Fr. Frank's Sunday morning sermon to Congress

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Publication Date: March 21, 2010

On Sunday, March 21, 2010, members of Congress and their spouses held a prayer service in the US Congress, and Fr. Frank delivered the homily.  The purpose of the gathering was not political or legislative, but rather religious: to express our dependence upon God as a nation. In the early days of our Republic, prayer services were held in Congress. Many have long since forgotten that, and this service was a reminder that worship is not incompatible with the legislative chambers of our government.

Brothers and Sisters, I bring you this morning the prayerful greetings of my Pastoral Team at Priests for Life, the largest pro-life ministry in the Catholic Church, as well as those of the National Pro-life Religious Council. In my role as National Director of both of these groups, I often remind people that it is a Biblical precept to pray for all those in public office (1 Tim. 2). Any Bible-believer who is carrying out his or her duty is praying for you. In fact, Scripture calls you “ministers of God” (see Rom. 13).

In Revelation 12, we read, “War broke out in heaven.” War is such a terrible thing on earth; what must it be in heaven? There was evidently a rebellion among the angels, led by Lucifer. The faithful ones were led by one named “Michael,” and that gives us a clue as to what the war was about. “Michael” means, “Who is like God?” 

We get a further clue in Isaiah 14, where the prophet is chiding the King of Babylon for his pride, and he says, “How you have fallen from the heavens, O Lucifer!” This is not only historical commentary; it is unveiling spiritual mysteries. It goes on to pull aside the veil and let us see the thinking of the evil one. “You said in your heart, I will ascend above the clouds, to the throne of God – I will be like the Most High!”

There was the devil’s mistake. He thought he could take the place of God. So Michael cries out, “Who can be like God? Only He is on the throne!”

Now Michael and the faithful angels won, and we can say, “Hallelujah! That’s great!” But then we read the next verse, “And they were cast down to the earth.” And there the battle begins, and we go from the last book of Scripture to the first, where Satan approaches our first parents and brings the battle into human history.

He approaches the first woman, and asks her about trees. Adam and Eve had been told they could eat of any tree in the garden except "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." "In the day that you eat of it," God warned them, "you shall die" (Gen 2:17). What is wrong with knowing good from evil? Aren't we supposed to know the difference between good and evil? Why, then, is this the one tree of which our first parents were not to eat?

The answer lies in the fact that the "knowledge of good and evil" here does not simply mean "knowing." It means that Adam and Eve would think they could decide the difference between good and evil, that they would be the ones to determine what was right and wrong, that they would be the norm of morality. This is the original temptation. "What's right and wrong for me is up to me... What's right and wrong for you is up to you... Do not impose your morality on me. . . I will create my own values... I am accountable to nobody but myself." In other words, it's all up to my own personal choice.

Adam and Eve buy into this temptation, and commit the original sin. But God did not abandon humanity; he came to save us. And as Isaiah had pulled aside the veil to reveal the thinking of the evil one, St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 2) pulls aside the veil to reveal the thinking of the Holy One, Jesus Christ:

Though he was in the form of God,

Jesus did not deem equality with God

something to be grasped.

Rather, he took the form of a slave,

Being born in the likeness of men.

It was thus that he humbled himself,

Obediently accepting even death,

Death on a cross.

Therefore, God highly exalted Him

And bestowed on Him the Name

Above every other Name.

So that at Jesus’ Name

Every knee must bend in heaven,

On the earth,

And under the earth,

And every tongue proclaim

To the Glory of God the Father,

Jesus Christ is Lord!

There is the dynamic of salvation. Two simple truths, easy to express but hard to live: “There is a God, and it isn’t me.” It is God’s work to exalt us to be like himself; our work is to humble ourselves before him, not only in our personal lives but in our professional lives; not only as individuals, but as a nation; not only in our Churches but here in the halls of Congress!

Pope John Paul II marked his pontificate by repeating the most frequent admonition of Scripture: Be not afraid! It doesn’t just mean, “don’t worry, have courage.” It means that we are called to welcome Jesus Christ and not be afraid that he is going to deprive us of what we long for or restrict our freedom or enslave our hopes. No, welcoming the Savior is precisely the fulfillment of our hopes and the foundation of our freedom!

In fact, it is the foundation of the representative form of government which we enjoy and in which you play such a crucial role. In pagan thought, government was a matter of the ruler having power, and the people counting for nothing. But when Christ came, he taught that each individual has access to God and is called to share his very nature as a son or daughter of God the Father. If that is true, then no public official can dominate or own other people; no legislator or governor, Congress or Court, can have a veto power over human rights! Now everyone counts, and therefore everyone has a voice.  Power and authority become service; legislators become ministers of God; and issues matter only because people matter more.

We don’t just deal with the “issue” of health care; it’s about people who need it. We don’t just debate “immigration”, we try to serve the needs of immigrants; we don’t just argue about abortion, we serve the needs of the youngest children and their parents.

We always start with the dignity of the human person, realizing that human rights and dignity don’t come from government and can’t be taken away by government. If you were the ones who decided whether people have their human rights, then they wouldn’t be human rights any more. Human rights belong to humans because they are human, not because someone decided to grant those rights. Therefore, nobody can be excluded from our service, our care, our protection.

We come here today to worship God, because only through the worship of God can we understand fully  our service to humanity. Only when we hear Christ say that he wants us to sit on his throne do we understand why we care about people. Their destiny is the heights of heaven, sitting on God’s throne; therefore we cannot turn the other way if they are thrown in the garbage. When we hear Christ say, “This is my body, given up for you,” we understand the meaning of love, as opposed to the cry, “This is my body, I can do what I want.” When we hear God say to Moses, “I have heard the cry of my people who are being oppressed,” then we understand that we are ministers of God because these are God’s people, not ours. Then we understand that caring for the weak and the poor, including the unborn, cannot be the monopoly of one or another political party or held hostage to a partisan agenda. In the voice of the helpless is the voice of God, and we are not free to exclude anyone.

Brothers and sisters, I thank you for your service to this country, and above all for your service to humanity and to the God of humanity.  Never be discouraged, because the God who has put us here is coming back. And on that day, every eye will see him, every knee will be bend, and we will be gathered into the new and eternal Jerusalem, where every battle and division will be swallowed up in the victory of truth and life and love. There will be no more death, no more crying out or pain, for he who sits on the throne says, “Behold, I make all things new!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

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