Delivered at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption
In our first reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we hear him tell his recent converts to faith in Jesus Christ—and we hear him tell us—“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 will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Have no anxiety at all.” That’s easy to say but hard to do. We are anxious about our health, our jobs, our families, and today in particular, we are anxious about protecting innocent human life at its very vulnerable beginnings. But our faith in God challenges us to cast our cares upon the Lord because he cares for us. Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta was famous for saying that God does not call us to be successful but to be faithful.
Too often we are anxious because we are used to assuming that everything depends on us, that we are responsible for seeing to it that what we work on for God must turn out perfectly, completely, and soon. But God often calls us to begin or continue a work that will be fulfilled long after we are gone.
As one poet has said, we will plant trees in the shade of which others will sin, but we will not. We begin what others continue in the service of the Kingdom of God.
Already the work of dismantling the culture of death, and in particular the culture of abortion, in this country is nearly forty years old (counting from Roe v. Wade). Many who fought hardest in this struggle have gone before us in the Lord, but many others have picked up their banners and caught their spirit. Some of our opponents dismiss us as engaged in “a losing battle.” And sometimes, when weary and discouraged, we can be tempted to agree. But we know that time is on our side, and so are the sonograms. And recently so are the polls.
Consider our Gospel reading from St. John this morning. It tells the story of the first Easter night, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Those ten apostles (Judas was dead and Thomas was absent) had plenty of anxiety. They were hiding behind locked doors, desperately afraid. The enemies of Jesus had killed him, and his followers were afraid that those same enemies would come looking for them.
But that was the night that changed the meaning of life and death forever. Suddenly Jesus was in the room with the apostles and we wished them “Peace,” that is “Shalom.” One translation of that word can be the phrase of St. Francis of Assisi, our Patron: “Peace and all Good.”
Then Jesus showed them the wounds he received on the Cross. The risen Jesus is the Savior born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, who has walked with these disciples for years. God the Father has raised up his Son from death to the fullness of eternal life. This is the victory of life over death, for Jesus and for all of us his disciples, for us and for all the victims of the culture of death. Enemies can put Jesus to death, but the love of his Father can raise him up forever. People can “terminate a pregnancy,” but God’s powerful love can raise a person, a soul, to life eternal.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of the Good News, the Gospel. If the tomb had not been empty on Easter morning, there would have been no Good News, and the Gospels would not have been written.
Eternal life overcomes the culture of death. Some enemies of Christianity say that we cheapen the value of the life we live here on earth when we proclaim our faith in eternal life, a life beyond the grave. The opposite is actually true: our faith in eternal life makes us value this life all the more highly, because the choices we make and the actions we perform here determine the life we will live forever in eternity. For us the hungry or thirsty or homeless man or woman is not just a temporary inconvenience: he or she Christ the Lord, who will judge us one day. In the same way, the depersonalized phrase “terminated pregnancy” fails completely to describe the violent ending of a human life, a gift of he living God.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says to the Apostles, and to us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus sends us to proclaim and live the Good News, to be filled with his life, to live his life, to share his life, and to defend his life. Jesus needs us, the Church, his Body, so that we can take his Good News to all people of all times and places; so that we can share and defend life, life here and life eternal, everywhere we go, everywhere he sends us. Today he brought us here, to nourish us with his word and his Body and Blood, and to send us on this walk for life today.
We live in a time and a place in which people like to play God. They are unwilling to let God be God, to let God give life and end it. “No,” some now say, “we will decide who lives and who dies.” We walk today in witness against that deadly spirit and habit and force. We take a stand and say, “Let God be God. Don’t play at being God.”
However, that lesson is meant for us as well. We must not dare to make ourselves into modern Pharisees, drawing us our own God-like lists of who is approved and who is condemned, of who is worthwhile and who is not. All of us here must also let God be God, and not play at being God. Jesus came for sinners, for us and also for those who oppose us. Let us fervently pray for everyone, including and especially those who oppose.
We will walk today in witness not because we deserve to but because Jesus Christ calls us to walk with Him and for Him and in Him, and because the unborn and the dying need us to walk with and for them, on their behalf and in their place. We walk, but Jesus Christ leads the way. We hear Jesus Christ say to us, what the apostles first heard him say to them, “Follow me.”