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NOTE: The following letter was published in the October 6, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
As we head in to October and begin "Respect Life Month," a time to particularly reflect on life issues and to pray for and promote greater respect for all human life at every stage and in every condition, the words of Pope Francis come to mind: "We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.” Indeed, this year's theme is "Moved by Mercy." Unfortunately, our society is marked by the ever growing spread of legislation and practices which deliberately destroy innocent human life. We have recently witnessed too many acts of terrorism and violence, abortion is commonplace - with an estimated 30 million per year worldwide - and euthanasia and assisted-suicide are gaining acceptance at an alarming rate. In what Pope Francis has referred to as a "throw-away culture," the unborn, the unproductive, the frail elderly and those who are incurably ill or near death are at great risk.
In a world that, in so many ways, seems to embrace a culture of death, we can be tempted to despair. But our Holy Father reminds us that "Mercy is the force which awakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope." Each of us has been treated with mercy ourselves and Jesus tells us to "go and do likewise."
The Lord has even given us a roadmap - the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy - noting, "Whatever you do for the least brothers of mine, you do for me." As Catholics, we are called to be agents of mercy by responding to the basic needs - both bodily and spiritually - of our neighbors as we journey together through life. Thankfully, we see examples of this all over our diocese and so many people are to be thanked for this great witness:
Pope Francis often speaks of creating a "culture of encounter," which can transform the way we live in the world, while affirming and facilitating a culture of life. In our everyday encounters, we can be our Lord's hands and feet in a world full of suffering, tragedy and injustice. To do this, our Holy Father encourages us to cultivate within ourselves "an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full." Whether it is encountering a troubled teen, a woman suffering from a past abortion, a husband and wife facing infertility or a poor prenatal diagnosis - if we have a listening heart, we can discover the priceless gift of another and help draw them closer to God's endless love.
I am so grateful to Jennifer Ruggiero and all who collaborate with her in our Office of Respect for Life. Their efforts to help transform our culture with mercy, to work for an end to abortion and support our elderly and sick as they are encouraged to "give up," reminding us all to support life in all its stages and conditions, is certainly to be commended. May this October be a time of reflection, hope and inspiration for all people of good will who seek to reawaken in all hearts the zeal for the sanctity and dignity of all human life. Moved by mercy, may we grow to be more effective and compassionate messengers of mercy to our brothers and sisters in need as we continue to promote, nurture and instill the Gospel of life into our homes, our neighborhoods and into the world.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen