Thursday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes the Gospel just makes good common sense.  Today, the Gospel expands on the Golden Rule, something we should all have learned when we were very little.  As my grandmother used to say, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  But actually what Jesus is telling us today goes a bit deeper even than that.  Jesus equates the hatred in our hearts with outright murder.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes up this theme from this very Gospel reading: “Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. ‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’” (CCC, 2303)

Today might be a good time for us to examine our consciences for sins against the fifth commandment.  Jesus says that these include murder and abortion, certainly.  But also hatred, vengeance and anger.  This might be a good time for us to call to mind those we have yet to forgive, and to pray for the grace to forgive them.  Or at least the grace to want to forgive them.  This might be a good time for us to look deep within us and ferret out any traces of racism, which is simply hatred directed at a certain group or race.  Casual racist jokes and stereotyping are evidence of a hatred that may be buried deep within us that comes out in inappropriate ways.  Today’s Gospel even hints that gossip, backbiting, and sarcasm directed at a brother or sister in Christ is an attitude that detracts from the dignity of another’s life and has no place in the heart or mind of the disciple.

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says to us today.  Our witness to the life and dignity of the human person must be absolutely above reproach, or our witness for life is a sham.  And worse than that, we will have opted out of the Kingdom of heaven.

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn

Today’s readings

Today we observe the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.  This is a day that we cannot take lightly, and it is good that we begin it by celebrating Mass.  We all know the issue: so many children have been legally put to death since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, millions of them, in fact.  Who knows how much our world is impoverished right now because those people never got to live?

Any confessor worth his salt will tell you how devastating abortion is on people.  Not just on the aborted baby; that goes without saying.  But it absolutely destroys the life of the mother, and very often the father as well.  As Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta has said, “Abortion kills twice. It kills the body of the baby and it kills the conscience of the mother.  Abortion is profoundly anti-women.  Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”

Abortion is not just one issue among many.  It is an issue of tremendous impact, because it has torn down the morality of our great country.  Listen again to St. Teresa on that issue: “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.

“And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.

“By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.

“And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.

“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

That’s quite an earful.  She delivered that address at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, an occasion at which, I’m sure, then-President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary probably wished they were someplace else.  Any place.

Some object that we can’t just have anti-abortion sentiments and call them pro-life.  Their point is well-taken.  Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. has said: “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

But we can’t take that too far, either.  As Catholics, we don’t believe in either/or morality, it’s most often both/and.  We must pray to end abortion and take action to make sure the poor are taken care of.  Pope Francis would say the very same thing.

Jesus says words of parable in the Gospel reading today: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.”  We are strong men and women, and if we let ourselves get tied up by the enormity and the rhetoric, our house will be plundered.  We won’t get tied up of we pray.  And so today, we must pray to end abortion, we must pray for the healing of mothers and fathers who have had abortions, we must pray for forgiveness for our societal sins that allow abortion to be commonplace, we must pray for all children, especially those in poverty, and we must pray for that one mother who right now is considering abortion because she has no one to turn to in her fear and doesn’t know how she could ever care for a child.

Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time [B] – Respect Life Sunday

Today’s readings

If you’ve been to any number of Church weddings, you have probably heard today’s first reading, and part of the Gospel proclaimed.  Obviously we usually leave out the part about divorce, but these readings are quite popular for weddings.  The reason, of course, is that the story is about how man and woman were created for each other.  The totality of the readings we have today, though, are challenging.  We do have that piece about divorce there, and it does present a challenge in these days when so many marriages fail.

Apparently, the people of Israel were unable to accept the fullness of the teaching of marriage – not unlike today, obviously – Moses gave the men permission to divorce when necessary.  In that society, a woman’s reproductive rights belonged first to her father, and later to her husband.  So adultery could only be committed against the husband whose rights had been violated.  Our modern sensibilities see this as completely wrong, and Jesus seems to agree.  Jesus says that the man who remarries is committing adultery against his first wife, because she has rights in the marriage too.  Jesus levels the playing field here by giving both spouses rights in the relationship, but also the responsibility of not committing adultery against one another.

In our society, we have to contend with this painful reality still.  Each spouse has rights and also responsibilities, and while we are all ready to accept our rights in just about any circumstance, we are hardly ever ready to accept our responsibilities.  That has led us not only to the problems we have with divorce, but in so many areas as well.  We are a people very unaccustomed to the demands of faithfulness, not just in marriage but also in our work and our communities, just to name a couple.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word rejects this lack of faithfulness.  Christian disciples are to be marked by their faithfulness to each other, to God, and to their communities.  Faithfulness is hard and very often inconvenient.  But for us, brothers and sisters in Christ, faithfulness is not optional.

In wedding liturgies I always tell the bride and groom that faithfulness will make demands of them.  They will have to make a decision every day to be faithful to the promises they make at their wedding.  They will have to make a decision every day to love one another.  And sometimes this is easy, but sometimes it is hard to do, but either way, it’s still their calling.  The same is true for me as a priest.  I have to renew my ordination promises every day.  I have to make a decision every day to be faithful to my God, be faithful to my ministry, be faithful to my promises, be faithful to my own spouse which is the Church, and my own family which is the people I serve.  Sometimes that’s a joy and the easiest thing in the world.  But, just like anyone else, I have rough days, and on those rough days, I’m still called to be faithful.

We are all of us called to be faithful citizens.  That is easy when our candidate wins the election or legislation we’ve been hoping for passes.  It’s not such a joy when he or she loses the election, or our interests aren’t being met, or the economy is plunging.  It’s very difficult when we see so many abuses of power or the seeming triumph of evil.  But we still are called to be faithful, doing our best to make things right, witnessing to the sanctity of life, standing up for the poor, needy, and most vulnerable members of society, building the kingdom of God on earth whenever and however we can.

One of the biggest challenges of our time is something of which we are mindful in a special way this month, and by that of course, I mean the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.  It’s easy to remain faithful to that call when we don’t have to make the decision, but harder to remain faithful when someone we know is having a difficult pregnancy, or has been raped.  It’s hard to defend life to natural death when a loved one is suffering, clinging rather tenaciously to life even when they’re unable to live it.  It’s hard to defend life when someone in our community has been murdered and the death penalty is on the table.  But we disciples don’t get to pick and choose the occasions during which we will be faithful.  If our witness to life is to mean anything to the watching world – and now more than ever before it absolutely has to! – we’re going to have to be faithful always, even when it’s hard, even when it stretches us.

The little vignette at the end of the Gospel reading today almost seems out of place.  I use this story at every baptism I do, and it’s easy to see why.  But I also think it relates to our call to faithfulness today.  Jesus promises the Kingdom of God to those who are like children.  Obviously he isn’t extolling the virtues of being childish here.  He is getting at, as he often does, something much deeper.  He notes that children are dependent on their parents or guardians for everything – they need their parents.  They don’t yet have rights in the society, they are unable to provide for themselves.  So they depend on the adults who care for them for all of their needs for safety and care.

This is the kind of faithfulness Jesus asks of us.  We need to approach our relationship with God with childlike faith, acknowledging our dependence on God’s grace and mercy.  We need to be faithful to God in good times and in bad, even when we cannot see the big picture.

Faithfulness makes demands on us.  The disciple is the one who is ready to accept those demands.  The disciple makes a decision to love God and the people in his life every day.  The disciple makes a decision to be faithful to his or her vocation, whatever that vocation is, every day.  The disciple defends the sanctity of every human life, from the moment of conception, to the moment of natural death.  The disciple makes a decision to be faithful to God and the teachings of God’s Church every day.  Some days those decisions are easy, and some days they are more than challenging.  But the faithful disciple, the one who accepts the Kingdom of God like a child, has the promise of entering into it.

Monday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time: Respect Life

Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that in effect legalized abortion in the United States.  The Church teaches us that abortion is a violation of the fifth commandment, which states: “Thou shall not kill.”  Participation in an abortion – which includes having one, paying for one, encouraging one, performing one, and helping in the performance of one – is a mortal sin.  Because we oppose abortion, we as a Church are committed to making alternatives to abortion more available, including adoption, financial assistance to parents and especially mothers in need, and education about the sanctity of life.

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, our society has tumbled down the slippery slope of devaluing life and we are seeing the rotten fruits of it all over. War, violence, hatred, lack of concern for the poor and needy, lack of respect for the elderly and terminally ill, all of these things are symptoms of the culture of death that surrounds us. Far from liberating women and giving them choice over the use of their bodies, the legalization of abortion has driven many women to have an abortion simply because they thought that was their only option or because it was more convenient for family or the father.

And respecting life goes beyond merely opposing abortion.  Our Church teaches us that we cannot claim to be Pro Life if we are in fact only anti-abortion. Our claim to righteousness has to be based on more than never having had the disastrous occasion of having to choose to participate in an abortion, or it’s not really righteousness at all. If we pray to end abortion and then do not attend to our obligation to the poor, or if we choose to support the death penalty, or if we feel like it’s okay to help a person die if they are sick, or if we engage in racial bigotry, then we are not in fact Pro Life. Every single life is sacred, no matter what we may think of it, purely because God created each life after his very own image and likeness.

And I say this not because I don’t think that abortion is anything short of a disaster: it most certainly is.  Abortion ends the life of a child, it ruins the lives of everyone involved, it damages society in ways we may never fully know.  I say this because it’s way too easy for us to oppose abortion and then call ourselves Pro Life and then go out and violate life in some other circumstance. We must be very careful of doing that, because not being completely Pro Life weakens our witness to the sanctity of life.  The world is watching us closely.  And we absolutely cannot be at all weak in our witness for life: our society needs our strength and passion for life so that there can be conversion and change and unity and peace.

And so today we pray for the sanctity of life, we pray for all whose lives are in danger, we pray for those who are in the sad position of ending human life.  And most of all, we pray for an end to the culture of death that surrounds us.

Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: Respect Life Sunday

Today’s readings

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 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 beautiful 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.”  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 basis for the movement to respect life, of course, is the fifth commandment: You shall not kill (Ex 20:13). The Catechism is very specific: “Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: ‘Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.’ The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.” (CCC 2261) And that would seem simple enough, don’t you think? God said not to kill another human being, and so refraining from doing so reverences his gift of life and obeys his commandment.

But life isn’t that simple. Life is a deeply complex issue involving a right to life, a quality of life, a reverence for life, and sanctity of life. Jesus himself stirs up the waters of complexity with his own take on the commandment. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells us: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:21-22)

Our Savior’s instruction on life calls us to make an examination of conscience. We may proclaim ourselves as exemplary witnesses to the sanctity of life because we have never murdered anyone nor participated in an abortion. And those are good starts. But if we let it stop there, then the words of Jesus that I just quoted are our condemnation. The church teaches that true respect for life revolves around faithfulness to the spirit of the fifth commandment. The Catechism tells us, “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (CCC 2319)

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 health care for all people, to put an end – once and for all! – 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.

We pro-life Catholics are called to go above and beyond what seems comfortable in order to defend life.  And so we must all ask ourselves, are there lives that we have not treated as sacred? Have we harbored anger in our hearts against our brothers and sisters? What have we done to fight poverty, hunger and homelessness? Have we insisted that those who govern us treat war as morally repugnant, only to be used in the most severe cases and as a last resort? Have we engaged in stereotypes or harbored thoughts based on racism and prejudice? Have we insisted that legislators ban the production of human fetuses to be used as biological material? Have we been horrified that a nation with our resources still regularly executes its citizens as a way of fighting crime? Have we done everything in our power to be certain that no young woman should ever have to think of abortion as her only choice when she is facing hard times? Have we given adequate care to elder members of our family and our society so that they would not face their final days in loneliness, nor come to an early death for the sake of convenience? Have we avoided scandal so as to prevent others from being led to evil? Have we earnestly petitioned our legislators to make adequate health care available for all people?

Every one of these issues is a life issue, brothers and sisters, and we who would be known to be respecters of life are on for every single one of them, bar none. The Church’s teaching on the right to life is not something that we can approach like we’re in a cafeteria. We must accept and reverence and live the whole of the teaching, or be held liable for every breach of it. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. On this day of prayer for the sanctity of life, our prayer must perhaps be first for ourselves that we might live the Church’s teaching with absolute integrity in every moment of our lives.

Our God has known us and formed us from our mother’s womb, from that very first moment of conception. Our God will be with us and will sustain us until our dying breath. In life and in death, we belong to the Lord … Every part of our lives belongs to the Lord. Our call is a clear one. We must constantly and consistently bear witness to the sanctity of life at every stage. We must be people who lead the world to a whole new reality, in the presence of the One who has made all things new.

The Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time: Respect Life Sunday

Today’s readings

How wonderful are the words we hear in today’s Gospel! “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” This raises important questions for us: how deep is our faith? What have we accomplished by faith? What has our witness to the faith looked like?  Has our tiny faith been powerful enough to move the deeply-rooted trees of ignorance and doubt that plague our world? On this Respect Life Sunday, we are particularly confronted with the issues of life and how we have given witness to the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

The basis for the movement to respect life, brothers and sisters, is the fifth commandment: You shall not kill (Ex 20:13). The Catechism is very specific: “Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: ‘Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.’ The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.” (CCC 2261) And that would seem simple enough, don’t you think? God said not to kill another human being, and so refraining from doing so reverences his gift of life and obeys his commandment.

But life isn’t that simple. Life is a deeply complex issue involving a right to life, a quality of life, a reverence for life, and sanctity of life. Jesus himself stirs up the waters of complexity with his own take on the commandment. In Matthew’s Gospel, he tells us: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:21-22)

Our Savior’s instruction on life calls us to make an examination of conscience. We may proclaim ourselves as exemplary witnesses to the sanctity of life because we have never murdered anyone nor participated in an abortion. And those are good starts. But if we let it stop there, then the words of Jesus that I just quoted are our condemnation. The church teaches that true respect for life revolves around faithfulness to the spirit of the fifth commandment. The Catechism tells us, “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (CCC 2319)

And so we must all ask ourselves, brothers and sisters in Christ, are there lives that we have not treated as sacred? Have we harbored anger in our hearts against our brothers and sisters? What have we done to fight poverty, hunger and homelessness? Have we insisted that those who govern us treat war as morally repugnant, only to be used in the most severe cases and as a last resort? Have we engaged in stereotypes or harbored thoughts based on racism and prejudice? Have we insisted that legislators ban the production of human fetuses to be used as biological material? Have we been horrified that a nation with our resources still regularly executes its citizens as a way of fighting crime? Have we done everything in our power to be certain that no young woman should ever have to think of abortion as her only choice when she is facing hard times? Have we given adequate care to elder members of our family and our society so that they would not face their final days in loneliness, nor come to an early death for the sake of convenience? Have we avoided scandal so as to prevent others from being led to evil? Have we earnestly petitioned our legislators to make adequate health care available for all people?

Every one of these issues is a life issue, brothers and sisters, and we who would be known to be respecters of life are on for every single one of them, bar none. The Church’s teaching on the right to life is not something that we can approach like we’re in a cafeteria. We must accept and reverence and live the whole of the teaching, or be held liable for every breach of it. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. On this day of prayer for the sanctity of life, our prayer must perhaps be first for ourselves that we might live the Church’s teaching with absolute integrity in every moment of our lives.  We must take our tiny mustard-seed-sized faith and nourish it so that it will grow into a living witness of faith in action.

Our God has known us and formed us from our mother’s womb, from that very first moment of conception. Our God will be with us and will sustain us until our dying breath. In life and in death, we belong to the Lord … Every part of our lives belongs to the Lord. Our call is a clear one. We must constantly and consistently bear witness to the sanctity of life at every stage. We must be people who lead the world to a whole new reality, in the presence of the One who has made all things new. We have heard the Lord’s teaching and the teaching of the Church in union with the Holy Spirit. Now we must respond as our Psalmist urges us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”