Following are some “starter” ideas for a homily for Respect Life Sunday. Using the context outlined below the celebrant can reveal the meaning of the readings and show their application to building a Culture of Life. At the same time, Priests for Life recommends placing these reflections in the context of our overall recommendations about preaching on abortion. The three standard elements in the pro-life homily are summarized at www.priestsforlife.org/preaching/elements.html. A more lengthy exposition of the dynamics of preaching on abortion can be found at www.priestsforlife.org/preaching/newpreachingonabortion.htm, and a sample homily drawn from these principles can be read at www.priestsforlife.org/preaching/homilylovethemboth.htm.
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: The First Reading and Gospel passage assigned to this Sunday talk about the vineyard of the Lord, and the fact that those to whom the vineyard was entrusted did not properly respond to the Lord or yield the fruit for which he was looking. Instead, they broke his covenant, killed his prophets and eventually his Son, and had the vineyard taken away from them.
Reflection: God entered into a covenant of Life with his people from of old, and the prophets spoke untiringly of the demands of that covenant, both in regard to what the people owed God and what they owe one another. Those who worshipped God were to help their neighbor; those who believed in the God who rescued them were bound to care for and rescue one another. The failure to do this led to such rebukes as are found in Isaiah 1. The theme carries over into Isaiah 5, today’s first reading.
The Gospel parable refers, historically, to the history of God’s people killing the prophets, who urged them not to worship false gods or make covenants with death. A good summary of the history of the people’s rejection of the covenant is found in Psalm 106. God’s people, having inherited the Promised Land, still had to do battle with the foreign nations around them. They were told not to adopt the practices of those people, for they did not know the true God. God’s people, however, did mingle with these other nations and even joined in their rituals. The most grievous of the sins of God’s people was when, in imitation of the pagan nations, “they sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons and they shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters” (Ps. 106:37-38). Rather than bearing the fruit of life, rooted in true worship, they bore the fruit of death, rooted in false worship.
True worship, instead, would have led the people to embrace the prophets’ admonitions to “do justice, redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (Is. 1:17). As James puts it, “Looking after orphans and widows in their distress…makes for pure worship before our God and Father” (James 1:27). Those most defenseless in our midst today are the unborn.
Application: This line of thought can then be applied to us, first and foremost in that we are entrusted with a vineyard, too, which is the new and everlasting Covenant in the blood of Christ. That covenant is renewed at the Eucharist, where we resolve to bear good fruit for the Lord, as his life-giving Body and Blood are given to us. We will not betray the covenant with which we are entrusted.
As of old, so today, that covenant gives us obligations to one another. As John Paul II explained in Evangelium Vitae 76, “The Creator has entrusted man's life to his responsible concern, not to make arbitrary use of it, but to preserve it with wisdom and to care for it with loving fidelity. The God of the Covenant has entrusted the life of every individual to his or her fellow human beings, brothers and sisters, according to the law of reciprocity in giving and receiving, of self-giving and of the acceptance of others. In the fullness of time, by taking flesh and giving his life for us, the Son of God showed what heights and depths this law of reciprocity can reach. With the gift of his Spirit, Christ gives new content and meaning to the law of reciprocity, to our being entrusted to one another. The Spirit who builds up communion in love creates between us a new fraternity and solidarity, a true reflection of the mystery of mutual self-giving and receiving proper to the Most Holy Trinity. The Spirit becomes the new law which gives strength to believers and awakens in them a responsibility for sharing the gift of self and for accepting others, as a sharing in the boundless love of Jesus Christ himself.”
The vineyard we have here in the United States, in particular, entrusts us with profound gifts of freedom. We can shape our own culture and government. God asks us to bear fruits of life rather than to abuse our freedom with perversions of “choice” that end up taking life.
Additional Context and Elements: Priests for Life recommends certain standard elements in a pro-life homily: alternatives to abortion, healing and forgiveness after abortion, and responses to common slogans. These homily elements are outlined in our “Preaching on Abortion” booklet, which also provides significant background information about preaching on abortion (see links above).
The congregation should be called to embrace practical action for the defense of life. Joining (or starting) a parish pro-life committee is one of the first steps. Participating in daily prayer (see www.PrayerCampaign.org) is another. Suggestions on our pro-life bulletin insert can also be urged (see www.priestsforlife.org/bulletin).