‘Be Not Afraid’ To Protect The Poor And Disabled

Friday, 20 October 2017 - 

This year’s Respect Life Program theme is “Be Not Afraid.” The Respect Life Program’s purpose is to “help Catholics understand, value, and become engaged with supporting the God-given dignity of every person—which naturally leads to protecting the gift of every person’s life.” As previously stated, my October columns are dedicated to the theme “Be Not Afraid.” This column focuses on protecting all those that we find on the peripheries and margins of life, especially the poor and disabled.

Before reflecting on those living on the peripheries, it is important to consider the scope of the Respect Life Program. The Respect Life Program draws our attention to the issue of human dignity, in its broadest sense. It can sometimes seem like our attention and work focuses on abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia, to the detriment of other social justice issues. While there is certainly good cause to give primary attention to issues like abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia, it is critical that we address other threats to human life.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities states: The Respect Life Program “sets abortion and euthanasia in the context of other issues involving threats to human life and human dignity—for example, capital punishment, war, poverty, population control, child abuse and abandonment, false views of human sexuality, human cloning, and research that destroys human embryos—and calls attention to the way in which each touches on the sanctity and dignity of human life.”

Pope Francis, in a special way, has called our attention to those who are marginalized. In loving those who are often overlooked and undermined by the powerful, we love as Christ has called us to love and, in doing so, we love Christ Himself (Matthew 25).

The Poor. The social teaching of the Church often highlights a “preferential option for the poor.” The preferential option for the poor is a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity” and “affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ,” as stated by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Our preferential option for the poor allows us to “embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without healthcare and, above all, those without hope for a better future.”

If we are to be a Church with a deep sense of respect for human life, our prayers, fasts, and sacrificial works must reveal a care and concern for the poor. This extends not only to our own private actions, but our collective actions as a political community that supports prudent policies for the poor.

The Disabled. Pope Francis recently spoke to Special Olympics athletes in Rome. During his address, he recognized a shortcoming of society regarding those with disabilities. Pope Francis stated that the disabled can be subjected to “prejudice and exclusion.” Prejudice and exclusion often result from our base desire to see others as objects, whose value is determined on whether they can work, produce a financial benefit, or help us achieve our own selfish ends.

Yet, our faith calls us to see something more magnificent than earthly abilities or potential. Our faith helps us clearly see that those with disabilities are “fully human subjects, with rights and duties” and that “in spite of their limitations and sufferings affecting their bodies and faculties, they point up more clearly to the dignity and greatness of man.”

With eyes of faith, we can give those with disabilities the due attention and love that is their right as children of God. We can accompany them, and their families, in their daily joys and struggles. We can look upon them, not as the untouchable lepers of biblical days, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing so, we love properly, and even allow ourselves to be loved by them.

Remember that the work ahead is not for the faint of heart and, for this reason, our Lord calls us to “be not afraid.” Take courage, for Jesus is with us until the end of time!