From left to right, Vaneshia MacArthur, Elizabeth DeWitt, Benjamin Cook, Ezra Copeland and Zoe Copeland hold signs on the corner in front of the shopping center with Planned Parenthood in Flagstaff on Oct. 2. The students were supporting the 40 Days of Life international vigil. (Lisa Dahm/CATHOLIC SUN)

What better time to remind ourselves of the value of life than at Lent, when the message of sacrificing for others beckons us to see and respect the value of all humanity.

And in fact this year, a strange but beautiful thing is happening. Our nation has slowly, and quietly but assuredly been seized by an inexplicable respect for life, as both the execution rate and the abortion rate continue to plummet!

Wow — didn’t see that one coming. In a climate the media tells us is chock full of hate, confrontation and vitriol, when did all this love pop into the picture? More importantly, where can it take us from here?

Chris Benguhe is a columnist for The Catholic Sun. Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

In December 2016, the Death Penalty Information Center reported executions and ordered executions had dropped to their lowest level in decades. Only 30 people were sentenced to death in the United States last year, the lowest number since the early 1970s. That’s a big drop from the 49 death sentences the year before and the peak number of 315 in 1996.

And a look at the abortion rate in America shows it decreasing year after year since 2010. Even in a climate where abortion-friendly laws and regulations should presumably bring about an uptick, the exact opposite is happening. The Associated Press reported back in 2015 (the year the study was completed) that abortions had dropped 12 percent nationwide. They were down in almost every state in the country, even in pro-abortion states such as New York, Washington and Oregon, which have relatively unrestricted access to it.

Now there are lots of potential reasons for this abatement of the culture of death. But I am not a statistician, and I will not try to argue for any of them. But I will argue for the positive effect of all this respect for life. And for all of you reading this publication, I hope I am preaching to the choir.

For regardless of your opinion on the legality regarding either of these issues, I hope you all appreciate less death and more life. And hopefully that goes for readers well beyond these pages.

Because as well-intentioned the efforts to legally fight death in the court system may be, I believe the real route to life is through the heart. As evidenced by the tremendously positive reaction I have seen to articles I wrote personally about redeemed murderers like Billy Moore — the only convicted, confessed murderer sentenced to die to have his sentence commuted because of the amazing conversion he experienced on death row, the people whose lives he changed and Mother’s Teresa’s intercession on his behalf.

Or the recent overwhelmingly negative reaction to actress Lena Deenham who had the audacity while speaking out in support of abortion to say though she had never had one, she wished she had. Her statement drew such extraordinary criticism she was forced to apologize stating she never meant to “trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy.”

What that all tells me is people really do respect life in this country, and even as many forces push us in the other direction, life is pushing back. We are feeling and thinking as human beings and responding the way God intended us to in natural defense of life and in abhorrence of death.

And beyond the issues of the death penalty and abortion is the even bigger pro-life movement that all of you out there are a part of. It’s the movement and calling to love life and the living in every way, in every manifestation — from your families out into every sector of your communities.

Or as Pope Francis emphasized in his Lenten message this year, “each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbor or an anonymous pauper,” and that, “a right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value.”

He reminded us that Lent “is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.”

That certainly prods us to respect the unborn but also to respect the born in less-than-perfect circumstances.

It is the call to honor and respect the lives of the smartest, the strongest and the most successful among us but also the “failures” and the most challenged and vulnerable.

It is our challenge to love the poor AND the rich, those we agree with and those we don’t.

It calls us to appreciate the lives that lighten the world but also to see the light deep within those who may seem like they were snuffed out long ago.

From the most complex of God’s creation — human beings — to all His “lesser” but no less important creations that co-exist with us, we are blessed to appreciate and love all life.

Let’s spend the Lenten season and rest of the year celebrating that life in all its forms. And then let’s see just how beautiful the world looks this same time next year because of it.