My dear brothers and sisters, greetings of Christ’s peace and love!
As October is Respect Life Month, it seems a good time to reflect on how Catholic Social Teaching speaks to many of the issues we face today.
Here in Utah, we are getting a taste of many of the contentious matters faced by the Universal Church. For example, a few weeks ago, Catholic Community Services of Utah welcomed the first refugee from Afghanistan to our state after the United States withdrew its military from the country. Last month, too, local Catholics joined several activities to pray for an end to abortion, even as our federal Supreme Court gears up to consider a case that may determine the future of legal abortion. And, looking forward, very soon our parishes will begin to collect donations to help those in need celebrate the holiday season with generous meals and gifts for the children – while Jesus said that the poor will be with us always, we can do our part to ease their suffering. Another chance to live our faith will come in January, when our diocese will once again provide a voice at the Utah legislature against a proposed law regarding the death penalty.
All of these issues – immigration, opposition to abortion and the death penalty, meeting the needs of the poor and vulnerable – are addressed in our Church’s beautiful social teaching, which proclaims that every human life is sacred.
This year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops chose as the theme of Respect Life Month “St. Joseph, defender of life, pray for us.”
We all know St. Joseph as the husband of the Virgin Mary, and as foster father of Jesus. His “unhesitating adherence to God’s will as he faithfully and lovingly protected the Christ Child and the Blessed Mother bears witness to our own call as Christians,” the USCCB states.
Pope Francis has dedicated this entire year to St. Joseph, “the true ‘miracle’ by which God saves the child and his mother,” as the Holy Father wrote in his 2020 apostolic letter Patris Corde (A Father’s Heart), which was issued on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church.
Although we have no record of any words spoken by St. Joseph, his actions provide a model for us. The Bible tells us that St. Joseph at first was “deeply troubled” by her pregnancy. But then, in a dream he received reassurance from heaven, and he took Mary as his wife. From then on, he protected the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child, taking them into Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath.
If we reflect on the flight of the Holy Family, we can feel solidarity for migrants today. Many of them risk their lives to escape starvation or war, and to find a better life for their families. Solidarity is a key to our Church’s teaching on the dignity and sanctity of human life. As St. John Paul II wrote in On Social Concern (Sollicitudo rei Socialis), solidarity “is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”
We may also wish to reflect on the fact that St. Joseph formed a family with the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child. It may seem strange to reflect on the worth of the family during Respect Life Month, but “the well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life” (Gaudium et spes 47 § 1)
Therefore, let us pray for married couples, that they may mirror the union of Christ and the Church. Let us pray also for families, that they may serve as a mirror for our relationships with our brethren. As the Catechism states, “In our brothers and sisters we see the children of our parents; in our cousins, the descendants of our ancestors; in our fellow citizens, the children of our country; in the baptized, the children of our mother the Church; in every human person, a son or daughter of the One who wants to be called ‘our Father.’ …”
As we consider St. Joseph, we should remember he provided for the Holy Family by the work of his hands. St. Joseph is a model of a human laborer; “From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor,” Pope Francis writes in Patris Corde.
Reflecting on work in light of Respect Life Month, let us remember that it is primarily through work that families are provided for. In the absence of adequate work and fair wages, poverty arises, and from poverty comes many ills. “Not only does the situation of poverty still provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion,” Pope Benedict XVI noted in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in vertate.
These are but a few examples showing that the foster father of Our Lord is indeed a saint to look to as a defender of life – all stages of human life, from conception to natural death. Therefore, let us join in this prayer from the USCCB to St. Joseph, Defender of Life:
Dearest St. Joseph,
at the word of an angel, you lovingly took Mary into your home.
As God’s humble servant, you guided the Holy Family on the road to Bethlehem,
welcomed Jesus as your own son in the shelter of a manger,
and fled far from your homeland for the safety of both Mother and Child.
We praise God that as their faithful protector,
you never hesitated to sacrifice for those entrusted to you.
May your example inspire us also to welcome, cherish, and safeguard God’s most precious gift of life.
Help us to faithfully commit ourselves to the service and defense of human life —especially where it is vulnerable or threatened.
Obtain for us the grace to do the will of God in all things.