Seasonal Reflection: Respect Life Month

Joseph Nangle, OFM Features


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated October as a time to pray for respect for all human life. Below a friar who is speaking about the “Consistent Ethic of Life” on Oct. 25 and 26 at St. Francis Church in Triangle, Va., encourages us to examine the way our actions — and the actions of our country — affect the quality of life for people around the world.

All of us have a reasonably good understanding, I believe, of the “Consistent Ethic of Life” in our Catholic/Christian tradition. We know the general contours of this teaching: the sacredness of every individual human person; the forces that militate against each human being’s fulfillment (violence and injustice, both personal and social); and the growing threats to our natural environment. We generally agree that Respect Life efforts must address all of these ideas and challenges.

The question becomes: do we friar ministers of the Gospel live out personally and corporately, and do we fully teach and counsel this very Catholic/Christian outlook? To put it another way: not “Are we who we say we are?” but “Are we who the Church says we should be in this 21st century?” Are we both pastoral and prophetic in the way we live our personal and fraternal lives, and in the way we proclaim the Gospel?

A well-known historical analysis of the attitudes of the Lutheran Church during the rise of Nazism in Germany offers us a penetrating examination of conscience as we mark this Right to Life Month once again. German Lutherans, clergy and laity, reacted basically three ways to Hitler’s ascendency in the early 1930s.

There was a group that acquiesced, if not celebrated, the new order in their country. For them, Nazism was the restoration of Germany’s greatness as a nation after the humiliating defeat of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. A reportedly larger group, perhaps the majority of Lutherans, remained indifferent to what was happening around them. They continued to enjoy the freedom to conduct their church affairs without interference from the new government and hardly noticed, much less responded, to the increasingly restrictive and brutal treatment of other religious and cultural groups: Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. Finally, there was the “confessing Church,” the Lutherans and others who actively opposed what Hitler was bringing about, realizing that it was antithetical to Christ’s Gospel and ultimately death dealing for anyone in Germany who did not support it.

Where do we stand at this point in our own country’s history, vis-à-vis these Lutheran choices of 80 years ago? Clearly our country is not Nazi Germany. However, with regard to the threats against the human person mentioned above — violence, injustice and ecological devastation — the United States is the world’s greatest purveyor of military arms, not to mention our almost knee-jerk military response to any and all perceived threats; connected to that, we do consume some 40 percent of the world’s resources, while whole peoples starve; and we are among the world’s major environmental polluters.

It takes enormous courage to address these issues in our ministries, to be that confessing Church which suffered imprisonment and martyrdom in Germany long ago, to do what Jesus did in his own public life: confront the powers and principalities. But we must ask ourselves in a Right to Life month — can there be any other choice for us?

— Fr. Joseph, a resident of Washington, D.C., is a member of the Provincial Council. A reflection that he wrote last year about Martin Luther King Jr. is available on the Seasonal Reflections page of the HNP website.