Homily for 26th Sunday B
Diocese of Austin, TX
Once again this weekend we celebrate Respect Life Sunday in the Catholic Church in the United States. Bishop John McCarthy has asked that each parish in the diocese celebrate this Sunday as Respect Life Sunday in the diocese of Austin. He has further asked that we recommit the diocese to Respect Life Month during the whole month of October.
As a part of this ongoing effort, I want to invite each of you to consider becoming an active member of the Respect Life Commission of St. Marys Catholic Center. Please contact me for more information or to learn how to help.
When I was first ordained and was still a baby priest, preaching about abortion made me very nervous. It made the palms of my hands sweat. Like most priests, I was afraid that if I mentioned abortion, I was going to hurt people in the congregation who had had abortions.
Five years later I am not nervous. Five years later I am not afraid I am going to hurt people in the congregation if I preach about abortion and I want to tell you what has caused this change. Two things caused this change. I began to work with post-abortive parents through Project Rachel, a healing ministry for victims of abortion, and I learned how to preach the whole gospel of life because the whole gospel of life is healing, not harming.
As I listened to the stories of men and women who had had abortions I realized that the abortion itself left a deep wound of pain and regret. The reason why the priest does not hurt the man or woman in the congregation who has had an abortion is because they are already hurt. The wound is already there and the only question that remains is how long they are going to have to live with it. The wound is ugly and painful and they may be angry with anyone who messes with it just like a child who screams at a parent who is trying to remove an infected splinter. But if the priest, the one called Father, really loves his parishioners like a father, then he will gather together his courage. If he has a true pastoral concern, then he will be willing to let them vent their pain against him so that he can preach the gospel of life which will help them heal the wound of abortion and let them begin to live again. A good shepherd does not leave his sheep wounded and festering when he has a solid remedy, even if the remedy hurts in its application.
All around the issue of abortion is a conspiracy of guilty silence. We know what happens in the abortuaries in our towns and we are afraid to admit it even to ourselves. Those men and women who have been harmed by abortion are not helped by priests who conspire in this silence because it leaves them trapped and alone in their pain. But what does the priest say if he is going to preach? And not just the priest, but all of us. All of us are affected by abortion; all of us must break out of this conspiracy of silence. All of us are charged by Christ to preach the gospel of life to save the culture of death. But when we preach, when we speak out, we must preach the whole gospel of life or indeed we will cause unnecessary pain. If all that we as Catholic Christians have to say about abortion is to condemn it, then that is only part of the gospel of life and it is painful to hear. But if we preach the whole gospel, then it begins with love and mercy, forgiveness after sin and reconciliation. So, preach, preach about abortion, but tell the whole story. Begin with God’s love for fallen man. Continue with a Son who came among us as an embryo, a fetus, an unborn child in his mother’s womb and who is a Savior who sets us free from sin and death. And end with a Church whose members have arms wide open and who are charged to restore all things in Christ.
I learned from post-abortive parents that many people in our Church do not know that abortion can be forgiven. Many victims of abortion think that they have committed the unforgivable sin and they lose hope. It is up to us to make sure they learn that this is not true. In Christ, all things can be forgiven. We have only to give ourselves to repentance and to the sacrament of reconciliation to find new hope, a fresh start. And while we care for those who have been victimized by abortion, we must also turn our attention and efforts to end the injustice of abortion. As the body of Christ, we are to restore justice to those who have no voice, to turn the evil man from the evil he has in hand so that he may not lose his soul nor harm the innocent.
Preaching the whole gospel of life means sharing our resources with those who have less and who are in need. In our gospel today we are promised a reward for merely giving a cup of water to one who is thirsty. But think about this, if we have a cup of water to give and the other one does not, then why is it we who have the cup of water? Are we better than they, does God love us more, do we deserve it more? Isn’t it true that if we have something to share with someone in need, it is only because God gave it to us? But if God gave it to us and not to all, surely he did not give it to us to keep only for ourselves. God gave it to us so that we could use it to love him by sharing it with those he loves. This is the economy of the Incarnation. Christ chooses to dwell in us so that we must look out for each other in the same way we would look out for him. The money, the talents, the blessings we receive are ours to control in order for us to be good stewards in sharing them wisely with those who have less. They serve no other purpose since we must all die and leave them behind. We take with us only the love of Christ that we have stored in heaven through the sharing of our goods here on earth.
It is up to us to reach out in love and practical assistance to the frightened parents who are told the only option for them is abortion. America aspires to greatness and rightly so. But if a nation has nothing more than abortion to offer a woman in difficult circumstances, in what way can it be called great? We once fought a great war on distant shores to set people free from tyranny and oppression. We were a great nation then because we recognized the danger and injustice of power used to promote ideology against the powerless.
Now the tyranny and oppression are our own. Now ideology used against the powerless happens within our own borders, is written into our own laws. And now the question comes to our generation: are we still a great nation? Will we do the right thing no matter the cost? Have so many Americans fought and died only to have this generation sacrifice the greatness of our nation on the altar of abortion? Our heroes died for our freedom. Do we honor them by committing abominations in the name of the freedom for which they died?
Our language is also a great resource through which we communicate with each other what is in our heart. It is up to us not to allow the cynical abortion industry to contort our language in ways that demean the human person who is sacred in God’s eyes. When you call a human person a fetus or a product of conception or a non-viable life in order to justify killing him or her, in order to justify ignoring their basic human rights, you commit a gross act of prejudice. God calls this person to life, God calls this person my son or my daughter, my beloved.
Because we happen to live in a democracy, we have a voice in the direction of our nation; we have the right to vote. With this right comes a moral responsibility to speak up in favor of those who have no voice, who have no vote. Apathy is beneath those who believe in a God who created everything from nothing. Apathy is beneath those whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents fought and died at home and abroad in order to win and protect our right to cast a single vote. The reason we vote is not because we know our party or our candidate or our cause will win so that if it looks like we will lose, we won’t vote. No, the reason we should vote is because a just government participates in God’s power and authority. Through our vote, God gives us another way to honor him by voting in favor of respect for the life and dignity of the human person created in his image and likeness. When we vote according to our faith in God and love of our neighbor, it becomes an act of worship and prayer.
If we vote in favor of public officials who are themselves in favor of crimes like abortion, then we become cooperators in evil. To paraphrase today’s gospel, if your politician causes you to sin, cut him or her off.
But we need some logic here, we need to apply the teaching of our Church. First, all issues are not of the same importance. The Bishops of the United States have called abortion and euthanasia the pre-eminent threats to human life in our time because these constitute a direct attack on innocent human life. Allow me to quote the bishops of the United States from their statement "Living the Gospel of Life": We must never be indifferent to those "who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas? But [because the legal protection of innocent life is basic] being "right" in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the "rightness" of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. (Living the Gospel of Life 23). In regards political candidates, this means that we should be suspicious of any candidate of whatever party who claims to support the rights of the poor and who still supports abortion. Such a stance demonstrates that the candidate does not even understand who the poor are or what rights mean. The right to life is paramount and is the condition for enjoying any other rights. Any public official who favors excluding a portion of the public from the protection of the law and ignoring their basic human rights forfeits the honor of the title public official.
Secondly, the ability of lawmakers to have perfect laws to vote on is limited. At times a lawmaker, who makes it clear that he or she does not support a right to abortion, may still be forced to vote in favor of a law or policy that does not go as far as it can, but does help to reduce the number of abortions. It is responsible to vote for such persons because an incremental approach may be the best approach we can get in the complicated politics of our democratic system.
But let us be clear, if the reason we support a particular politician is because that person supports abortion, and we do too, then we are colluding in evil and are guilty of a crime against innocent human persons. No Catholic can claim to be in favor of abortion under any circumstances. There is not more than one teaching about abortion in the Catholic Church. If a Catholic finds he or she is not convinced that abortion is always wrong, then they have a responsibility to continue to pray and study and try to understand why the Church teaches what it does.
Ours is a time of great potential, of great prosperity, but not a time of peace. We should not allow ourselves to be lulled by a good economy into thinking this is a time of peace. Peace is not the mere absence of war, but the presence of justice. Our nation’s greatness is found in its recognition of the unalienable rights of all of its citizens. As Catholic Christians and as Americans, let us pray and work to restore the rights of all so that we may again claim the greatness that so many paid so much to give to us.