Dear Followers of Jesus,
I was deeply inspired during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. His humble presence stirred my own faith in Jesus and enlivened my leadership as a pastor. Translating faith in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection to our modern world is never easy. However, affirming the life of all people is how we live our faith in our families and in the marketplace.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at Saint Peter’s Church as part of a panel on the subject of human trafficking. The link from sex and labor trafficking to issues of poverty, addiction and mental illness is very real in El Paso County and beyond. These issues must be the foundation on which we affirm all life during this month of October.
My experiences of poverty have shaped my faith and my awareness of people struggling to survive. For me, even the issue of abortion must be seen from the perspective of poverty to understand why women make the decision for abortion in the first place.
In Portland, our parish welcomed 150 people each morning for food, clothing, and the basic needs of life. We estimated that 85% of the men who walked through our doors had been sexually abused as children—and 100% of the women. Imagine the raw trauma of being continually abused from as early as four or five years old, of beginning life stripped of all dignity and self-worth. People growing up in poverty, with little education or hope, numb the pain of abuse with alcohol and drugs, and then mental illness takes over.
When a woman must sell her body just to eat and have a place to spend the night, abortion becomes a survival option. In our Portland neighborhood, many of the women huddled together at night under the lights outside our building, sleeping in the cold and rain to keep from being raped or having their belongings stolen. Prostitutes, both women and men, would have sex in dumpsters in exchange for a six-pack of beer, to make it through another morning of their heroin addictions. These are the people arrested for sitting on the sidewalks or for screaming out in the night. These are the people whom we blame for not having jobs; for being mentally ill; for not being like ourselves. These are the people who roam the streets in Portland—and in Colorado Springs.
These issues are essential for us to consider when we pray for the dignity of life. When we avow life we acknowledge all of it, not just the parts that are comfortable and confirm our own life view. As believers in Jesus, our role is to befriend the sinner; to avail people of the mercy of God; to offer comfort and healing for people we neglect…and to not judge people by our own prejudice. We have to offer hope and dignity to women who have had abortions, and to all who struggle with desperate choices. We must give people a chance to not only survive but to thrive.
We live our faith in the world by learning the real issues people face each day in order to survive.
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Below are the seven elements of Catholic Social Teaching from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To ground us in the dignity of life, I hope that you will pray with each one during this month of October.
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, every person’s life and dignity must be respected and supported from conception through natural death.
Call to Family, Community and Participation
The human person is not only sacred, but social. How we organize our society—socially, economically, legally and politically—directly affects human dignity and the ability of every human person to grow in community. Marriage and family, the foundations for social life, should be strengthened and supported.
We are one human family. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.
Dignity of Work
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. To uphold the dignity of work, the basic rights of workers must be respected—the right to productive work, to fair and livable wages, and to organize and join a union.
Rights and Responsibilities
Every person has a fundamental right to life—the right that makes all other rights possible. Each person also has a right to the conditions for living a decent life—food, health care, housing, education and employment. We have a corresponding duty to secure and respect these rights for others and to fulfill our responsibilities to our families, to each other and to our larger society.
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
Scripture teaches that God has a special concern for the poor and vulnerable. The church calls on all of us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. This preferential option for the poor and vulnerable should be reflected in both our daily lives and public policies.
Care for God’s Creation
The world that God created has been entrusted to all of us. Our stewardship of the earth is a form of participation in God’s act of creating and sustaining the world.
Let’s continue to learn more about how the Church calls us to support people, from conception until death.
Blessings and peace,