Homily for October 2, XXVII Sunday in Ordinary Time year A, Respect Life Sunday
“I came so that all might have life and have it to the full.” These words of the Lord are the theme for this year’s Respect Life Month, which we inaugurate this weekend. Indeed, Christianity has always been a defender of life. Right from the start, Christians rejected the practice of infanticide that was common among the pagans, who abandoned unwanted babies to die from exposure to the elements. Equally, care for the sick and elderly have always been a hallmark of authentic Christian communities.
Today, these values are once again counter-cultural. Our society devalues motherhood, and often portrays “unwanted” children and the infirm elderly as a burden to society and an interference to the personal fulfillment of those who are healthy and independent. For a variety of reasons, tremendous pressure can be put on mothers to procure an abortion. Increasingly, there is a drive to allow the elderly to seek physician-assisted suicide, either as a means to avoid suffering or to ease the financial burden on the family or the state health system. In short, the quality of life is given more value than life itself. We must remember that, while quality of life is important, it is not an absolute value. At times we need to sacrifice something of our own quality of life to help those in need, especially mothers in distress, unwanted children born and not yet born, and the elderly who need care.
Sometimes, of course, life takes a turn, and things can go wrong. It is important that we show understanding and compassionate to those who have made bad decisions about their own lives or the lives of their children or relatives. They can find themselves in complex situations due to emotional, physical, and economic situations, where doing the right thing is neither easy nor immediately clear. God’s mercy is always open to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the love of the Christian community should surround everyone, especially the most vulnerable and wounded.
Like the vineyard in the readings today, our lives, our bodies, and our world are on loan from God, and He expects us to use them respectfully and responsibly. At the moment of conception, something happens that is beyond mere biological processes. Every human soul is created directly by God, and that bestows great dignity on every person, body and soul, from conception until death. Intentionally violating the integrity of any human life is a grave offense against God and humanity. That includes ending an innocent life by any unnatural means (abortion, murder, or euthanasia), medical experimentation that is destructive of any human life (like embryonic stem-cell research), denying anyone essential needs (like water and nutrition), or demeaning a person through torture, slavery, or abuse.
As the readings make clear, when we fail in our duty to respect and nurture life, there are grave consequences. Our primary responsibility is for our own lives and those of our immediate family. However, to the degree that we can influence others, we are also responsible for what goes on in our community and in our society. If we want God to bless our families and our country, we cannot stand idly by while violations of human life and dignity become enshrined in our country’s laws and customs. It is the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to pray, and to exercise our rights and duties as citizens to prevent and to end the culture of death, especially the atrocities of abortion and euthanasia.
These are very disturbing and emotional topics to address, and the statistics are frightening; more than three thousand children’s lives are ended by abortion each day. We must turn to God to be enlightened in the truth and strengthened in our faith, hope, and love. I’d like to end with the words of St. Paul from today’s second reading: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”