As I was driving to school on Monday, Oct. 2, I was thinking about various pro-life initiatives taking place around the country for the USCCB’s annual celebration of Respect Life Month (October). As I usually do in the car, I was listening to the radio when I first heard the news about the shooting massacre in Las Vegas.

Many angles of input could be offered regarding this tragedy, and much feedback has already been extended as we continue to learn more about the offender and the circumstances surrounding such a dark day in history: to date, the worst mass shooting in American history, with the number of lives taken surpassing the terror that struck in Orlando on June 12, 2016. We continue to pray for the souls of the victims who were killed and the full recovery of those who were injured in the midst of this awfully terrorizing carnage, as well as for the consolation of their families. When we look at what happened in Las Vegas, in Orlando, and in so many other occasions when human lives were forcefully taken, we [should] experience a natural internal revulsion, because God designed us to place significant value upon human life.

The theme for Respect Life Month 2017 is “Be Not Afraid” – words that Christ repeated throughout the Gospels. Not being afraid is frequently easier said than done. We are inclined to be fearful of multiple threats, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. When it comes to promoting the inherent right to life that every single human being celebrates throughout our lifespan, we must remain resolute in our outspokenness against menaces to the lives of others, including those of the unborn, those living in dire poverty, the elderly, the criminally condemned, those with suicidal dispositions, the immigrant, the infirm with a chronic illness… and the innocent passerby. There are continued threats to human life, but it seems that society is perhaps – or at least hopefully – awakening to the reality that the Culture of Death that has become so pervasive in the West yields a certain hopelessness, and that we have manifold opportunities to place greater value and respect upon every human life. For instance, we have the perspective of J.J. Hanson, who decided against assisted suicide a few years ago despite his grim prognosis of only a few months to live, and he continues to live vibrantly today as a testimony to the remarkable circumstances within which we find ourselves on this side of eternity.

Oct. 7 was the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. Mary is our “Queen of Peace,” and it was from her blessed womb, by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 1:18), that Peace came into the world. Threats to human life are in no short supply, yet there are signs of hope that continue to manifest themselves. One example among various is the ongoing effort in the United States to curtail the incidence of procured abortions, and to instead provide true hope to unborn children and their mothers and fathers. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, recently reflected: “Every child, from conception onward, deserves love and the protection of the law…. [T]he real problems that lead women to consider abortion should be addressed with solutions that support both mother and child.”

Speaking of peace and the inherent dignity of all human life, we recently celebrated the Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4). When Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home in May 2015, he invited us to consider our place within the grand scheme of things, so to speak. A passage of his that is vital, yet has unfortunately been neglected by those who have unfortunately chosen to look beyond it, is this: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (paragraph 120). Of all of the ways that Christ could have come into the world, he began as an embryo in the womb of Mary. The most sacred life ever began in the womb – that which should be the most peaceful of settings.

How can we, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of the Rosary, help to build a Culture of Life? We can each find a way, within our apostolates and ministerial initiatives. One way that I propose is to regularly engage in Marian reading. Two recent books immediately come to mind: actively pro-life priest Fr. Edward Looney’s A Heart Like Mary’s: 31 Daily Meditations to Help You Live and Love as She Does (Ave Maria Press, 2017) and Johnnette Benkovic and Thomas Sullivan’s The Rosary: Your Weapon for Spiritual Warfare (Franciscan Media / Servant Books, 2017). As we continue to embrace our respect for all human life in all its wonderful stages, from the moment of conception through natural death, as well as to foster peace broadly around the world, we reflect on the theme for Respect Life Month 2017 – “Be Not Afraid” – while remembering the Lord’s affirmation about the true origin of such charitable accord: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).