Illness always seems different when it’s our own we are facing. As difficult as it may be to handle sickness in others, especially those we love most, an adverse medical diagnosis presented to us can be, no, is particularly sobering.
That was the way I felt when doctors told me I had cancer. What started out as a small skin cancer, became more aggressive, apparently due to my neglect. “It’ll go away,” I thought. When I tried to dismiss the diagnosis as “my Irish skin,” doctors were not so amused. “Bishop, cancer is cancer,” was their sober reply.
Having wrestled with diabetes and an eventual amputation during the past year, I just wasn’t ready for “another health issue,” certainly not the “c” word. Not my call, as they say. The right side of my nose was removed and reconstructed at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “We got it all,” were the only words I wanted to hear. And, thank God, that’s what they said.
Sooner or later, as adults, all of us must confront the ultimate fact of life that none of us is immortal, this side of heaven. The diminishing of our health as we age is a gradual and not so subtle reminder that no one can escape this world alive. Of that we can be sure!
In the meantime, however, we should live every day of our lives with joyful enthusiasm, remembering Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10)!” Life is a gift, from conception to natural death and we should treat it that way --- our human life, all human life --- however many years God gives us.
That is why we, as Catholics, take the so-called “life issues” so seriously. After all, if life is not our first, immediate and ultimate concern, what else really matters “this side of heaven?” What good does it do to talk about anything if we don’t begin with life?
But “life” isn’t just a “Catholic issue” or concern or simply the subject of some Church teaching. No. Life is a human issue and should be a concern for all of us, Catholic or not.
Confronting occasions when life is threatened or challenged --- as in the case of illness or disease beyond our control --- creates an opportunity for serious reflection. It creates a “perspective” from which we can and should consider the meaning and purpose of life as well as its source and goal. Why am I here? What did God intend for me? Where am I going?
Making “choices” about life and its continuation --- whether my own life or that of others --- is another matter, a matter that has consequences beyond the particular choice or person making it. God created me and my life belongs to God. God created my neighbor and his/her life belongs to God. God created the child in the womb. God created the elderly and the sick and the disabled. God created the innocent and the guilty.
These human lives, from conception to natural death, are not simply a matter of some “choice.” Their continuation or termination is not simply a matter of convenience or economy or an aspect of some perceived right. These are human beings, human lives, each individually created by God for a purpose! The Prophet Jeremiah captured it best when he proclaimed God’s words to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart (Jeremiah 1:5).”
Catholics must be pro-life. There is simply no other “choice” or alternative, no valid counter-argument. Our pro-life position must embrace the womb and the tomb and every moment in between, without forgetting or ignoring support for the whole of life until its natural end as determined by our Creator. A pro-life Catholic also supports marriage as the Church teaches and family, the best context for life’s creation and support. A pro-life Catholic also has concern for the poor and those in need, never abandoning those who choose to give birth, despite difficult personal circumstances. A pro-life Catholic also draws strength for living life in the faith, hope and love that are God’s gifts and graces.
It’s all about life. Life is all about love. Love is all about God. And God is all that really matters.
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton