campaign currently underway began in College Station, Texas in 2007. It was organized as a 24 hour vigil that would last for 40 days. Since that first event, the event has spread over the past four years to include 247 cities around the world this year. Participants embrace the three components of the campaign: prayer and fasting, constant vigil and community outreach. 40 Days for Life is an extremely laudable campaign that invites the public to stop, reflect, and act.
On Wednesday evening of this past week, as the 40 Days for Life Campaign was being launched throughout the world and here in Canada, I was invited to address a gathering of 2000+ members and supporters of the Liberal Party of Ontario gathered together for the annual banquet. While I may have been invited to offer the perfunctory grace and blessing for the “banquet” that took place on Ash Wednesday evening, I took the opportunity to raise several key points to the large crowd that contained many Catholics!
Part of my address
contained these words:
Dear Friends, today is also Ash Wednesday for Christians and for Catholics. It is a day not normally known for large feasts such as this one. I said to myself this evening: “If this is fasting and abstinence, I can’t wait to see what Easter is like!”
This day, along with Good Friday, are days of fast and abstinence. For Christians, fasting, far from being depressing, opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing love of God to become also love of our neighbor. Today also marks the beginning of the 40 Days for Life in 247 cities around the world. It is a privileged time for us to pray that every human life would be prized and cherished as a gift from God.
As I was leaving the Convention Centre Wednesday evening, many people, including members of the Ontario Government, thanked me for reminding them about Ash Wednesday! They also asked what the 40 Days for Life were all about. Throughout the day on Thursday, I received phone calls and message from people requesting my text from the night before. Those who spoke with me expressed gratitude especially for “raising very difficult and delicate topics” at such an event. There is nothing difficult or delicate about speaking of Ash Wednesday, the Lenten Season, God, and the necessity of protecting and defending the dignity and sacredness of human life, from womb to tomb. It is our obligation to raise such topics. We must use every opportunity given to us to respectfully and convincingly speak about such important things, especially in the most secular of assemblies and environments.
What does it mean to be pro-life?
The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop.
Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.
During these 40 Days for Life, we cannot ignore the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote and taught with his own life: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.
Furthering the Common Good
In Pope Benedict XVI’s brilliant encyclical, Caritas in Veritate
, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:
Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.
Engaging the Culture Around Us
Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world. Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, flows from our ability to increase love and unity in the Church.
We are all invited pray these words each day during these 40 Lenten Days for Life:
Eternal Father, Source of Life,
strengthen us with your Holy Spirit
to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire
the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life
and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable
especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus,
who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Television Network
Images -- Top: A woman holds a 40 Days for Life sign during the prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Delaware (CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog). Bottom: 40 Days for Life participants pray during a candlelight vigil in Chicago (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World).