Thursday, October 3, 2013

Service 4 Life

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

This Sunday, we join with Catholics across the country in marking the start of Respect Life Month.

Among the initiatives sponsored by our Archdiocesan Life, Justice and Peace Office, I’m excited to be taking part in “Christian Service 4 Life” at the StubHub Center on Oct. 9.

This event is a partnership with LifeSoCal. It will bring together 5,000 of our Catholic school students to praise the God of Life and renew our commitment to defend the sanctity and dignity of all human life, from conception, through life until natural death.

The church serves life by building the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is a culture of life. It is a culture where life is welcomed, cherished and cared for. Especially those lives that are “inconvenient” or a burden to others — the child in the womb, the sick and the handicapped, the elderly.

The kingdom we seek is a culture of compassion and mutual concern. It is a place where we see others as our brothers and sisters. It is a place where no one is indifferent to the sufferings of others.

The church — and each one of us — has the mission of showing God’s merciful face to our neighbors. We know that our neighbors need bread to eat but they also need spiritual food.

In his latest interview, with the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, our Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us: “The church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies.” (Read the interview).

This is what the church has always done.

Our historical memory is short. We forget that until the coming of Christianity, there were no organized social services and no ethic of responsibility for the poor.

The great empires of pre-Christian history ignored the poor, the hungry, the stranger and the imprisoned.

Before Judaism and Christianity, there was no concept of a God who loved individuals with a personal love — a love that begins before the person was born. Before Christianity, no religion had ever taught that God could be found in our neighbor.

But Jesus taught that what we do for the least among us, we do for him. This was revolutionary then. And it still is.

The first Christians founded the first hospitals and shelters for the poor. They also challenged abortion and birth control that were rampant in the Roman Empire. In the year 176, a Catholic layman, Athenagoras, said: “We regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care.”

So from the beginning, to be Christian has always meant to serve the poor and the suffering.

This is who we are. We are a people of life. And for us, life begins with God and only God can decide when that life ends.

The church’s work — and our work as Christians — is a work of love. And love in practice means “to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and to try to meet them as we can,” the pope says.

And our Christian love begins where God’s love begins — when the person is in the womb.

The church has always known that society must be founded on a deep respect — a reverence — for human life. We know that a culture without respect for life — a culture that has lost reverence for the mystery of what life means — is a culture that will always be tending toward new ways of servitude and death.

That is why we reach out to everyone with the helping hand of Jesus Christ — from the woman expecting a child to the handicapped and the aged. Always we are responsible for healing those broken in body and those broken in spirit.

That is also why the church is a voice for those who have no voice. And in this culture, we need to insist that our government’s primary obligation is to protect the innocent. That means insisting that no one — no individual and no institution — can define what lives are “fully human” or worth living. That means insisting that no one can be allowed to choose whether somebody else lives or dies or is welcomed into the community of the living.

So in this Respect Life Month, let’s pray for one another and let’s pray for our nation.

Let’s ask Mary, the mother of life, to help us be witnesses to the new world that Jesus Christ came to bring. The kingdom of God is a culture of life, joy and freedom. Joy in God’s creation. Freedom in accepting God’s gift of life and living to share it with others.

Archbishop José H. Gómez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

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