Friday, January 22, 2016

A Culture of Life

Two years ago, on January 22, 2014, we had a circumstance much like today: foul winter weather interrupted our seminary plans to join in the protest urging respect for life, on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court, the anniversary of a sad day.

As the storm rolled into the Northeast, I was asked by my formation faculty if I would prepare a homily for our seminary community, with a planned Holy Hour to pray for life, not death, to pray for changes in our society. Given that many in the Diocese of Trenton were unable to travel to Washington, D.C., today due to the weather, just as in 2014, I share this reflection for your prayerful consideration. We are not done praying for change; we do live in a country, where even though we have brokenness, we have the hope for change to bring about a brighter future. Please continue to pray for life, and pray with hopefulness for our future.

C. S. Lewis, the renowned spiritual writer of the 20th century, served as a young man in the British infantry, in the trenches in France during World War I, the war described at the time as “the war to end all wars.” He saw dozens – hundreds – of men killed in those battles; in a letter years later to his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves, he wrote, “Will we ever be the same?”

I contemplate that sentiment often when I hear of an atrocity, especially our attacks against life. My own response to the question, will we ever be the same, is, “I hope not!” I hope that whenever we hear of such failures of the human race, that we are disturbed, that we are brave enough to cry for those who can no longer shed their own tears. While attacks against life may fill us with grief, we need also to be lifted up by children of Hope.

Emily was the child of my friends. They longed desperately for a child, and when her Mom was carrying Emily in her womb, the doctors detected a problem; testing showed that she had a rare genetic disorder. The doctors recommended an abortion, as there is virtually no chance of long-term survival for this child. Her parents would not hear of it, knowing fully that their faith had already been tested waiting for this child. When she was born, Emily lived just a few days. In those days, and in the 13 years since her birth in 2000, Emily continues to shape the lives of every person who pauses to consider the love story of her parents for this child, and their faithfulness to God’s invitation to life. Emily is a child who even today gives hope.

In 2005, I traveled to Jamaica with my son to help out for a week at Good Shepherd Shelter, a home for disabled and orphans operated by Father Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor. One afternoon, my task was simply to read to the younger children. Jasper was about eight years old, but looked about four, nothing but skin and bones. He was a new resident of Good Shepherd. He sat on my lap as I read to him, and he fell asleep. Later that afternoon, it was time to return to the convent where we were staying, and I didn’t want to move, because I knew that it had likely been years since Jasper had fallen asleep in the arms of someone who loved him. Through the grace of the Missionaries of the Poor, Jasper has hope.

William and Cecelia, twins, were born in October 2012, six months premature. They each weighed barely more than 1 pound at birth – or as their great aunt described, about the weight of five sticks of butter. They spent the first six months of their lives in Buffalo Children’s Hospital, much of that time within incubators where their parents, could only touch them through gloves built into the walls of their isolation chamber. William and Cecelia each had multiple surgeries, and this past month celebrated their second Christmas, but their first at home with their parents. William and Cecelia are children with a future of hope.

Two weeks ago, many of us spent some time at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. I know that some of you, like me, found it hard to take; it was disturbing. It was painful; only a few of us in this chapel were alive at the time of the atrocity of the Holocaust, but thankfully, we are still disturbed by the horror inflicted on humanity seventy years ago. Will we ever be the same? In our discomfort, we are people of hope.

My brothers and sisters, we live in a remarkable world, abundantly blessed by God, by the God who hears the cry of the poor. We live in a world where Jesus has promised us life filled with abundant joy.

And yet our world remains broken; it is a world where selfishness and greed lead to broken lives, to fractured societies and impoverished cultures. Pope Francis’ first trip outside of Rome last year was to the island of Lampedusa where refugees were flocking to escape death in their homeland. His trip was not only to share with those people his solidarity with their plight, but to encourage and model for all Catholics that we must build a culture of life, to help forge a new world where every life, at every age, is given value. Pope Francis is a man of abundant hope.

As we heard in the first reading, every child and every adult is born perfectly in the image and likeness of God. Perfectly in God’s image, even though no two of us look alike. As we have just heard, these children and adults made in God’s image have names, and rely on us to welcome and love them in their fragile lives.

Today, our modern society tends to flip that image around. Too often, instead of considering that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, popular culture tends to imagine that God is made in my image. The error of this thinking can be seen each day in the world, where personal selfishness has become the route to making ourselves gods. And in that context, we easily become all too comfortable redefining right and wrong. If God is made in my image, than it becomes my standard of right and wrong that he must agree with; instead of making straight the paths for the Lord, we want everything and everyone in our lives to make straight the paths for me.

This past Friday, Pope Francis’ homily encouraged us to “… actively strive against the normality of our everyday lives in order to remain faithful to God’s choosing.” God’s choosing, not ours, is Pope Francis’ key message. He went on to say that we tend to forget what the Lord says, the Word of God, and listen instead to what is more fashionable, more fun. In our country, we might paraphrase this to say we set aside the Word of God in favor of political correctness. The Pope highlighted the danger that this introduces, because the shift often seems subtle.

John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is the Bread of Life. He offers His life in the Eucharist once and for all time, the perfect sacrifice so that all mankind, made in the image and likeness of God, may have a chance for abundant joy in this life, and eternal life in heaven when our pilgrimage on earth is over; every person needs to be embraced in the love that Jesus promises us with abundance.  We are the Body of Christ! We are, as St. Theresa says, Christ’s hands and feet on earth.

My brothers and sisters, today we pray together for not just the legal protection of unborn children in this country, but that life at every age – from the oldest among us to the child in the womb – that each will be protected by laws, that each may be loved, that every person may have hope.

How do we counter the attractive, compelling, politically-correct message of our society and culture? I would suggest that the first step is to commit ourselves to a Eucharistic Life. Father Ron Rolheiser reminds us that in a Eucharistic Life, where we focus on thanksgiving, what underlies our spirituality, our moral actions, and every human relationship is the understanding that everything comes to us as a gift. Every life is a gift; every breath is a gift; every human thought is a miracle offered by God to us, the sons and daughters who are His beloved.

We join ourselves in prayer today, united in our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. May we continue to pray every day in Eucharistic thanksgiving for the abundant gift of life, and for the grace that the world will be transformed into the Kingdom of God that Jesus has proclaimed.

May we never cease our prayers until His Kingdom and His Will are done on earth.