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Respect Life Homily

Bishop F. Joseph Gossman

St. Ann Church, Clayton

October 3, 2004

"I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd" John 10:10-11

Today we celebrate the Eucharist together on this, the first Sunday of October. October is the month that Bishops of the United States proclaimed should be dedicated to renewing our commitment to respect life, "to never intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem."

We believe with Pope John Paul II, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a "Gospel of Life". It invites all persons and societies to a new life, lived abundantly with special respect for human dignity. For the life and dignity of the human person is fundamental. Without the right to life no other rights are possible. We believe the Gospel of Jesus is not only a complement to American political principles, but the cure for the spiritual sickness that seems now to infect our society. We will not compromise on life. We will remain firm in our unequivocal commitment to believe, to teach, to persuade people everywhere that all human life, from conception to natural death, is precious and must be defended; that every person has a fundamental right to life.

All issues are not of equal moral worth. Life comes first. But Jesus came so we might have life and have it more abundantly. So all those things which make life truly human---faith and family, education and work, housing and healthcare, demand our attention and action as well.

Today the value, the worth, the dignity of human life are threatened in so many ways. Most visibly by abortion, but also by euthanasia, cloning, stem-cell research, widespread hunger and lack of healthcare, by war and violence, crime and the death penalty.

We cannot not allow ourselves to be dissuaded or distracted from the truth of our "position for life", by appeals to "Freedom of Choice." "Choice" without an object is really only a slogan. "You have to decide what your choice is about! It would be inconceivable today that someone would say that they were personally opposed to slavery but thought that slaveholders should have the choice. Few would accept the logic of the argument that driving under the influence of alcohol is wrong but that each driver should be allowed the choice to drive in that condition. The right to make a choice brings with it the corresponding responsibility to choose only what is the moral and ethical good."

Nor do I "accept the too common refrain, ‘I am personally opposed. But…’ or ‘my votes are public and my faith is private,’ or ‘I vote my constituency, not just my own conscience.’ Politics at its best is about persuading others, connecting what we believe to how we act, and harnessing our deepest convictions and the call of conscience in the pursuit of the common good. This is what makes political life a noble calling and a vocation."

I want to express my gratitude to faithful Catholics in political life, "to thank them for their service and sacrifice and call others to join them in protecting human life and dignity and promoting justice and peace. We need more, not fewer Catholics in public life, more people bringing their moral convictions and concern for the weakest to our powerful democracy."

As people of faith we must also not be discouraged by the sight of wide-spread disrespect for human life all around us. It is not a new phenomenon in our world.

In today’s first reading, the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk called out to God, "Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me and there is strife and clamorous discord."

And God replied: "Write down the vision clearly on the tablets, so that one can read it readily for the vision has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come…for the just man because of his faith, shall live."

God is always ready to answer our prayers with the strength and means we need to do His will. And we have need for many virtues in our struggle to protect and preserve the dignity and worth of human life. We need courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life. The great lie of our time is that we can do nothing in the face of compromises, structures, the media, and the greed of our mass culture. We can make a difference because we belong to the Lord. Our strength is not in ourselves but in Him. It is with His grace and not just by our own efforts that we can change the world.

We need humility to listen to friend and foe alike so that we learn from each other the ways that may be best, to persuade others of the truth of our commitment and devotion to human life. We need prudence to know when and how to act in the public arena. And here let me be clear.

No one should mistake my decision not to make a public judgment about the state of the soul of those presenting themselves for Holy Communion as ignoring or excusing those who clearly contradict Catholic teaching in their public roles. Catholics who support policies or act in ways that are contrary to fundamental moral principles should not dismiss or take lightly the seriousness of their actions. They must study Catholic teaching, recognize their grave responsibility to protect life from conception to natural death, and adopt positions and work for policies that are consistent with these principles. I believe that as a Bishop, I must renew my efforts to persuade rather than to penalize. To teach more clearly, advocate more effectively, and to engage and challenge Catholic politicians to act on the moral teachings of the Church.

Along with many of my brother bishops, expressed in the statements of the Bishops’ Task Force, and reflected throughout this talk, I too believe that "our battle for human life and dignity, for the weak and the vulnerable should be fought not at the communion rail but in hearts and minds, in pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and our communities…that disciplinary action should be applied only when efforts at dialogue, persuasion and conversion have been fully exhausted."

I also believe that it is not just politicians but all of us, including myself, who should ask if we are worthy to receive the Eucharist. Are we free of serious sin? Do we live our lives, public and private, according to the Gospel? Do we "choose life, serve "the least of His brothers and sisters", "hunger and thirst for justice and peace"?

If we are to continue our struggle for the protection of human life, we need the virtue of perseverance. Trusting in God and remembering His words to Habakkuk that it is He who guarantees the success of our task if we but have patience and faith.

"The foundation of every apostolic life is faith, hope and charity." Faith, not in moral or political abstractions, but in the personal presence of God in our midst. And we can be comforted by the knowledge that our faith need not be heroic in size and scope like that of the great saints. Speaking to us today, Jesus assures the apostles when they ask for an increase in their faith that they only need faith the size of a tiny mustard seed to uproot the giant mulberry tree, which often grows to the height of 80 feet, and replant it in the sea. We must believe, not in our own ingenuity and righteousness, but in God’s goodness and mercy and in the love He showers on all of us.

" I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly". May we, in God’s own time see our country and our world adopt the Christ’s Gospel of Life. And at the end of our lives, may we be told by God that we were one of those who, with His grace, helped to make it possible.

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