October 4, 2020

FRANCIS OF ASSISI - RESPECT LIFE

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who in his life showed care and concern for all, especially the poor. He reverenced God’s hand in all creation. He lived his life so faithfully to that of Christ that he is called alter Christus, another Christ. As we honor this saint known throughout the world, I urge everyone to pray and work hard for a deeper respect for all of God’s creation, all of life. Francis began life in a small Italian town that saw war and destruction constantly. He lived in a time of scandal in the Church and in society. Francis' approach to the many problems and issues of medieval Italy can also teach us much about being faithful to the Gospel in our own turbulent times.

Francis heard God's call in the small church of San Damiano on the outskirts of Assisi. Gazing upon the large cross in the church he heard God, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling completely into ruin. Initially Francis thought God wanted him to repair the physical church where he was praying. However, under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, Francis realized his real task was to bring healing and repair to a broken Church. Under God’s inspiration he brought peace and respect between all classes of people. God continues to call us to do no less…..respecting all of life in the world, in our country and right here in the Chicago area.

St. Francis in the last days of his life said, I have done my part; may Christ teach you yours. (2Cel.214) As Catholics our part..... our task is to Respect Life! In his second encyclical, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis has reminded all of us that we are bound together as brothers and sisters on our planet earth. And as human beings made in the image of God we are charged to be concerned for sister earth” and every living thing that dwells here, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. As the Pope wrote, In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much is always present. God does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for God has united himself definitively to our earth, and God’s love constantly impels us to find new ways forward.

If you have not read the Pope’s Encyclical, Laudato Si, I encourage you to read it. It is available on the Vatican web site or copies may be obtain through our St. Peter's Bookstore or your favorite book seller. The month of October calls us to honor and respect ALL of God’s creation. With an increasing awareness that many of our human activities are negatively impacting our mother earth, Pope Francis has called all inhabitants of the earth to do whatever we can to preserve and protect our planet. Why not begin reading this important reflection from Pope Francis during October, Respect Life month? Perhaps you will be moved to do your part in respecting God's gift to us of life here upon planet Earth.

As many scientists, climatologists, meteorologists, farmers and others have urgently reminded us, our planet Earth is in trouble through increasing climate change and environmental crises in our time. The rapid increase in wildfires in many places of the world, the increasing amount and strength of tropical storms, hurricanes, tornados, heavy rain and drought in many places should be a cause for concern and warning for us to address the increasing danger to not only our human life but all life on our planet. As I noted above Pope Francis has been deeply concerned for God's creation and our life here on the earth.  St. Francis (patron of the environment) saw God's presence in not only other human beings but in all of God's creation.

In this Respect Life month, in the midst of all the difficulties we today face in our daily life, I would like to encourage you to read and reflect upon the thoughts of another Pope. In the Farewell Address Pope John Paul II gave to the USA after his visit here in 1987, his words challenged us 33 years ago and they present us today with challenges for our times.

 Farewell Address of Pope JP-II 9/19/1987

America the beautiful! So, you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways: 

- in your majestic mountains and fertile plains; 
- in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs; 
- in your genius for invention and for splendid progress; 
- in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
- in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders; 
- in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts; 
- in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs. 

Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter. 

For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person.The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones.

The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person

- feeding the poor and welcoming refugees; 
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation; 
- promoting the true advancement of women; 
- securing the rights of minorities; 
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defense; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death

Every human person - no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society - is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival-yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn. 

With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: "Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become - and truly be - and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all"

We hear a lot of talk about respecting life but the challenge for each of us who follow Jesus is to not only speak the words of respect but to promote and be people who respect all of life. I conclude with these words of Pope Francis, from his Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, that, Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection." (Gaudete et Exsultate, 84)

If you want to read more about St. Francis of Assisi or learn more about some of the Papal documents I mentioned above, you may purchase copies about these topics and many other religious themes in our St. Peter's Book & Gift Store.

Fr. Michael