As Catholics, we are a people who believe that every human life is born from the will of a Creator who knows us and loves us.

He creates each of us with a mortal body and an immortal soul, as a male or a female, and all of us are made in God’s image, each with the dignity of a child of God.

These basic beliefs about the sanctity of life and the dignity of every person should shape how we live and work, how we treat other people, and how we care for the world around us.

These beliefs should also shape our commitments as citizens — what we prioritize, the laws and policies we support, and the kind of society we seek to create.

Maintaining a true Catholic identity, understanding ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ before we are anything else, is always a challenge. And it is getting harder in America today.

Every aspect of our lives, it seems, is becoming “politicized.”

We are living in a culture that is confused and divided over basic issues regarding what it means to be human and what is the way that truly leads to human happiness.

We see this in the many arguments going on in our society today about race and gender, abortion and euthanasia, marriage and the family, the environment and the economy.

As Catholics, we need to be deeply engaged in these political and cultural debates, because at the heart of these questions is a conflict over the truth about the human person that God created and that Jesus Christ died to redeem.

But we need to understand our commitments, not in political terms, but in terms of the Gospel and teachings of the Church and the witness of the saints.

Our mission as Catholics is to be missionary disciples. This is the only reason for our lives — to know and love Jesus and to serve his plan for the world’s salvation.

If we are going to be the people God calls us to be, if we are going to restore and renew the Church and rebuild society, then we need a new dedication to living our Catholic identity and communicating that identity in everything we do, from our schools and religious education programs to the way we live our faith in society.

In practical terms, that means bringing our family and neighbors to know the love of God, and it means working for a society of love and compassion that truly serves the human person.

This is why we must be deeply concerned by the federal government’s return to executing criminals, which was announced last week.

Every person is precious and sacred, even those convicted of the most evil and violent crimes. There are other ways to punish criminals without taking away their chance to change their heart and be rehabilitated through the mercy of God.

We also need to keep God’s love for the human person at the center of our perspective on the immigration issue.

Our political leaders — on both sides — are still exploiting the sufferings of immigrants and refugees for their own political advantage. This has been going on for years. It is cruel and wrong and it should stop.

We are talking about human beings, the image of God, our brothers and sisters. Beyond law, beyond politics, beyond their “status,” we have a duty to open our hearts and attend to their human needs. That must be the start of any humane and reasonable solution to these complicated issues.

We have that same duty of love toward the child in the womb and women facing crisis pregnancies.

Right now in California, there is legislation, Senate Bill 24, that would require all state colleges and universities to offer students free access to the “abortion pill.” But a compassionate society should have more to offer women in need than the ability to end the life of their children before they are born.

As Catholics, we need to oppose still another attempt to expand abortion for our young people. I urge you to visit the California Catholic Conference website to tell your legislators to vote against SB 24. We should defeat this bill and work to find new ways to truly help pregnant women and working mothers trying to continue their education.

Pray for me this week, and I will be praying for you.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to stay faithful to the calling of Jesus Christ and his vision of a society worthy of the human person.