By Mike Jordan Laskey
October is Respect Life Month for the Catholic Church here in the United States. Here are nine ways you can observe the month at your parish this year.
1) Some incredible saints have feast days in October. Their lives inspire our respect for all life. Highlight them.
Create a visual display in your church lobby or gathering space that connects some of our October celebrations to our call to show respect for all life.
St. Therese of Lisieux (Oct. 1): We should strive to imitate her “simple way” of love that reaches out to all, especially the vulnerable.
St. Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4): His care for all of God’s creation can inspire us to vigilantly protect the Earth and all its creatures.
St. Teresa of Avila (Oct. 15): This quote attributed to St. Teresa is a great motto for respect life ministries:
Christ has no body but yours…
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
This list doesn’t even include the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, and feast days honoring St. Luke and Sts. Simon and Jude.
2) It’s all about the weekend.
The popular book “Rebuilt,” which highlights the incredible growth of a parish in Baltimore, emphasizes the centrality of the parish weekend liturgical experience. How can you assure that every person who walks through your doors during Respect Life Month (especially on Respect Life Weekend, Oct. 4 and 5) knows that it’s a special time of year for Catholics? A focus on respect life issues in preaching, general intercessions, bulletin blurbs, etc. can help parishioners make the connection. Great resources for the weekend can be found at the USCCB’s Respect Life Program website. The fastest way to get there is to Google “USCCB Respect Life Program.”
3) Participate in a public pro-life witness.
There are two particularly important pro-life public witnesses in South Jersey during October: Life Chain Sunday (Oct. 5) and 40 Days for Life Vigils at abortion clinics in the area. See the ad in this week’s Star Herald with Life Chain locations. Bishop Sullivan plans to lead a rosary at the 40 Days for Life Vigil in Cherry Hill (502 Kings Highway N.) on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 11:30 a.m. Visit www.40daysforlife.com for a complete schedule and regional locations.
4) Attend the Respect Life Leaders gathering on October 18.
All those with a heart for respect life ministry are invited to our second annual leaders gathering. The day will include a visit from Bishop Sullivan, a dynamic keynote address, Mass and communal prayer, breakfast and lunch, and topical breakout sessions that will help invigorate your parish respect life ministry work. RSVP online at http://bit.ly/CalledToLoveAllLife.
5) Connect with an organization that serves families and children.
There are a number of great organizations in our area that support families facing crisis pregnancy situations. Holy Eucharist Parish in Cherry Hill is working with one of these groups in a neat way: representatives from Options for Women, a crisis pregnancy center, will talk to youth ministry students about their work, and then the students will go to the center and help clean windows as a service project. Get to know organizations in your area that protect the dignity of life, and find out how your community can support them.
6) Host a Faith & Film Night.
Over the past few years, some great movies have come out that explore themes related to the dignity of every person. Check out titles like “Gimme Shelter,” “Bella” and “Amazing Grace,” and then gather parishioners to watch and discuss one of them. Some possible questions for reflection afterward: What characters in the movie promoted the dignity of every human, and how? What virtues did they display? What traits of theirs could we emulate? What are some of the obstacles to the promotion of human dignity, and how can we overcome those obstacles with patience and love?
7) Find five people and read “The ABCs of Pro-Life Activities in the Parish” together.
Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell his disciples in the Gospel, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Community is essential. Don’t try to go it alone. Find and personally invite five other people to come together to discuss launching respect life ministry at your parish if you don’t already have an active committee within your faith community. (If you do have an active committee, find five new members.) The first thing you’ll want to read and discuss is “The ABCs of Pro-Life Activities in the Parish,” written by the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark. You can download the manual for free at http://camdenlifejustice.wordpress.com/resource.
8) Make your voice heard: Contact elected leaders on behalf of the sanctity of all life.
Catholics in this country have the privilege to work for the protection of all human life through participation in the political process, especially through legislative advocacy. Contact elected leaders with a phone call, postcard, email, or in-person visit and urge them to support laws that protect life. Visit the New Jersey Catholic Conference website at www.njcathconf.com to see a list of timely issues and instructions for contacting your representatives. Currently, the conference is working to protect the ill and elderly by opposing an assisted suicide bill. With your pastor’s permission, think about having postcards related to this bill available that parishioners can sign. (You can download and print these cards at http://camdenlifejustice.wordpress.com/resources.)
9) Commit to radical hospitality.
Are our parishes places where all families feel at home? Are young children celebrated and welcomed, even when they’re crying? Do single parents feel welcome in our communities? How about families with children with disabilities? Respect Life Month could be a great time to evaluate your parish’s commitment to hospitality. We must “put our money where our mouth is” when it comes to cherishing every life.
For assistance in launching or growing a respect life ministry at your parish, contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-583-6119.
Mike Jordan Laskey is director of Life and Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden.