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Love Means Giving Oneself Away

(Homily given by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Coadjutor Bishop of Wichita, Kansas, on January 20, 2001)

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life." (John 3:16)

God created us in love; God created us out of love; God created us for love. God gave us two great commandments: "You shall love your God with all your mind, with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your soul. You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love, then, is our origin, our destiny, our calling. If I do not love, if I do not experience love, my life remains an enigma to me and empty of meaning. Love alone makes life worthwhile.

That is why St. Paul writes (I Corinthians 13:1-3): "If I speak in Human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing."

Thus, when we think of human dignity and the right to life of every human person, we begin by thinking of love. When we remember with sadness and abhorrence the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, which occurred 28 years ago, and when we try to understand our responsibility as individuals and as followers of Jesus for overturning that calamitous legal decision, we begin by focusing our attention on love. For love is our origin and our calling, our destiny and our hope. And while everything else in this world may pass away, love will not. Love, while tender, is strong. Love never fails (I Corinthians 13:4-13).

But what is love? What does love look like? What is the difference between authentic love and its counterfeit? Fundamentally, we learn what love is from God, from the love of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity; namely that love entails the giving and receiving of persons. "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son."

To love is to make oneself a gift for others and to receive others as a gift.

This is what Christmas is all about: God gave Himself to us. He made Himself a gift to us in the most human of terms. "The word became flesh." He became a tiny child in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

This is what Good Friday is all about: God gave Himself to us, as an innocent victim on the Cross. He died so that we might live. He gave Himself over to death so that we might be saved from death.

This is what the Last Supper is about: God made Himself a gift for us, under the forms of bread and wine. Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying: "This is my Body."

Some of you in the pro-life movement may be familiar with Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of a movement called Priests for Life. In a recent article, he, asked the question: "Did you ever realize that the same four words that were used by the Lord Jesus to save the world are also used by some to promote abortion? 'This is my body.' The same simple words are spoken from opposite ends of the universe, with meanings that are directly contrary to each other."

When Jesus spoke those words, He was pointing to Calvary, to what He would do with His body for the sake of others, how He would make His body a sacrifice so that we might have life. Moreover, He so completely makes Himself a gift for us that He invites us to share in His very life. He makes us members of His body; an awesome mystery of perfect love. Paradoxically, a person supporting abortion uses the same words to say the exact opposite: "'This is my body. Don't tell me what to do with it! It's mine, and I can do whatever I want with it, even kill the life within it."

The same words can yield opposite results. Christ gives away His body so that we might have life and have it abundantly (cf. John 10:10). Abortion supporters hold tightly to their own bodies so that others might die. In giving His body to us, Christ teaches the meaning of love: He says, "I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person." Abortion teaches the opposite of love: It says, "I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself" (cf. Pavone, ibid).

It is true for you and me to say, "This is my body," but why? Why is this body mine? Why did God give us that freedom and responsibility? So that we can do as Jesus did, so that we can obey Jesus' command at the Last Supper: "Do this in memory of me."

On the day you and I were born, our dad and mom sad, "This is my body, given for you." They did not say, "This is my body, don't get in my way." This is the vocation and mission of parents. It is the way that we reverse Roe vs. Wade. A Culture of Life is built up one child at a time, with men and women saying with Jesus, out of love for their spouse and out of love for each child God gives, "'This is my body. As God has given my life to me, so I give it as a gift to you." Thus love consists in making oneself a gift for others.

There is one additional part of love, that follows naturally from its deepest meeting, namely that love also means gratefully receiving. In fact, on the existential, human level, this is the most affirming part of love. This is what the Virgin Mary did, when she said to God, "Fiat, let it be done to me according to your word." She gratefully received into her body the gift of God's self; the Son of God became the son of Mary.

'This is what Zechariah and Elizabeth did for John the Baptist; they gratefully received him as a gift from God. This is what husbands and wives do for each other, and why marriage is a sign of the love of Christ for His Church. This is what parents do for their children. Even prior to making their bodies a gift for their children, they receive with joy the gift of a child that comes from God.

Abortion is refusing to receive the child within as a gift. Not only is it not grateful for the gift of another human person, but abortion distorts the truth of the whole matter. Language gets twisted around, responsibility for others gets cast aside. Instead of being called a child, the unborn is called an aggressor or mere human tissue or some other such dehumanizing term. The refusal to see other persons as gifts of God, the choice to see them as unwanted burdens or intruders into privacy, is clear evidence of a Culture of Death.

Contraception follows this same false logic. For it refuses to receive one's spouse as a gift in his or her whole self. It says, "I will only receive you if you are not fertile." Not infrequently, it is said that there would be very few abortions if contraceptives were made easily available to all. Quite the opposite has proven to be true. In country after country, abortion only becomes widespread shortly after contraceptives are introduced into society. What follows legalized contraception is the development of a contraceptive mentality in which children are regarded as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. Any life that results from a sexual encounter which was supposed to be guarded from fertility by the Pill or other means thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs. Abortion becomes the solution to failed contraception.

It is the love of God for the world that gives us cause to rejoice, that undergirds our hope. It is this love of God that forms the foundation of the dignity of every human being. From the very moment of conception, we are each and everyone, created by God in love, and we are redeemed by the sacrifice of His Son. To each of us He says, "This is my body, given for you."

Let us rejoice in the love of God that is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. The love of the living Christ will never fail. Heaven and earth will pass away. Roe vs. Wade will pass away; it is just a matter of time. But love will never pass away. The victory of Christ's love has already begun. His mercy works through us to build a Culture of Life and a civilization of love.

Priests for Life
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