Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homily 27th Sun O.T. Year A - Respect Life

faith This time four years ago was one of the most memorable events of my seminary career up at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD. October 1st, 2007 was a very exciting day as people packed into the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, just around the block from St. Mary’s. I was sitting in a pew with many other seminarians and I remember thinking how neat it was to see so many different religious orders, many of the faculty from St. Mary’s, so many priests and deacons, even a good number of bishops. That wonderful event was the Mass in which Abp. Edwin O’Brien became the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore, at the same time becoming the “first among equals” of the American bishops. He just recently moved to Rome though as the new Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Not only do I remember vividly the setting that day, I also remember well the homily. With today being Respect Life Sunday, we would do well to recall what Abp. O’Brien proclaimed to Baltimore and to America on his first day as the Archbishop of Baltimore. His words were full of conviction and resolve, full of certainty and hope. Indeed, he was like a modern day St. Paul writing to the Philippians in our second reading: “Brothers and Sisters: have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition… make your requests known to God.” Like, Paul, Abp. O’Brien instructed us rely on God and the Church for help. He said:

I pledge that I shall make every effort possible to continue and intensify the defense of the right to life that has been waged by my predecessors. And I pledge more. No one has to have an abortion. To all those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic church -- let us walk with you through your time of trouble, let us help you affirm life, let us help you find a new life with your child, let us help you by placing that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you, let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an answer in this archdiocese....

What a rousing call! It certainly stirred up the flame in my fellow seminarians and me to do more spiritually and publicly for the pro-life cause. I remember how we often gathered with students from Johns Hopkins University on early Saturday mornings in front of a local abortion clinic to pray the rosary and to offer counseling to women as they entered and left the clinic. We were filled with compassion and zeal. We wanted more than anything to help, to make a difference. But when people would heckle us or mock us, I had moments in which I felt like the prophet Isaiah at the end of our first reading: “he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!”

Aren’t these the cries of so many in the pro-life movement when we consider the magnitude of our mission? When we consider that abortion is allowed throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy! When we consider that over 1 million surgical abortions take place every year in the United States, over 4000 every day, and that they are mostly done for non-medical reasons! How can we move forward, how can we continue to witness to the Gospel of Life, in the face of such a formidable foe?

The psalmist seems to cry out right alongside Isaiah. He does so because he has faith that the Lord can help him. The Israelites were the Lord’s vineyard but they were unfaithful and yielded no fruit. They only yielded “wild grapes” – the Hebrew behind that phrase literally meaning “stinking things”. Therefore the Lord left them to their own devices and allowed his vineyard to be broken into and trampled, scattered about and overgrown. He even commanded the clouds not to send rain upon it. If they wanted to be ruined then so be it. But, the psalmist sings out to God: “O Lord of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted… Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name.”

In many ways, we have reaped what we have sown in this culture of death. But, we must have faith that God does look down from heaven on us, that he can protect us and give us new life. We must never stop praying for this. Faith is the key when we feel discouraged in our work to end abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and all other offenses against the life of God in us.

On the whole, especially with so many youth involved, I see the pro-life movement filled with hope and joy. But sometimes when we become discouraged, the source of our discouragement is not the culture of death, but rather the things we have done to lessen our own faith in God. This happens, for example, whenever we let despair overcome us, whenever we have division in the pro-life movement, or whenever we resign ourselves to idleness or shrink from our responsibility to defend life. Sometimes when we feel discouraged or unmotivated it is the cumulative effect of these that we are feeling.

What we can do to ignite our faith again is to make an Act of Faith. You have heard of the Act of Contrition, right? It is the prayer we say during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Remember? It goes, “O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended you…” and so forth. Did you know that there is an Act of Faith as well? It goes:

“O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because you have revealed them who are eternal truth and wisdom, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. In this faith I intend to live and die. Amen.”

An Act of Faith is the proper response to the culture of death, not fear. Your Act of Faith could be the formal prayer or it could be an actual act of faith. For example, you could volunteer with a local pro-life group. Today, in Elizabethtown, where I’m assigned, we are having a “Life Chain” in front of the Mall where people from the community will stand shoulder to shoulder praying the rosary for an end to offenses against human life. We are also having a Holy Hour for Life at 3:45pm with brief readings from several Church documents on various life issues. With October being Respect Life month, there are many opportunities to volunteer at a local pregnancy resource center or pray in front of a abortion clinic in Louisville. There are many prayers and acts of Faith that you can make.

By our faith, the victory that Christ won over sin and death by the power of His Cross can reign in our lives, in our families, our Churches, our neighborhoods. By our faith that victory can reign in Meade County and everywhere in Kentucky. By our faith we can show that we have become the new vineyard and we, with the Son, are the heir of the Father’s riches. But, like the wicked tenants before us, our sins too are intimately related to the death of the beloved Son. We are now expected to render a timely account. Will we yield much good fruit or will we allow sin to yield what Isaiah called “wild grapes” or literally “stinking things”?

God has prepared us well. We are grown on the fertile hillside of grace. We have the choicest vines, the blood of the grape, the Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are spaded and cleared of the stones of sin through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. The tenants are our priests and bishops and the watchtower is the Magisterium.

Never lose faith in the victory of life over death that has already been won. Our Lord desires to work through you to apply this victory to our place and time. And he has limitless mercy and forgiveness for those who have been wounded by abortion. Make an Act of Faith! Go out with courage and proclaim to all the world that our Faith and our Lord are the hedge built around this vineyard and we will no more be trampled and destroyed.

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