Why do we "respect life"?

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Second Vatican Council

From the opening pages of our scriptural tradition, we learn that life is a gift from God. Human life is literally animated with the divine breath, imparting a dignity to humanity that is indelible. For this reason, we declare that life is sacred, holy, participating in God's own life at its roots.

In the Bible we also learn that life is a choice, freely and fatefully determined: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live by loving the LORD...." (Deut 30:19-20) Throughout the generations of the Bible, we come to appreciate that life is so precious to God that God will sustain, heal, and restore it when necessary. Jesus comes into the world as "the way, the truth, and the life," and offers himself as "the bread of life." (Jn 14:6; 6:35) In fact, because life has such significance, God proposes resurrection as the ultimate measure to preserve our lives for eternity.The motto "respect life" originated in the pro-life movement which sprung into action after the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade. This movement certainly found strong grounding in biblical tradition as well as church history. Its call to honor the human dignity and rights of every person also echoed teachings of the Second Vatican Council like Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the World). Church theologians later broadened the call to respect life by speaking of a "consistent ethic of life" that considers human dignity and rights at both ends of the spectrum and in every circumstance throughout life. This is sometimes referred to as the "seamless garment" ethic, a term popularized by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

A consistent ethic of life concerns itself with decisions pertaining to conception and child-bearing, as well as death and dying. It also considers justice issues like poverty, immigration, capital punishment, the conditions of warfare, a living wage, the treatment of workers, racism and prejudice, and any stance that threatens the dignity or rights of a person or group. It would be inconsistent to respect the right of every person to be born, and otherwise to deny certain people rights and dignity once they're among us.

The phrase "respect life" remains popularly associated with the pro-life (anti-abortion) movement. A consistent ethic of respect for the gift of life is not a boutique option for Christians, however, but central to our purpose.

Scriptures: Gen 2:7; Ps 36:10; Ezek 37:1-14; Jn 10:10; Rom 14:7-9; Gal 2:20

Books: The Consistent Ethic of Life - Thomas Nairn, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008)

The Seamless Garment - Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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