Today, I’d like to share a bit more of a sermon than a homily, reflecting more on a specific topic than on the readings themselves. I do this because today is respect life Sunday, and this is of course an election year, so I think it’s important to be aware of what the Church teaches on this very important issue.
I would begin this reflection with these words from today’s second reading, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is one of my favorite pieces of Scripture because it’s a call to refocus ourselves. We can be so distracted by things that seem good that really aren’t all that good, things that seem important that are really just sweating the small stuff, and God would have us look instead at what is lovely, gracious, excellent and worthy of praise – in short, God would have us reflect on what he has created and know that this is the greatest gift, the most important thing we could be busied about.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.” (CCC, 27; cf. Gaudium et Spes 19.1) Life is the greatest good we have because it is God who created life, every life, from the tiniest embryo to the elderly person in the final stages of life. We reverence life, respect life, reaffirm life, because human life is the best thing there is on this whole big earth, the most magnificent of all God’s wonderful creation.
The issues that present themselves under the heading of respecting life are many. We are called to put aside racism and stereotyping, to reach out to the homeless, to advocate for affordable health care for all people, to put an end to abortion, capital punishment, war, terrorism and genocide, to recognize that euthanasia is not the same thing as mercy, to promote the strength of family life and the education of all young people, to provide food for those who hunger. We Catholics must accept the totality of the Church’s teaching of respecting life, or we can never hope for a world that is beautiful or grace filled.
Because next month we will elect those who will govern us in the years again, and especially a president and vice president, the Respect Life issue becomes all the more important. We earnestly desire that our nation would be known for the way it respects human rights and promotes the dignity of all people from conception to natural death. And so it is particularly important for us to evaluate candidates based on their respect for life. There are so many issues of importance in this and every election, but the Church teaches that none of them is more important than life itself. In their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops of the United states speak of the preeminence of life issues: “These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues.” (FCFC, 29) And so it is important for us to keep in mind that however important issues like the economy may be – and that is a big one this year, of course – still, we must remember that the way we treat human life defines us as a people and a nation.
So who do you vote for? Can you vote for a pro-choice candidate? What if a pro-life candidate does not encompass all of the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life? What if you feel a pro-life candidate is seriously deficient in other areas, do you still have to vote for them? These are serious questions that require well-considered answers, and I’m going to do you the rather dubious favor of not answering them directly. That’s what we do in the Church! Rather, I am going to give you the most important answer you could have, and that is that you must form your consciences.
Conscience isn’t the same thing as doing whatever you think is best. We Catholics are called for form our consciences, to expose them to the light of Scripture and the Church’s teachings, to mold them in prayer and discernment, and to act in the way that God is calling us. And so we have about a month to go before the election. It is important for us to take this time to learn about Catholic teaching. Our bulletin and website have wonderful information, and we are presenting an information night on Thursday, October 16 – those are all good ways to inform your consciences. We will also gather for prayer here on election day, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from early morning until 9:00, with Evening Prayer at 7:15 to pray for the newly-elected.
I’ll just tell you that I still am not completely sure who will get my vote. My research and discernment is ongoing, and this year’s election represents a pretty difficult choice. It would be easy if the Church would just tell us who to vote for, but that’s not how it works. Frankly, who would want to be in a church that did that? No, the Church never says who we should vote for, but the Church does have the responsibility of helping us to form our consciences so that we can vote responsibly. And so this Respect Life month is an opportunity to do just that, to inform ourselves so that we can know the importance of life, and to uphold it in all of our decisions. St. Paul speaks in our second reading of this important discernment process:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Our participation in the political process is not optional; the bishops teach us that our baptism calls us to participate in order to build up our world in the love of Christ. Our responsibility to uphold the life of every person from conception to natural death is not optional; we are called to be a people who promote the respect and dignity of every human life. May the Holy Spirit guide us this election year to form a world where life is sacred and human dignity is upheld. May we become that people who Jesus tells us in the Gospel will receive the Kingdom of God and produce its fruit.