Savannah School of Art and Design student Jillian Wenner holds up a sign she made saying “love them both” as she walks in the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18. Photograph by Krystyna Swierczewski.
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Bishop says, "Let us love the holy gift of life"

Originally Appeared in : 9903-1/31/19
My dear friends, some will say that life begins at 40. The Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches that life begins at the very first moment of conception, and life continues to be sacred, until the end, to the moment of natural death. Today, we are asked to reflect and to pray in a special way upon the precious gift of life that has been given and that has been given to others.  
 
St. Francis was certainly in love with life. He respected all of God’s creation especially all living creatures. He saw God’s love and God’s reflection in everything that God made. He especially saw God in the poor and the forgotten. We all have been given life by the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and the giver of life, and because we have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us, our lives are sacred. At baptism we became the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we should be treated, as a result, with respect.  
 
Much attention is given to the issue of abortion: the intentional termination of human life before birth. It is said that people have a right to choose. I firmly believe that also: What makes us human is our ability to choose, to think and to love. Our ability to choose is what raises us above all other creatures in creation, and we have a right to choose, to think and to love, but choose what? To make a good choice, a sound choice, we have to have knowledge. Making a choice is not just a feeling. We have to have formed a conscience. We have to have a true conscience. We have to have a correct conscience. Our conscience is our sanctuary. It is where we alone are with God and where we hear his voice. As the apex of God’s creation, we have the ability to choose between what is good and what is evil. The Book of Deuteronomy tells us, I have set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse. Choose life. We have the ability to choose between life and death. Why would anyone choose anything but life? 
 
In the Old and the New Testament, we learned that life is no accident. Our being here is no coincidence. We are never mistakes. There never has been, and there never will be a person who is a mistake in the mind and the heart of God. When we destroy or compromise human life, we fundamentally accuse God of making a mistake. When we destroy or compromise human life, we are telling God that we know better, that this unborn life or this senior citizen or this terminally ill patient or this convict on death row is a mistake, a divine error.  
 
As I reflect upon the sanctity and the preciousness of all human life, I am sincerely trying to understand why a person would choose death, for themselves or for others, rather than to choose life. 
 
How does a person come to that understanding that life is less than holy? How and where does a person learn that? Is it simply ignorance: They just don’t know better? Is it simply a matter of inconvenience? I just don’t have time for this child. Is it looking at life as disposable, a result of anger or revenge? A life for a life. 
 
Is living in the culture of death a reflection of the environment in which a person has been brought up and raised? When a person chooses to support the termination of life, is it because of what they have been taught? I suppose that if, as a child, my parents or other adults taught me that older people were a nuisance or that they had little to contribute to society, but rather that they are a drain on the family and on society then if I was surrounded by that way of thinking, if I saw older people in the way or causing us more work, making a less of a contribution to our society, then I would have little regard for senior citizens. If we never visited my grandparents or older relatives or if I continually heard how helpless they were, then I would have little respect for my elders. 
 
If I was taught to pity other children who were physically or mentally challenged or if I was allowed to ridicule and make fun of them because they were different, then I would grow up having little regard for the uniqueness and the preciousness of life. I would only value a person if they could do what I can do. If I was taught that the electric chair or the gas chamber was the only fair way to punish people in society and get even for what they did... 
 
You see it depends on how we have been formed, how people around us taught us about life in all of its forms. From a young child, an infant or an unborn, to a middle aged person with disabilities who cannot work, who causes a drain on the social resources of the community or someone who is old and in the way and costs us money and isn’t contributing to the welfare of others in society, then if that’s the way I was thinking, then I would have no value of life or for life.  
 
What can we do to bring about a day when all life is viewed as sacred, and all life is worthy of dignity and respect? 
 
On these kinds of days, in our society, we begin to think about and reflect upon some of these values and how we learned them, how we passed them on to our own children, how we respond to people who are different from us. 
 
We may for a day or two have that sensitivity toward life in many of its forms, but it has to be something that is more than just a day or two in our consciousness, or that it has an effect upon us only for a short time until the next January 22nd comes around. It has to be something that’s deep rooted in our conviction of what we value as Catholics, and that life will always be precious because it is the work of God. It is created by the Holy Spirit until the last breaths of a natural death. That’s what we have to continue to do is to keep this issue, this understanding, this profession very much on our minds all the time and to teach others and work in our family, in our community, in our church that this must continue to be a priority if we are to see any change in the attitude of society.  
 
We can begin by using our greatest force for good: the power of daily prayer. It should be on each of our lips every day, to pray for a greater understanding and demonstration of the sanctity of all human life. We can become peaceful advocates for public policy, speaking up for life to all local and state and federal office holders. Let them know, remind them again and again, of the real value of human life.
 
Because, in our land and our country and in other countries around the world, it is the government who makes decisions on who lives and who doesn’t or how they live, how long they live and what resources are made available for them to live, and so we have to influence the policy makers of the community in which we live. 
 
We can no longer be silent. We can no longer be complacent. We’re talking about a human life, just one; one more would be better than having the number of those whose lives are looked as valueless to be snuffed out, and the number just keeps growing and growing. And it’s more than the number of children or the number of elderly or the number of those with disabilities. It’s more than that. It’s in our understanding of why God made us the way we are. He makes no mistakes. He’s God. There is a reason and a purpose for each one of us.  
 
It may take us a lifetime to try to understand what it is that God wants us to do with this life that he gave us, but for many of us it begins to unfold as we grow and develop as a human person, and the influence of others upon us and our values that help us understand what God wants us to do with our life and to look at the results of what we’re able to do to help others and what that does to us. 
 
When we work at a Special Olympics or if we feed the hungry or if we visit those who are in assisted living, who have little or no visitors.
 
 This is what has to change, is our attitude and our system of values based on the preciousness and the sacredness of all human life. 
 
We can bring this issue home to our own children and grandchildren: They will live what they learn, and so this should be a topic at the table. It should be a topic that is discussed as family because it’s in the family that oftentimes they, we, have a greater understanding of the value of life. 
 
But what if it happens to my daughter? What if she becomes pregnant without marriage? What a scandal that would be to our neighbors, to our relatives, to her siblings. So let’s do away with it quietly, so no one will know. No one will know? The one who carried that child will know for the rest of her life. And did we do her a favor by terminating that life or making it possible for that to happen by financing it or by encouraging her to make that decision? Children live what they learn.  
 
And finally a special word to those who are struggling with a past abortion. No matter what our sins may be, we must always resist the temptation to despair of God’s forgiveness. Reconciliation is a gift that he wants us to have. Let us bring that message to all those we serve throughout our diocese, our neighbors. Let us attempt each day to be people of boundless compassion, who live out the peace prayer of St. Francis and who live out our love for life by treating every person—born and unborn, weak or strong, young or old, guilty or innocent—as Jesus would. Let us love the holy gift of life. And may the Lord grant you his peace. Amen.  
 
Transcript of Bishop Hartmayer’s homily January 22, 2019 given at Mass held in St. Mary’s chapel in the Catholic Pastoral Center, Savannah. Watch the full homily: bit.ly/hartmayerunborn
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