Editor’s note: In the second reading of the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, St. Paul is encouraging Timothy and his followers who are facing persecution during the early days of Christianity to not give up hope and to remain as witnesses to Jesus Christ. In his homily celebrating the 75th anniversary of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Dallas, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel said that Christians today have to remain witnesses as examples of Jesus Christ, especially during Respect Life Month.
By Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel
Special to The Texas Catholic
The early Christians were being severely persecuted for their faith in Jesus as the son of God. Many of them martyred for the faith, spilling their blood as they gave witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. St. Paul is writing to Timothy, who is much younger than him, to try to encourage him and to remind him to not only rely on human strength, but on the strength that comes from God.
Each one of us, as baptized and confirmed followers of Jesus Christ, is also called to give witness to our faith in the world that we live in each and every day. We are called to witness to our faith in our families at home; we’re called to witness to our faith in school, in our place of work, in our social life with our friends. People ought to know that we are followers of Jesus Christ by the words that we say, by the good example that we give, by the works of charity that we show toward others.
There is another way that we are called upon to witness to our faith and the focus is placed upon it this month of October. Each year, the month of October is set aside as Respect Life Month to raise awareness to the world around us of the sacredness and the dignity of each and every human life. And it also reminds us as followers of Jesus Christ to give witness to the fact in the world that we live in, each and every human person is created in the image and likeness of God and for that reason is owed the respect and the dignity of being a child of God. St. John, in one of his writings, clearly spoke to the early Christian communities, telling them, “If you say that you love God and hate your neighbor, you are a liar. You are not telling the truth. How can you love God and yet hate the creature who was created in his image and in his likeness?”
Because each and every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God we base the respect, the dignity and the reverence that is owed to each and every human being, from conception in the womb until natural death. All stages of life, no matter where a person comes from, no matter what their economic status is, no matter what creed they have, they are human beings and that means that they are deserving of dignity and also respect because they are children of God.
Pope John Paul II is the great apostle of life. He will be canonized a saint in April of next year, and so many of his writings and so many of his talks focused on the danger that we face in our world today of losing that dignity and respect for the human person.
And in many of his writings he remarks how — as soon as we begin to remove God from the public sphere, as soon as we start taking God out of our public discourse and as soon as we remove God from the daily affairs of human beings — we start to see a progression of the lack of respect for the human person.
On one of his visits to the United States, Pope John Paul II made the remark that when life is at its most vulnerable stage, whether it be a child in the womb, or someone at the end of life, the old person, when they are most vulnerable, when they are endangered, when they are threatened, then it doesn’t take long before life at every other stage of life becomes threatened and is in danger.
We look around the world today, at the newspapers that we read, the television shows that we see, and we see all of these accounts of senseless attacks on the human person; the drive-by shootings, mall shootings, mass bombing, all of this disrespect for human life, for the human person. Where does it come from? It comes from the systematic removal of God from the public sphere and, therefore, leading to a loss of dignity and reverence that is owed to the human person.
That, today, is the great witness that we must give as followers of Jesus Christ that we love the human person, because the human person is created in the likeness and image of God, that the human person is deserving of that respect at all stages of life.
The Most Rev. J. Douglas Deshotel is an auxiliary bishop, vicar general and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Dallas. This is an edited version of the homily he delivered at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Dallas on Oct. 6, 2013, Respect Life Sunday.