Right to Life

Each year in the month of October, our American bishops emphasize the need for all Christians to rebuild a culture of life, in which every human life from the moment he or she is conceived is cherished, respected and protected. This flows from the Church’s core teaching that every human person is a gift not just to his parents, but to the whole world, and is made in the image and likeness of God, reflecting His very goodness. They call this observance “Respect Life Month” and each year focus on a theme highlighting one aspect of this deep respect for God’s gift to us.

This year has been declared the Year of St. Joseph by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and so as a result, the bishops have chosen for their theme this year, “St. Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!”

This was surely inspired by the Scriptural account of St. Joseph’s obedient responsiveness to the Lord’s command to take the child Jesus and His Mother Mary into Egypt, to flee from the wrath of King Herod who was intent on destroying all the infant boys of Bethlehem so that there would be no contender to his earthly power. (It’s worth taking a moment to re-read that short but powerful account from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 2.)

St. Matthew writes the account in a dry, almost dispassionate tone, but the drama behind the scene nearly boggles the mind. Jesus the Son of God – the very Word made Flesh – Who humbled Himself to become a tiny, defenseless baby in the womb of the Virgin Mary is under threat for His very life! And to whom does the Lord entrust this unfathomably important task to protect Him from a cruel death? His father on Earth, St. Joseph.

For any biological father, imagine the first time that you saw your infant son or daughter, your first born. Men who go through that experience almost universally share in the profoundly life-changing feeling that suddenly surges over them: together with the wave of awe and wonder that this tiny creature is their own flesh and blood, there also arises a great awakening of a feeling that they would do anything and everything to protect that precious life. For Christian men, there is the added element that this life was entrusted to them by God almighty, and their paternity (fatherhood) involves protecting that child not only from physical harm, but moral harm as well — above all the harm of being separated from Christ.

In his outstanding holiness, imagine the range of emotions that must have flooded over St. Joseph. The Child was not his own flesh and blood of course, but still, He knew that God Himself had revealed in a dream that he was to be not only the spouse of the Blessed Virgin, but also the father on earth and guardian of this Redeemer of the World. No man before him had ever been giving such an important mission because the outcome of that mission would effect the salvation of the whole world. If the Divine Child would grow to manhood and redeem all men from their sins, Joseph would have to act.

Here we make the connection to our own life and times, where St. Joseph continues to intercede for us from Heaven. Any man worth his salt would defend his own child from death. (This is incidentally why it is so radically unjust that our current U.S. laws prevent a father from having any say on whether a woman can kill his child in the womb).

But we have developed a radical disconnect in our current (very broken) culture of death. While a man would do anything to protect his own child, he is expected to sit idly by while other children are routinely killed in the womb. That is not the way Christian manhood should work. Next to the Lord Jesus Himself, St. Joseph is the most perfect exemplar of Christian manhood. Just as he protected all humanity by guarding the Christ-child, every Christian man (regardless of his state in life or marital status) is obliged to work to protect the most innocent of lives from destruction. That is simply part of the fatherhood built into the masculine nature.

So the question becomes, what are we as a Christian people, and in particular Christian men, doing to protect the innocent? The tradition of Christian art includes many disturbingly graphic depictions of the slaughter of the innocent boys of Bethlehem. Our “polite” society doesn’t like to display that art anymore. We prefer to hide behind euphemisms and pretty language about “choice” and “women’s rights.” As Christians, we are called to shine a glaring light on the evil which needs to be exposed, so that everything hidden in the dark comes to light. We must vigorously oppose the lies, the bullying, the implicit threats (“don’t make a stink about this or you might lose your job,” for example). Christian men in particular should simply not back down in the face of opposition, even if they must make great sacrifices to defend life.

St. Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!

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