06 August 2016

Homily - 7 August 2016

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Have you ever looked up into the night sky and wondered which star God made to burn for you?[1] Centuries ago, the Lord God took Abraham – while his name was still Abram – “outside and said: Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, will your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5). You and I, dear brothers and sisters, are children of Abraham through faith, as Saint Paul teaches us (cf. Galatians 3:7). If we are, then, Abraham’s descendants, then one of those stars in the sky shines for you and another for me. What is more, because Christ the Lord has commanded us to “make disciples of all nations,” we might say a star shines for every person ever conceived (Matthew 28:11).

We heard a few moments ago that “faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Because he desired friendship with God, Abraham obeyed in faith and “sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9). Abraham “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8). Would you or I do the same? Would we simply set out at the command of the Lord without knowing where we were to go?

Abraham did because “faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” (CCC, 26).

Yet faith is also more than this. It is “a personal adherence of man to God,” an adherence of the whole person to the revelation of God in Christ (CCC, 150). While it is true that “believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit,” it is also true that “believing is an authentically human act” (CCC, 154). Indeed, the knowledge that comes from faith “is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie” (CCC, 157). Moreover, because faith is a human act, because it is “the free response of the human person to the initiative of God…, faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone” (CCC, 166).

The faith we profess, the faith to which we cling and that motivates our actions, comes from the Church, and “because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother;” “because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith” (CCC, 169). Holy Mother Church teaches us how to live out the double command of loving God and our neighbor so that, when the Lord comes, he will finds us faithful and prudent stewards of his love (cf. Luke 12:42).

This past Thursday, we in Springfield saw a new affront on the dignity of our neighbors and a stubborn refusal to live out the love of neighbor when the Planned Parenthood facility began performing surgical abortions, that is, the purposeful killing of babies inside their mother’s wombs using forceps and suctions. This will now be done in this Capitol City every Thursday.[2] If we are honest, we know that abortion is, as Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, nothing less than “the anti-Christ’s demonic parody of the eucharist. That’s why it uses the same holy words, ‘This is my body,’ with the blasphemous opposite meaning.”[3] Certainly, not everyone who has an abortion has this intention, but the intention of the Evil One – of the tempter and deceiver – remains the same.

Up until Thursday, the Springfield Planned Parenthood only dispensed pills for chemical abortions, up to 300 per year, which is itself horrendous; but now, as it were, they have upped the ante against the beauty, wonder, and dignity of human life. We cannot simply stand by and watch this happen! We must act to protect the unborn, to welcome them and their mothers, to support them, encourage them, and help them know the love of God. It is not enough to pray for them; we must reach out to them; we must open our hearts and even our homes to them; we must embrace them with the love of Jesus Christ. He extended his arms on the Cross to embrace them and we must do the same! We must show them a better way, a loving way, a beautiful way!

Rich Mullins, one of my favorite musicians, in his song “Sometimes By Step,” reflected on this verse about the descendants of Abraham being as countless as the stars of the sky. He sang to God:

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

These are powerful lyrics from a man who understood well what it means to adhere his life to God, who knew the merciful love of God, and who knew he was only a stranger in this land. He knew what it means to walk, to live, and to love by faith.

To those who have had an abortion, I wish to offer a word of hope. I know this homily is not easy for you to hear, and I am truly sorry if my words reopen old wounds; this is not my intention. However, I know that, as Pope Francis has said, “the tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails.”[4] This is too often the case and we cannot allow this to continue; we must realize the extreme harm that abortion has on the innocent, the physical and psychological harm it does to women, and we must work to overcome and heal it as best we can.

With Pope Francis, “I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope.”[5] We know that “the forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.” With contrite hearts, we cannot falter beyond God’s reach.

I urge you to enter the confessional; pour out your heart to the Father of Mercies, and let him heal your heart. Do not forget that “the Cross of Christ is God’s judgment on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers the certitude of love and new life.”[6] See the arms of Jesus extended on the Cross to embrace you; draw near to him in the confessional and let him wrap you in his merciful love. Let him grant you his forgiveness and hear him say to you, “I absolve you of your sins.” Know that you are mothers still and your love and grief are real. Each of us here today must acknowledge this. We must never assume we know the nature of another’s sin or the place repentance has in their life. We must love others exactly as we would want them to love us if they knew our own faults.

I turn now to you parents, especially those of young children. I know this is a hard truth to present to your children and I know some of you are likely now squirming in your pews. I understand your discomfort and I do not want to frighten anyone or take away from your role as the primary teachers of your children, but I must preach the Gospel clearly; must has been entrusted to me and much will be demanded of me (cf. Luke 12:48). I urge you to be cautious: do not hide the truth from your children, however revolting it may be; we cannot overcome evil by ignoring it or by hiding it. Strive, instead, to teach your children that the purposeful killing of an innocent human being – especially the most vulnerable – is always both wrong and evil, no matter the method or the euphemistic terms used to describe it.

Each one of us bears the responsibility of defending the weak. Do not make your children victims; rather, make them defenders of the weak and defenders of truth, teach them to be heroes, and help them understand that we are “strangers and aliens on earth” who “desire a better homeland, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).

If this means you have to learn for yourselves what is truly going on, if you have to study what actually takes place during the different kinds of abortions, then do so. Do so even if it makes you uncomfortable; do so because it makes you uncomfortable; let your hearts speak to you! This is your responsibility as parents. You owe it to your children to teach them the truth, how to reject falsehood, and how to fight against evil; you must teach them how to love both God and neighbor, how to love every neighbor and not just some. As parents, you have the difficult task of judging how best to do this, what ages and what ways will best help your children both understand and face the truth. Because your children look first to you for models of right conduct, you are the ones who do this best and so you must do it.  As a star shines for your own children, so, too, does a star shine for the victims of abortion, the children, the mothers, and the fathers.

I turn now to you young adults, to you who give so much hope to the world. The strength of your voices united together against abortion continues to grow. Your unity frightens the likes of Planned Parenthood because they suspect, as do I, that your generation will be the one to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortions among your demographic continue to decrease because you recognize – if only implicitly – that you are the ones who survived the age of abortion, whereas one third of your generation did not. Do not lose heart, but keep bearing witness to the beauty of life and you can heal much of the harm that has been done.

Jesus says to us today, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock” (Luke 12:32). This is not the time for fear, but for heroic and courageous love, the same self-less love we see displayed on the Cross. May the Lord embolden us – each of us – to proclaim his Gospel of Life so that hearts broken by fear and pain – including our own - may be healed by his love! Amen.

[1] Cf. Rich Mullins and Beaker, “Sometimes By Step,” The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 2.
[2] Dean Olsen, “Planned Parenthood tostart surgical abortions in Springfield,” State Journal-Register, August 3, 2016.
[3] Peter Kreeft, Jesus Shock (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 144.
[4] Pope Francis, Letter to ArchbishopRino Fisichella, 1 September 2015.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 21.