Respect Life Sunday” is observed every year on the First Sunday of October – this year, October 1 – and the entire month of October that follows has been identified by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as “Respect Life Month.” One day, one month in the annual calendar when respect for life at all its stages, from conception to natural death, is highlighted and lifted up for the special consideration of the faithful – clergy, religious and laity. Every day, every month throughout the year, however, is a time to consider and respect life as the most basic and most precious gift given us by the Creator.
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This year, the USCCB has chosen the theme “Be Not Afraid,” taken from the command of the Lord Jesus several times in the Gospel: when he walked on the stormy waters toward his terrified apostles in their boat, “be not afraid (Matthew 14: 27 and Mark 6: 50);” when he healed the anxious paralytic, “be not afraid (Matthew 9: 2);” when he appeared with Moses and Elijah before his frightened apostles at the Transfiguration, “be not afraid (Matthew 17: 7);” when he addressed his bewildered apostles after the miraculous catch of fish, “be not afraid (Luke 5: 10).” This phrase was also used by the angel Gabriel to an overwhelmed Mary at the Annunciation, “be not afraid (Luke 1: 30)” and to the puzzled shepherds at Jesus’ birth, “be not afraid (Luke 2: 10).” This was also the message of the angel to the confused women at the tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, “be not afraid (Matthew 28: 5).”
These feelings that arose in the experiences of the apostles and Mary and the shepherds – terrified, anxious, frightened, bewildered, overwhelmed, puzzled, confused – are understandable and very human. They are not unique to them or their circumstances, however. We all have fear in the face of mystery and the unknown. The Lord Jesus knew that then and knows it now. He was moved to console and comfort them in their fear and he does so to us as well.
Life is a mystery, a great unknown, that unfolds with the passage of time. It is also a gift, God’s gift, to all of us. In all life’s moments, we need to remember that with gratitude, grace-filled trust and deep respect. We do not know how long or short that gift is ours to possess. That knowledge belongs only to the Giver, the Creator. When a child is conceived, what will that life become? It is our God-given responsibility to give that life a chance to develop and grow, to nurture and nourish that life, to respect God’s gift of that life and to depend upon the love and mercy of God to accompany that life, every life throughout the whole of life until life’s dying breath. In the fears that confront us in life, in life’s good and difficult moments, in life’s routines and surprises, in life’s triumphs and disappointments, in life’s sickness and health, in life’s loves and heartaches, in life’s freedoms and captivities, in life’s familiarities and uncertainties, in life’s infancy and old-age and in between, never forget that the Lord Jesus himself lived and came among us that we might have life in its fullness (John 10: 10), in a fullness that God alone gives and takes. Through it all, listen to him as he says “be not afraid.”
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M., J.C.D.
Bishop of Trenton