Today, as we observe this Respect Life Sunday, Christ the Lord teaches through his parable, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do” (Luke 17:10). With these words, he teaches how we are to live each day so as to conclude each day well.
The faithful servant is the one who carries out the will of his master, the one who knows what he is obliged to do and do so not with grumbling and complaints, but with devotion and love.
Those servants who are found faithful are found so because they have chosen to place the will of their master above their own. So must it be with us; we must choose daily to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ by following his will in all things.
We know that of all of the choices we make in life that not every decision is of equal importance or of equal consequence. Whether I have cereal or fruit for breakfast is not as important as whether or not I am faithful to my spouse. Clearly, marital fidelity comes first, for the good of the spouses; for the good of the children; for the good of the Church; indeed, even for the good of the world.
We also know that “there are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, 22). Such actions are intrinsically evil and must “always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned” (Ibid., 22).
One example – sadly becoming ever more frequent – is adultery. It is never permissible to be unfaithful to the marriage covenant and society can never condone adultery because it – in and of itself – is evil, wrong and immoral, always and everywhere; it violates the common good. First, it denigrates the dignity of the individual person by treating another person as nothing more than an object for pleasure; adultery denigrates the well-being of society by harming the stability and security of the family, the foundation of society.
Our obligations as servants of Jesus Christ follow us even into the voting booths. As it is in daily living, so it is in those booths: some issues carry greater weight than others and some actions can never be morally performed. We call this the hierarchy of values.
The first among these is the protection of human life, which includes abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and many others. The Church has always taught that "the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (Ibid., 28).
Every Catholic, therefore, has a moral obligation to do what he or she can to protect every human life because “a legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed” (Ibid., 22). Such a political system is flawed because “the right to life implies and is linked to other human rights – to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive” (Ibid., 28).
Consequently, it is not possible – nor has it ever been - for a Catholic to support abortion, euthanasia or other things that are contrary to life, contrary to the divine will, and contrary to the common good. Nor is it permissible for a Catholic to vote in favor of a politician because of his or her positions on these “issues.” To support such policies places one outside the Church, outside of the communion of the teaching of Jesus Christ; by supporting such policies, one has stepped off the path laid before us by Jesus Christ.
Any Catholic – politician or not – who refuses to accept a central tenet of the Christian faith must not present him or herself for Holy Communion. To do so would be one great lie, for when we say, “Amen,” to “the Body of Christ,” we say that we not only believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - we also say that we believe, accept and hold all of the teachings of the Church or that we at least give the assent of faith to them.
In insisting upon this the Church is not using the Eucharist as a political tool; rather, she seeks to stop one of her children from committing a sacrilege by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily thereby bringing death upon themselves (cf. I Corinthians 11:27). Withholding Holy Communion is not a punishment but a medicinal discipline to lead the one who has sinned in such a grave manner back to the fold of Christ. It is a protection both for the individual sinner by keeping him from committing further sin, but also for the whole Church by guarding against scandal.
Some will undoubtedly say, “Father, you’re crossing the line of separation of Church and State.” Such is not the case for what we are discussing is not a matter of Church and State but of faith and politics.
Faith requires something of us. It requires that we love both God and neighbor and that every decision we make, every word we speak and every action we perform, be in keeping with the love of God and of neighbor, even in the voting booth. Faith can never be laid aside, for we are servants of the Lord at all times and in every place.
At the most recent World Youth Day held in 2008 in Sydney, Australia, the Holy Father told us, “Life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the Welcome Ceremony, 17 July 2008).
We know this to be true, for if we consider our own individual existence we know that none of us chose to be born. Exploring the depths of our hearts we know ourselves to be creatures and that there is therefore a Creator, the Creator who knows us, who loves us and who wants us. We know that “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Ibid., 24 April 2005).
It is precisely because we are creatures that we cannot claim a right to end the life of any man, woman or child. We are not the Creator.
In speaking these words some will praise me and others condemn me. I speak these for neither praise nor condemnation, but because they are the truth, the truth of the Gospel. And because these words are true I must speak them, for at the end of my life, I, too, want to be able to say to the Divine Master, “I am an unprofitable servant; I have done what I was obliged to do” (cf. Luke 17:10). Amen.