Respect Life – but don’t shoot the priest!

This Coming Sunday the Church celebrates Respect Life Sunday. It is the weekend every year when we are asked to reflect upon the sanctity of human life in all its stages, from conception to natural death. Of course, whenever we talk about the precious gift of life and the crimes against it in our society, we know we will meet opposition, sometimes even within our own household. This fact has often put the priest in a great dilemma at mass. Some people, aware that some Catholics in church on Sunday do not take defense of life seriously, expect the priest to give a fiery condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and all other crimes against human life. For them only a frontal attack will do. I would be the last person in the world to deny the seriousness of these practices, and I too sometimes get angry when I see Catholics taking them lightly. But I also know that there are people in our congregation who have had abortions. Some regret them terribly, and a strong condemnation only digs the knife of their pain deeper in their heart. Others do not regret it, or at least not as severely, and can end up feeling that the priest is trying to make them feel guilty when in fact they don’t. So a strong attack will not benefit them. Then there are some who do not want to even talk about it because they don’t want their children to have to hear about it. But by never talking about it, we fail to instruct our children from an early age to respect life and deprive others of possible tools to help them make life-affirming choices should they or someone they love be in a crisis situation. So the priest is often stuck between the barrels of the shotguns of two groups: one demanding that he preach strongly and condemningly against abortion and the other demanding that he never mention it at all. So what should the priest do? Well, I always ask how Jesus would handle it. I believe first of all that Jesus would undeniably affirm the sanctity of every human life, and that it is never permissible for us to take or prevent any human life. I think he would be very strong when confronted with those who advocate doing so. At the same time, he would be most forgiving and comforting to those who have submitted to any life-denying actions and now regret it, and if he needed to bring the person to realize the error of their ways, he would do it with tremendous charity. That’s what I try to do, and I suggest we all do the same. So if at any time your priest does not speak about life matters in the manner you would wish, I plead with you not to shoot him and make him the source of all evil, whether it is the accusation of keeping silent and allowing evil to triumph or of talking about it and upsetting children and making others feel guilty. Remember that the priest is not the source of the problem of lack of respect for life. It is a sad reality in our world that we must discuss unpleasant matters at times, even if it makes some people who don’t want to hear it uncomfortable, but at the same time we cannot come out like gangbusters bashing everyone; we must be sensitive to the needs of all parishioners. Let us strive to advocate respect for all life in uncompromising fidelity to the truth but also with tremendous understanding and compassion. I think that’s what Jesus would do!