That sentence was the cover message of a card I received 28 years ago from a second-grader when I was leaving St. Vincent de Paul parish in Houston as I completed my time in grad school.
The students made farewell cards, and that became my favorite. I always cherish the idea that he simply misspelled the word “leaving” … otherwise, it’s a pretty dark sentiment.
Each October we observe Respect Life Month. In the closing months of the Year of St. Joseph, this year’s theme is actually a simple prayer: “St. Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!” Like St. Joseph, God’s ways may mystify us; but we learn from his example: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” That obedience literally saved Jesus’ life. When Mary was threatened with stoning if she were thought guilty of adultery, the Child in her womb would have died with her; Joseph defended her and wed her. When Herod sought to kill Him as an infant, Joseph left home and livelihood to protect Him.
Respect for human life begins with the sincere inner conviction that is the polar opposite of this spelling error: “I’m glad that you are living.” It recognizes that each person is made in God’s image, entrusted with the gift of life itself from the Creator. It is true that in our human imperfection, it is easier for us to love some people and harder to love others. Those we know, those closest to us, those we admire – for them, it is natural to say “I’m glad you are living.” For others – strangers, those who challenge us, those with whom we differ strongly on things important to us, those we fear at some level – for them, it requires grace from God to truly say: “Though it is hard for me, I am glad you are living.”
We are in the third generation in the 48 years now since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the U.S., and the erosion of respect for human life has become firmly entrenched in our culture. We see it in the scourge of pornography; in the coarseness of much music and film, art and media; in the ready dismissal of human dignity in those who are unexpected or uncomfortable for us; in the narrowness when people focus on personal satisfactions and preferences regardless of the impact on others. Human lives can be bought and sold in trafficking; virtually every aspect of life gets saturated in some sexual message; we are tempted to divide others into those worthy of life and respect and those who fail to meet our criteria, thus disposable from our concern and even from further sharing in life.
From the perspective of faith, we see the age-old long shadow of original sin, continuing to darken intellects and weaken wills, the seed of doubt in God’s wisdom and love that was planted by the Evil One bearing such abundant fruit in a divided world. That same faith reveals that it is only Jesus Christ Who can free us from this cycle of error, fear, and sin. We need a Redeemer, One greater than anything in the world … One Who says to us unfailingly, regardless of our faults and rebellion: “I’m glad you are living.”
Laws and policies are slowly changing to foster reverence for life in some areas, but it is something like smoothing out the screen protector on your smartphone or other device … the bubbles might move around but they are hard to eliminate.
Only the change of hearts – each heart – can build a true culture of life.
St. John Paul II taught in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) that this culture must begin with gratitude. To be in awed thankfulness for the gift of life ourselves, and in every person – not “humanity” in general but the person right before me – is the foundation that is also a powerful antidote to today’s hyper-individualism and the “Age of the Complaint.”
Each of us has someone who counts less or least in our concern; the words of Jesus then resound: “Whatever you do for the least, you do for Me.” Keep your balance and perspective, pray for wisdom and charity, and recall the promise of Jesus: “A thief comes only to slaughter and
destroy; I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).