This month we focus on two issues very important to Catholics: Catholic education and life. January is not only the first month of the new year, but it is also the month when the Catholic Church marks Catholic Schools Week and when we participate in rallies, Masses, vigils, marches and other events in defense of life.

It seems appropriate to me that the celebration of Catholic education and the reminder to respect life should be so closely linked. Both are integral to our Catholic identity.

Each Jan. 22, students from our Catholic schools join with students from Catholic schools all over the country and with others of all faiths in a March for Life.  On that day, these young people gather to listen to speeches, bring attention to the pro-life cause, march and speak to lawmakers.

Our young people and others brave the cold weather to make sure everybody knows that God is the author of life. How do they know this is true? Because they are taught that in their Catholic schools, parishes and homes.

They are taught what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us to be true: “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end.” They are also taught that God Himself wills that life should be respected. God gave Moses the 10 commandments, and the fifth one is, “You shall not kill.” Our Catholic school students are allowed to learn that.

For many of my years at the Catholic Standard, I have covered the March for Life and the archdiocesan Youth Rally and Mass for Life. In all that time, it has never ceased to amaze me just how many young people willingly stand up (and rally and pray and march) for life.

These young people – many of them Catholic school students – were born long after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that virtually guaranteed abortion on demand. They have lived during a time when our culture, media and political leaders promote “the right” to have an abortion. For 40 years it has been drilled into the psyches of our nation’s young people that “freedom of choice” is seemingly the ultimate ideal. According to that misguided mindset, it is not as important what they choose – to kill their baby or not – as long as they are free to have a choice.

In watching our students stand to defend life, I know we are blessed that their solid, faith-based Catholic education has enabled them to clearly see that all human life has God-given dignity – from conception until natural death.

Our Catholic school students receive a top-notch education. In addition to mastering academics, their schooling enables them to understand and affirm that life is a precious gift and must be protected.

These students also learn that being a person of faith comes with obligations. Catholic schools remind our young people that they are called to speak out against injustice and to speak up for the Kingdom of God. They are called to love their neighbor as themselves, to love God above themselves and to stand up for God and His values.

As sad as it is that after more than 40 years we still need to march and speak out in defense of life, it is heartening nonetheless to see our Catholic school students live what they are taught. They bring the pro-life message from their classrooms into the street. They bring youth, vitality, enthusiasm, joy and faith to the streets of Washington. They bring life itself.