthanasia, though it really has to do with life issues from womb to tomb. As I was casting about for a way of talking about this topic in a reflective way, a thought in the Editor’s Note of The Atlantic for this month caught my attention. Jeffrey Goldberg was talking within a political context about the “democratic norms of restraint, moderation, forgiveness, and compromise.”
And I thought – those are not just political norms, they are important words, important attitudes in our faith lives as well. Restraint, moderation, forgiveness and compromise pertain to how we approach and work through the critical moments of our lives as we interact with others. They are words that require the discipline of unruly parts of our thinking and action. More than unruly, when we refuse to be restrained, moderate, forgiving and willing to compromise, we act out of a self-righteousness that bespeaks self-satisfaction, and a self-centeredness that disrespects the other.
How ungodlike that is.
Others get trapped in our judgments and self-appointed dominance and sometimes others die as a result or perhaps some part of them dies. To respect life means “Don’t trap people.” In the Eucharistic Prayer of the Maronite Rite, the wording of the Lord’s Prayer helps us understand what this means: “Let us experience the same freedom from our mistakes that we allow others to experience,” the community prays. Let others live. Let them make their own choices. Work with them in whatever ways possible.
God, the giver of all life, calls us to life. Let’s accept other human beings for who they are as well as the creatures of earth. Respecting life means honoring all life everywhere and at all times even the lives of those that are wrong-headed, wrong-hearted and dangerous. At the same time, we think of plants and animals to provide our food. We are called to be God-like in choosing how we access the food that we eat.
Choosing life/respecting life is about standing with leaders who seek to eradicate poverty and whatever causes untimely death. Both Genesis and Pope Francis remind us to ask ourselves: Who is my brother? Who is my sister? We see the devastation of people’s lives on TV. We take in the pain of it all momentarily, but then we are on to the next thing. Since some things seem too big for us to handle in our small worlds, we do nothing or little. The problem is indifference to the lives of others.
Respecting life begins when we develop and sustain an attitude of respect toward our brothers and sisters nearby as well as far away. Then acting in a respectful way becomes more doable.
~Sister Joan Sobala