The smell of being for life


Bishop Paul S. Loverde

What do you smell like? What do I smell like? What smell are we giving off to each other? Maybe some of you are getting nervous right now as you recall that you may not have showered today!

Well, don't worry. The smell I am taking in, the smell I want to cling to me is the smell of your enthusiasm for the gift of life! Here you are - about 4000, and were it not for the storm, 8000 - gathered together to uphold and protect life! Sure, you smell! You smell with zeal and enthusiasm for understanding and protecting the precious gift of human life, from its first moment at conception to its last moment at natural death.

You smell with the conviction that human life within the womb is the most innocent, defenseless and vulnerable of all life and, therefore, must be defended. You smell with the certainty that life must be understood, upheld and defended in other circumstances as well: the life in the embryonic stem cell, intended for destruction after research; the life of someone gifted with disabilities and so unable to participate in society in ways considered acceptable; the life of someone who is terminally ill yet his or her right to food and drink - to be nourished in human ways — is being denied out of a false sense of “compassion.” Yes, you smell good! And we all want to smell good: treasuring the gift of life!

I am tempted to say that you all smell like sheep! Now, those of you who have smelled the pungent odor of sheep may take offense at that. But that's not what I mean! I am using the colorful and earthy phrase Pope Francis uses to say that we should be so involved with one another in living the Christian life that we take on one another's smells: the smell of being a shepherd among sheep, the smell of being a Christian!

God's Word proclaimed in our hearing during this Holy Mass confirms that the odor or smell coming forth from you and engulfing all of us is truly rooted in Truth and Charity: God's Truth and God's Charity.

First of all, you - and I - have been chosen, called, and sent forth to proclaim and to witness to the Gospel of Life. When? At our Baptism, as we were reminded in today’s first reading: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name”: to be a servant of the Lord and a light to the nations.

Have you ever considered that to be God's servant, a light to the world, and to be called to love and opposed to hatred and killing, is a part of being an evangelizer? Every one of us here is called to be an evangelizer. What is an evangelizer? A person called to share the good news about Jesus Christ. We know that when we walk into a dark room, it is frustrating to know what we need to do, until the lights are turned on. Sometimes life might seem dark; we are confused, scared and frustrated. Jesus Christ is the light! When we let Him into our lives, when we say yes to faith, we shed light into our darkness, and it changes everything. 

So, intrinsic to our Baptism is our being chosen, called and missioned to be the living heralds of the Gospel of Life: today in the streets of Washington and afterwards, in our individual family circle, neighborhood, school, parish and local community. This is rooted in God's Truth.

Moreover, God's Word in today's second reading from the First Letter of Saint John states without any doubt that no one of us can see a brother or sister in need and refuse him or her compassion and still claim that the love of God remains in us. Look around in our society! So many women — and men, too — are tricked into accepting the message of “pro choice.” Often, they feel abandoned, confused, and even trapped. What we must offer is true compassion: not only “suffering with” them in their agonizing situation, but also offering realistic hope, in such concrete ways as the Gabriel Project, Catholic Charities, and Project Rachel.
Moreover, we are instructed, “Let us love not in word and speech but in deed and truth.” Of course, words are necessary to express our convictions but our words are empty until they get expressed concretely in deeds, that is, in actions, revealing the truth in which they are imbedded.

Pope Francis is a great model of what it means to love not in word only but in action. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”, he expresses in word his conviction about the inviolability of the gift of life. “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development” (Gaudii Evangelium, no. 213). But then, he goes on to state that love must also be expressed in action: “On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” (Ibid., no. 214). Again, we put into words into action by reaching out in many ways like the Gabriel Project, Catholic Charities, and Project Rachel.

Finally, God's Word in today's gospel account affirms our love for children, beginning with the unborn within the womb, and mandates us to seek out the one sheep that is lost. Jesus tells us: “And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” Every effort and initiative we make which results in an unborn child, an embryonic stem cell, a person with disabilities, a terminally ill patient, being respected and defended, cared for and saved: are we not receiving in that person the Lord Himself?

And because we are also called and missioned to be the outward expressions of Christ's Charity, do we not reveal this charity when we go in search of the one stray sheep: yes, the one gone astray through no fault of their own — the child in the womb, whom we hope to save, but also those other brothers and sisters who remain frozen in their “pro-choice” stance. With prayer and penance, with outreach and dialogue, with tenderness that is, in fact, strong in truth and charity, do we not go out to engage these brothers and sisters, because the will of God is that no one should be lost?

Well, here you are - here we are: smelling with the conviction about the precious gift of life! Let us stay together, breathing in this smell, because it is, in fact, the odor of Christ Jesus, Who chooses, calls and sends us forth to evangelize, to proclaim the Gospel of Life, to infuse our society with the truth: Life Is Very Good. Life is God's Precious Gift to us! Life! Amen! Alleluia!