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Respect for Life Mass


By Bishop Salvatore R. Matano,

Coadjutor Bishop of Burlington

St. Monica Church, Barre

October 22, 2005

How very appropriate are the words of today's Gospel, the words of Jesus Himself: "Love God" and "Love your Neighbor." The fulfillment of this command is demonstrated by the respect and reverence we have for all human life from the very moment of conception until natural death. To love God is to love His creation and the noblest of His creations is the human person. To love our neighbor is to love ourselves and to realize all humanity is a true gift of God.

In fulfilling the mandate of Christ, we hear still other challenging words of Jesus in the form of a question - the answer to which forms the very foundation for our love of God and love of neighbor. In Chapter 15 of Saint Matthew's Gospel we read that upon entering the territory of Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Simon Peter answered: "You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16:13ff).

That very same question is asked of each one of us. Jesus continues to say to you and me, and to all living persons" "Who do you say that I am?" How we answer this question really determines how we live, how we work, what decisions we make, what choices we select. If we answer with Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," then we have made some very definite commitments. First and foremost we say "yes" to following Jesus, "yes" to His way of life, and "yes" to life itself! "Yes" to loving God and loving our neighbor.

When Peter responded to Jesus he said: "You are the Son of the Living God" "The Living God!" Jesus, the Word made Flesh, entered our world with all the strength, vigor, and force of human life. His whole ministry was to be a testimony to how very precious human life is - He would heal the sick, make the deaf to hear and the lame to walk; He would bring back to life the daughter of Jairus and raise Lazarus from the dead. Yes, Jesus was the servant of life! His own resurrection became our pledge of immortality.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, baptized into His death and resurrection, nourished by His body and blood, and enlightened by His Spirit, we too must proclaim the sanctity of all human life from the very moment of conception until natural death. There is no choice! We must choose life if we are to respond to Jesus: "You are the Son of the Living God."

To say "yes" to life is simply to underline, to be consistent with, our very humanity. In living out our human existence we identify who we are as individuals, as a community, as a Church. Only in the interactions and communion shared in daily living do we come to appreciate our dignity as Sons and Daughters of Jesus. By nature, we are relational beings who tend beyond ourselves to the other and ultimately to God. Our natural instinct as children of God is always to opt for life that we might satisfy our relational and communal nature.

Yes, indeed, we are by disposition relational beings! Did not the Lord give us eyes that we might see and appreciate the other, ears to hear the voices of others, mouths to speak to others, arms to reach out and embrace the other, and hearts and minds to know and to love the other! These are the faculties, the instincts, the drives of the person and they find their fulfillment in life, in life with God!

How very unnatural and inhuman it is to frustrate who we are as persons by ever destroying life - by destroying the other who is gift to us, by destroying the other who one day would speak to us, hear us, embrace us and ultimately love us! To ever destroy life is to rupture our communion among people and to deny what is truly human. It is the complete failure to answer the question of Jesus: "Who do you say that I am?"

Attacks against the unborn, the sick, the weak and the fragile, those who have no one to speak on their behalf, are far more than social diseases. Such aggression against life is a serious sin which is contrary to what we have been called to be as persons - lovers of life. The sin of abortion dehumanizes a person and weakens one's communion with his or her brothers and sisters in the human family. Abortion stands in direct opposition to the invitation of God Himself to enter into the creative process of human generation. By saying "yes" to the author of all life, Jesus the Lord, a mother and a father enter more deeply into the continuation of the human family by bringing to birth still another extraordinary gift from God, His own Son or Daughter! The Confession of Faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" is proclaimed anew in the birth of each and every child, a child who so beautifully reflects the warmth, love, tenderness, and sanctity of the Jesus of Nazareth!

A culture of death nurtured and encouraged by euthanasia, by the experimentation that manipulates life at its embryonic stage, by the diminishment of the family and the institution of marriage, by the taking of human life as either a deterrent to crime or a punishment for crime, by the wanton disregard for the poor, these are all offences against the Creator, against life and a failure to love God and to love our neighbor! In a society that assumes the right to determine when life begins and when it ends, a right that belongs only to God, then the powerful dominate the weak, the godless become God, and the beginning and the end of life are left to determinations based upon relative convenience or a narcissistic preference or selfish satisfaction.

Today we are particularly aware that the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that ushered in the tragic reality of abortion has paved the way for the attacks against life now threatening the sick and the elderly through proposed legislation favoring physician-assisted suicide. Let us be reminded of Bishop Angell's words in 2003 underlining the teaching of the Catholic Church that medical or societal approval of suicide is not acceptable: "Real death with dignity consists of helping our dying loved ones to prepare to meet and greet their Almighty Lord, free of pain, free of depression and free of the anxieties which lead to wishes of death."

Today you have gathered for this Samaritan Training Workshop to understand better "The Art of Condolence," to minister to the sick and the dying with the reverence and love they deserve in accordance with the mind of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: "Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases'." (No. 1505). How very sad that those who once cared for us now have become in the minds of some a burden. Maybe we cannot take care of our sick and elderly because we have fewer young people - we have threatened life from its very beginning by attacking the unborn and now we are threatening the end of life by euthanasia! Can any society survive which threatens life from its conception until natural death!

This evening we pray for a genuine respect for life at all levels. What we do is more than significant - it is essential! Life is the issue of our day - how we respect and venerate the gift of life from the moment of conception until our return to the Father is of paramount importance. Our attitude toward life powerfully answers the question of Jesus: "Who do you say that I am?" Unless we reverence life, beginning with the lives of the most innocent and defenseless among us, the unborn, we will never successfully and adequately solve the many other life issues of our day. The threat of global war, the challenges and struggling of single parent families, the inhumanity of poverty, the suffering of the elderly, the pain of abandonment, the abuse and mistreatment of women and children, the pain and hurt of those afflicted with AIDS - these are all problems which will only be remedied once we have a deep and renewed appreciation for the gift of life!

As we prepare to continue this Holy Eucharist in which we celebrate the very life and presence of Jesus, let us reflect upon our late Holy Father's message to us on September 19, 1987. In his farewell to the people of American upon completing his pastoral visit to the United States. His Holiness Pope John Paul II said:

"…your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter.

"For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation are revealed in the position you take toward the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones.

"The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person.

" Feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;

" Reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;

" Promoting the true advancement of women;

" Securing the rights of minorities;

" Pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defense:

All this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death."

Today, we are those disciples chosen by Jesus. When Jesus asks "Who do you say that I am," may we respond with great faith: "You are the Son of the Living God," and may we never grow tired of working to protect that life which the Living God graciously bestows upon each and everyone of us! In so doing may we "press towards the goal to win the prize which is God's call to the life above, in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14). We fulfill His mandate: "Love God" and "Love your neighbor

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