Emulate John the Baptist in promoting sanctity of life

Bishop Knestout with youth from St. Andrew, Roanoke, at the March for Life Rally in 2019. (Photo provided)

There are many times when we feel like the “voice crying out in the wilderness” — the words the prophet Isaiah uses to describe the role of John the Baptist in proclaiming the coming of Christ.

We are a voice crying out in the wilderness when it comes to sharing Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life — that all life is sacred from conception through natural death. Those at the center of the political realm have often not accepted that teaching. Our culture as a whole — aided by news, social and entertainment media — often ignores it.

Even when hundreds of thousands of us have gathered for the March for Life in Washington each year for 47 years, we are overlooked or even ignored. It’s as if hundreds of thousands of us were standing in the median on I-95 with traffic going past us at 65 miles per hour or more, and drivers didn’t notice us.

With each election year and change in government leadership, many new leaders do not embrace the sanctity of all life. So, we will need to be clear and focused with our advocacy for life issues, emphasizing the fullness of our teachings and beliefs.

Because the culture can at times be hostile toward those who promote the sanctity of life, we might have a temptation to respond in kind. Rather than change votes and convert hearts, any hostility or anger we might express could have no impact on the former and harden the latter.

What drew people to John the Baptist? He certainly faced hostility, naysayers, those who portrayed him as a crazy man living in the desert eating locusts and honey, but the one preparing the way of our Lord did respond with truth and charity. He was firm and emphatic in what he proclaimed.

Those of us who promote the sanctity of life can emulate his approach and have a clear message: We respect all life. That respect begins with the child in the womb, but it doesn’t end there. It continues with our commitment to health care, adequate food and housing, and quality education. It requires stewardship of our environment and includes advocating for abolition of capital punishment and for dignity in dying a natural death.

Voicing support for only parts of that message dilutes it. We can’t say, “I’m pro-life when it comes to…” but omit other elements. That not only weakens the witness to our Catholic beliefs, but it allows those who question our pro-life commitment to pick and choose what they wish to support and oppose, which can be contrary to what we support and oppose.

The obstacles we face with the culture and politics in defending the sanctity of life are frustrating, but personal attacks on those who disagree with us will not bring the change we long to have. Our goal is to change people from within, to work at convincing them of the truth that all life is sacred. We must believe that ourselves if we hope to change others.

That goal must be pursued with firmness and respect. We should not mistake politeness or civility for wimpiness. Respect and charity are the Christian manner of stating one’s case, listening to what others say and responding. If we are to have any success in promoting pro-life concerns, we must commit to engaging in charitable dialogue.

Neither our goal nor the method we need to employ in achieving it are easy. Like John the Baptist, we are in a wilderness. However, with prayer and perseverance, people will come to hear and embrace our message.

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