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) Those are strong words that are particularly striking. They apply not just to Catholics, but to “each and everyone, always and everywhere.” It’s part of the natural law, a law that seems to be regularly ignored these days. 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. So there’s more to it than we might catch at first glance: 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 obviously 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. We have to be respecters of life with integrity, or we are not the strong witnesses to the sanctity of life that our world requires right now. 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.”