Reflection: Without Respect for Life, There Can Be No Peace

Peter Schneible, OFM Features

Respect Life Month is observed annually in October as a way for Catholics to better understand, value and support the God-given dignity of every person. In this reflection, Peter Schneible warns that we cannot expect to live in peace as a society if we accept the destruction of some of its most vulnerable members.

The Province’s Communications Office called me recently, asking whether I would write a reflection based on the Catholic Church’s designation of October as Respect Life Month. I was thrown a curve; the director said that it would be great if I could tie my reflection into All Soul’s Day also. I had never thought of that connection before. But then again, college professors are known to be able to talk about almost any subject.

The theme of this reflection is peace. Many people experience me as a peaceful person. But I do not always feel peaceful when I am cursing my computer or banging my hand on my desk when no one else is around. For many years, I taught St. Bonaventure University’s “Intellectual Journey” course – the introductory course to our now former core curriculum called Clare College. The course is a seminar organized around St. Bonaventure’s writing “Itinerarium Mentis in Deum” (The Journey of the Mind into God). Bonaventure wrote it at La Verna, where he was on retreat trying to find peace from his troubles as General Minister.

I also associate peace with the faithful departed. At funerals, the family often chooses the reading from Wisdom 3: “The deceased seem, in the view of the foolish, to be dead, and their passing away an affliction, and their going away from us utter destruction. But they are at peace.”

Remembering a Young Life Lost
This past summer, SBU’s Francis E. Kelley Oxford Program – a six-week summer study program at the University of Oxford in England – celebrated its 30th anniversary. I was at SBU when the program started, and I know that the first year of the program was very difficult in at least one way.

One of the students that first year was Maureen Shanahan. Maureen was an extraordinary young woman: intelligent, academically accomplished, deeply involved in the campus, and very friendly. While at Oxford that summer, Maureen came down with a fatal disease and was dead within a few days, never having been able to return to the United States. Her family and friends and the whole campus were devastated.

When the students returned for the fall semester, we had a memorial service for Maureen. The University Choir sang the Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem Mass. It was the first time I had heard the piece. The beauty and power of the music, along with the emotion of the situation, made it an experience I will never forget. Webber combined the traditional Pie Jesu text (from the Dies Irae) with that of the Agnus Dei. The very moving final verse in English translation is: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give them rest, everlasting rest.”

Partnering with National Organizations
In my role as the moderator of the pro-life group on our campus, SBU for Life, I have had contact with a national organization called Feminists for Life. It is a group that bridges the political gap over the issue of abortion. The name comes from the fact that most of the 19th-century feminists, like Susan B. Anthony, were against abortion.

One of the most significant events our group has ever sponsored was to bring a speaker from Feminists for Life to our campus. The woman spoke movingly about her experience. She became pregnant after having been raped. She chose to give birth to the baby and took on the responsibility of becoming a parent. She spoke about the joys and struggles of her decision. Clearly, she felt that her decision had changed her life in a positive fashion. She made it clear that she would not argue that other women in the same situation must make the same decision, but she wanted them to know about her experience.

Our group goes to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., most years. There, we are hosted by friars, staff, and parishioners of St. Camillus Church in nearby Silver Spring, Md. We attend Mass at St. Camillus Church on the morning of the march. The Knights of Columbus provide us with a wonderful breakfast and a bag lunch for our day on the road. We have a banner for our group that we carry during the march, but I am not organized enough to get signs to carry ahead of time for us to carry. Fortunately, there are usually extra signs available for the taking. Several years ago I found one I like: “I am a voice for the voiceless.” Last year, I found one that I like even better. It was from the Feminists for Life group and states, “Peace begins in the womb.”

I have both of those signs on my door in the SBU friary. Looking positively, the Feminists for Life sign points out that we can begin a consistent ethic of peace by respecting the God-given dignity of human life from its very beginning. But there is a challenge in the saying also — one that I think is very appropriate for contemporary issues. How can we as a society expect to live in non-violent peace with each other if we accept the violent destruction of some of the most vulnerable members of our society?

Fr. Peter is an associate professor of biology at St. Bonaventure University, where he has ministered for more than 30 years. He is also a health professions advisor and a minister-in-residence in Shay Hall.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at Additional reflections by friars can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of the HNP website.

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