The Catholic Church’s position on life is unimpeachable. Every human person has inherent dignity and the right to live from the moment of conception to their natural death. Arguably, the Catholic Church is the biggest champion of human rights and dignity in our world today. There are no exceptions and the Church speaks out against violations of the dignity of the human person in all quarters. Whether it be immigration, human trafficking, forced sterilizations, abortion, pornography, IVF, or the poor, the Church fights valiantly on the international, national, regional, and local levels to correct injustices.
Many of us call ourselves pro-life and espouse the virtue of respecting all human life. Undoubtedly, many of us fail to fully live this mission for one simple reason: the sheer magnitude of the disrespect for human life in our culture is impossible to grasp. Respecting life is about more than children and the elderly, it’s about having empathy and compassion for people in all situations. It’s realizing in moments of discomfort or strife that the person opposing you is a person just as you are, and worthy of respect, dignity, and love.
Consider this story, one that I’m sure you can relate to.
Driving conditions in Virginia can be, well, complex. Recently I was traveling home on a major interstate after going to Confession. Elated, and in a state of grace, I had a tremendous sense of peace and calm. It’s that feeling that we all know, the realization that we just received a chance to start all over again. I drive 5 or 6 over the speed limit, and in this case, was traveling on a major trucking route with only two lanes in either direction. With my cruise control set, I moved into the left lane in order to pass two tractor-trailers. We were in a safety zone, an area of interstate that, because of the nature of the road construction, requires a reduced speed. Still, I was traveling at my 6 miles over the limit pace. Admittedly, my pass rate on the trucks wasn’t great, but I was still moving.
Behind me, with all the speed, energy, and inertia of the proverbial bat out of hell came a silver SUV. They flashed their lights, honked, and followed me at an unsafe distance. With no opportunity to pass me on the right due to the trucks, it was the perfect situation for some road rage. Since I’m not an employee of the Virginia Department of Transportation, a delegate in the Virginia Assembly, or even a traffic engineer, I did not have the power to change the speed limit. The limit was determined, by law, to be the safest speed allowable for that stretch of road. Yet, the driver behind me insisted on making it known that they believed my speed was inappropriate and wished that I would simply move out of their way.
Road rage is often cyclical. One person initiates, the other responds, and the cycle continues. I passed the trucks about three minutes after this person came behind me, and they raced on. I had several possible responses. Noticing their license plate, I could’ve said disparaging things about the State of New York and the people from there, I could’ve prolonged their delay by not fully passing the truck. I even could’ve stared at them and gestured appropriately. Instead, I offered a simple prayer for them.
In that moment, I realized just how systemic our respect for life must be. I don’t know what was causing that person’s concern or need to drive so dangerously, but they may have had a legitimate reason. They may be a veteran with PTSD, completely unaware of how their actions are being perceived, or even just someone who’s having a bad day. They may have just been a jerk, I’ll never know. The point is that instead of matching rage for rage, I consciously decided to return compassion and empathy in the event that they truly needed it in that moment.
In order to truly respect life, we must act without exception. All of our actions either respect life or degrade it. So the next time that you’re tempted to join in on office gossip, purposely exclude someone, or even withhold empathy from a person on the street, remember how valiantly the Church fights for the dignity of the human person, and afford that same courtesy to those around you.