Just when I thought that 2020 could not shock us anymore and cause further upheaval and vitriol in a yearfilled with upheaval, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) dies. She died on Friday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, one of the two High Holy days in the Jewish faith. Rosh Hashanah begins a ten-day period of prayerful reflection of aperson’s relationship with God. This period is known as theTen Days of Awe, or Days of Repentance.In this period the person’s actions are thought to be able to influence both God’s judgment, and God’s plan, for that person. This ten-dayperiod concludes with Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Yom Kippur is the other, but the most solemn one,Jewish High Holy day. It is on this day that individuals and communities seek a pureness andrestoration of their relationship with the Lord. That is done by the person forgiving the sins of others against them, and by being truly repentant for their own sins against the Lord. That sounds an awful lot like our Sacrament of Reconciliation. And in the Our Father we pray and ask Godto “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
Today’s first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah.He is instructing the Jewish people to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our god, who is generous in forgiving.”These words are also instructions to us because Catholic Christianity was established by Jesus Christ, a Jew, and our faith incorporates many of the traditions of Judaism.
Last weekend the front page of the parish bulletin had the following quote from the Gospel of St. John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should lo one another. This is how I will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That is the mind-set in which I approach writing my homilies. Sometimes that means talking about hot button,divisive or uncomfortable topics. I pray that I do so in a kind and loving way. I do so only to help further an understanding of the traditions and teachings of the Catholic faith. A homily is intended to teach and encourage people to become closer to Christ.
The Catholic Church, and its clergy in any official capacity, does not, and will not, endorse any political candidates or parties. The Churchdoes provide us the resources to learn what it says about a topic. We need these resources todevelop a well-formed conscienceonatopic. Today that topic is abortion. This is a topic that most people- including many Catholics- push to the back of their minds. It is the topic that the Catholic Church is most attacked on, apart from, perhaps, the clergy scandal. We, as Catholics and citizens, must understand our obligations in all civic matters when we go to vote. It is our duty to vote.
I am speaking of this topic not just because of the election or the possible Supreme Court justice battle, but alsoit is the time of year when we celebrate the “40 days for life” movement. A movement that silently protests, through prayer, in front of abortion clinics around the U.S. It is now when we see several churches, of many different faiths,place white crosses in their lawns to mourn the murder of unborn children. Yet, it is only the Catholic Church that has not fallen to public pressure to appease its position on abortion. The reason for that is simple.The Church cannot change that teaching. It is unchangeable.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church isthe collection of all Catholic doctrine. It is our tenets, our core principles, and beliefs, concerningmatters of faith and morals. CCC para 2272 states“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed AND REMAINS UNCHANGEABLE.” I remember that right after Pope Francis was elected, he said something that a radio news reporterunderstood to mean that the church was going to ease its position on abortion. Before the reporter could finish reportingthe religious editor jumped in and emphatically stated that there was no way that the Catholic Church would ever condone procured abortion. That reporter knew his catechism.
Jeremiah (1:5) says “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…”Fetuses are children. They are growing. Only living things can grow. A baby grows from the moment of conception. The entire human race is created in the image and likeness of God. How can we tolerate the killing of someone created in God’s image? A pebble cannot grow into a mountain. It is just a pebble, a tiny rock, and that is all it will ever be. It will never have the gifts that God gives us. A rock cannot love and hug, laugh or cry, be happy or sad, think and reason. God gave us the gift of free will to accept Him, to love Him and to follow Him. Or not. It is our choice.
We have the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. The Church has given us the Bible, which issacred scripture, and the Catechism. Both are tools to learn from and from which we can make a well-formed decision. In todays reading from St. Paul to the Philippians he talks about how Christ will be “…magnified in my body, whether by life or by death…” Just think about that for a second. St. Paul is saying that every action he is part of, including dying, is a manifestation of his love for Christ. We must be like Paul. We must not be afraid to defend the Church and promote Christ’s teaching. That shows our love for Christ. In doing that we can be part of the solution to the plague of abortion. If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.
Archbishop Chaput once said “Tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence,honesty- these are Christian virtues. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil.” President John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic president to date, said in a speechin 1961 “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We are good people called by Christ. We cannot do nothing.Neville Chamberlain was the British Prime Minister at the beginning of WW II. He appeased Hitler’s demand to take over parts of Czechoslovakia thinking it avoid a war in Europe. Less than a year later Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia, invaded Poland and WW II began. It is estimated up to 60 million people died in action including over 400,000 Americans while over 670,000 Americans were wounded. Horrifically, almost 6 million European Jews were taken prisoners and executed in what is known as the Holocaust. It was simply genocide focused on a particular group. By comparison, the number of aborted babies, as reported by the CDC between 1973, the year of the Roe V. Wade decision, and 2016 is greater than 42.5 million. Those numbers are not wholly complete and considered on the low side. They bare shocking none the less. Abortions exceeded 1 millionper year between 1978 and 1997 averaging over 1.3 million annually. Every time a baby is aborted it is like putting another nail into Christ on the cross. There is some good news. All is not lost. According to the CDC, the number of abortions has been steadily declining since 1998.
Our faith is being challenged on many fronts. We need to stand up for Christ. After all, He died for us. How will we do that? One way is to decide our actions based on a well-formed conscience. That means we need to be well versed on our obligations as both Catholics and citizens. The USCCB has released a special 2020 election document about Catholics and voting. It is titled “U.S. Bishops Call Catholics to Exercise Faithful and Civil Citizenship.” I am reading it now. It is about 45 pages long but, in this day and age, where it seems all news is found in twitter bites of 150 characters, or less,or 30 second soundbites, our diocese has gone an extra step. They have put togetherwhat I would call an ‘executive summary’ titled “Pastoral Guidance for Discernment During Election Times.” Both documents are available on our CDOM website. We should read both to make an informed decision from a well-formed conscience. These tools are there for you to use and I encourage you to do so.
John Cardinal Newman talked about how he proved the existence of God. Basically, our conscience is our God-given moral compass. It knows the difference between right and wrong. However, ask any doctor and they will tell you that an MRI will not detect yourconscience as part of your physicalbody. But you know it is there. Just like we know God is there. Newman says that we know God exists because our conscience gets its guidance and authority from a higher authority. The authority that gave us that conscience. And that higher authority, also undetectable by an MRI, is God. There is an adage that if your gut tells you something does not feel right then it probably is not. It is not your gut speaking. It is God talking to you through your conscience.
This brings me to my final comments which is about today’s Gospel reading. This is an example, to me, of God’s unending mercy and infinite love. Think back to that quote from the gospel of John “…to love one another as I have loved you…” The first workers have worked hard and have earned a day’s wage. They become upset when the other groups, but especially the last group, received the same wages for less work. In our secular world that can be understandable. However, in God’s world, there is no one who is greater or more deserving than another. Each of the groups of men were looking for work. Some were there earlier and some later. They were all paid the same. The landowner is God. All he wants is for the men to come to him to work. The wages he gives them are God’s mercy and love. The first group are the followers of Christ from the very beginning. The other groups come later, one group at the end of the day, but they all get there. That is the point. They have all come to God. They have worked to get there. That work is our love for the Lord and our repentance for sins against Him. He accepts that and shows us His mercy and love equally.Today we have the early workers. The cradle Catholics. Like the brother of the prodigal son he has always done his fathers will. The last group is the prodigal son. He came late but his still welcomed and forgiven. And in between we have the people struggling with their faith, or say that the Church has made mistakes so how can it be representative of Christ’s teachings, or they are too busy to attend Mass and give Christ just one hour out of that busyness and finally we were on vacation.” What does that teach our children about what is important in our lives? I refuse to believe that these last groups do not believe in God or Catholicism. It is easier to believe in God than to not believe in Him.
May our Almighty, glorious and merciful God bless you