Please find below a written version of the homily I gave at our Mass for Respect Life Sunday at the Cathedral. Reading first the readings that were proclaimed this last Sunday, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, would be helpful.
+Bishop Mark J. Seitz
Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-3; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17: 5-10
Servants of God, Servants of Life
Imagine this scene for a moment: You and your family walk into a fancy restaurant. You are escorted to your table. You turn and invite the maître d’ to sit down and then you motion to the waiter. When they are seated you go into the kitchen and bring out the chef and the dishwasher. You seat them, open their napkins, place them on their laps and proceed to wait on them. What kind of topsy-turvy world would that be?
Actually it might be kind of like the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12, Jesus says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds wide awake when he comes. In truth I tell you, he will do up his belt, sit them down at table and wait on them.” (Lk 12:37-38) But in case you haven’t noticed, this is not the Kingdom of Heaven. As Jesus has pointed out in today’s Gospel in this life it is our task to serve. We do it not simply out of the goodness of our heart, but because this is the reality of who we are—not the masters, but the servants—the creatures, not the Creator.
Why is this lesson so hard to learn? We keep getting so impressed with our knowledge, so arrogant with our power, so self satisfied in our possessions we think we are in control of everything. We set the rules. We break the rules.
One of the most blatant ways in which we try to express what we consider as our lordship over creation today is in our dealings with life in its most fragile forms. Wouldn’t you know that in our quest for Kingship we would begin by picking on the weakest among us? We look for that which we can most easily control. This is not to deny the terrible pressure and confusion that women can often feel in a crisis pregnancy situation. The Church has great compassion for women who have made the decision to abort their baby. God is always ready to forgive those who recognize the wrong they have done and seek his pardon. But those who make that decision will always have to live with the awareness of the decision they have made and the innocent life that was taken. We in the Church must be clear about this issue and we need to provide support for women in crisis so that they will never have the added burden of carrying this guilt.
On this Respect Life Sunday we have to speak the truth strongly. This is a problem of staggering proportions and we cannot ignore it. 1.2 million abortions are performed in our country each year. For every 100 babies born as many as 33 are aborted. If we were speaking of an illness that was causing the deaths of 10 children out of 100 everyone would be horrified. If an illness was causing 10 miscarriages out of 100 everyone would be concerned. How can we close our eyes to these sobering numbers? This is an epidemic of frightening proportions!
We are called to be the Servants of Life, not lords of life. Life’s beginnings and endings are God’s choices, not ours. We are to care for fragile human life, not kill it! When we decide that we are lords of life, then we begin to arrogate to ourselves the authority to decide which lives are worthy of living and which are not.
You may be a bit surprised to hear me and the Church still speaking about this since you read in the paper that the Pope said just recently, and I quote, “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said.
“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,”
Francis said. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
The Pope is reminding us that the Church’s teaching is not to be reduced to a political party’s platform or a mere ideology. He is pointing out that in the Church we always begin and end with the proclamation of the Gospel. It is a Gospel that has implications for our lives and the way we live. Don’t think for a moment that the Pope intends to be silent about this and many other social justice issues facing our society. The day following the statements you just heard Pope Francis denounced what he called, “our throwaway culture” and added,
“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord.”
He urged gynecologists to abide by their consciences and help bring lives into the world. “Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things,” he said.
Thanks be to God the Church will continue to speak “in season and out”. Like the prophet Habakkuk in our first reading we will cry out “Violence!” when we see violence being done. As Paul reminded Timothy in the second reading, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice…” We will not be people of little Faith, taking God to task for what we consider His lack of action while failing to do what each of us can do. We will continue to serve, come what may, because we are citizens and people of Faith; because we belong to the Lord of Life!