Faith & the New Embryonic Techniques, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), August 12, 2001

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
19th Sunday of OT, Year C
August 12, 2001
Wis 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2,8-19; Lk 12:32-48

1) Imagine that you were 75 years old and you became convinced that God appeared to you one day and said that he wanted you to pack up everything — your home, your goods, your family — and move to a land far-away, to a land he would eventually show you, a land for which you would have to fight. Would you do it? Leave everything. What if the Lord had promised to make you a great nation, but you were childless still at 75, even still at 99, would you believe him? What if, after having had a son, finally, after 100 years, the Lord then asked you to take him out to sacrifice him to the Lord, that you would have to put God before everything, including your own children: would you do it? It would take enormous faith to do this. But this is just what Abraham did. That is why he is called by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the father of faith. That is why St. Paul uses him in today’s beautiful second reading from the letter to the Hebrews as the model of faith. We are, each of us, called to have that complete and utter faith in God that Abraham had.

2) Faith, St. Paul tells us, “is trusting assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not see.” Faith is a trusting assurance. We have to ask, trusting assurance in whom and in what. The primary trust is in God, who cannot deceive or be deceived. Because he is God, who created us, loves us, redeemed us, and who is all-powerful, we trust in His word, no matter what he says to us. The second assurance is in the things he has told us, in the content of the faith, in the promises that he has given us. Because we believe in Him, we trust that what he tells us is true.

3) This is the similar to the way human faith works among us. If I were to say to you, “I was born in Lowell, MA, 31 years ago,” at least most of you would believe that because you would believe in me, that I would not be lying to you about that fact. Strictly speaking, you wouldn’t know that I’m 31 and a native of Lowell, but you’d believe the content because you believe in the on giving witness to the content.

4) In matters of our faith in God, this understanding is crucial. We believe everything that we believe on the basis of our belief in God, on our trust in God. When we profess our faith — I believe in God, the Father Almighty… — we believe all of the things that we hold because we trust in God who created the world, because we believe he sent his Son to redeem the world, because that Son founded the Church and promised to send the Holy Spirit to lead it into all truth, and because that Church still exists to this day, right here, right now. We believe in the doctrine of the Trinity not because it makes sense to our reason, but because Jesus revealed that God was three-persons, one God. We believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus, whom we believe with trusting assurance to be the Son of God, said that his body was true food and his blood true drink. We believe that when we die, we will be judged by God, on the basis of our own response in faith and love to all that He has given us, and that some go to heaven and some go to Hell, because Jesus told us that in no uncertain terms. We believe that marriage is sacred and indissoluble, that there can never be divorce-and-remarriage in God’s eyes, because Jesus said that what God has joined together become one flesh and no one can separate them. We believe everything that the Church proposes to us, not because it may or may not make sense to our reason — sometimes it will make evident sense, sometimes it will exceed the capacity of our reason to verify — but because we believe that God sent His Son who founded this Church and promised that the Holy Spirit would prevent it from making any mistakes in teaching on matters relevant to our salvation, relevant to matters on faith and morals, relevant to what Christians are to believe and how Christians are to put our beliefs into practice.

5) We believe all that the Church teaches us on the basis of our trust in God. We don’t believe because we think that the Pope and Bishops are smarter or holier than we are, any more than we don’t believe on the basis of thinking that the Pope and Bishops are dumber and more sinful than we are. We believe in what the Church teaches because we believe that Jesus gave the Church the Holy Spirit to guide Her into all truth and prevent her from erring in matters relevant to our salvation.

6) This idea is often challenged today by many in the media, many in Catholic teaching institutions and many unfortunately in the pews. Some people seem to show that they think the Church is meant to be a society of independent thinkers, each with their own opinions, none more right or more wrong than any other, rather than the mystical body Christ himself founded. And this is doing great damage to the Church, and terrible damage to souls. That’s why I have to be so clear about faith and about faith’s demands, because people’s salvation is at stake, the difference between heaven and hell. We believe that the Church can never be wrong on a matter of faith and morals. Not a single time. Never. We believe this, I reiterate, not because we trust in the human qualities of the Pope and Bishops, but because we trust in God, who sent his Son, to found the Church, promised her the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is involved in the selection of these men to be bishops. If we want to say that God should have done it another way, then we really don’t believe that He’s God, but that we’re God. To take one clear example: it is impossible for a faithful Catholic to be in favor of abortion. I could stand here for hours and give you all types of reasons why abortion is terribly wrong on the basis of simple human reason, on the basis of how grotesque it is, what it does, etc. But, in some sense, none of those rational arguments are supremely relevant for a Catholic. A Catholic, who believes in God and therefore believes in the Church God founded and continues to guide, would believe that abortion is wrong, even if the person doesn’t understand all of the arguments, or even if the person thinks that the arguments stack up on the other side. A faithful Catholic believes that abortion is wrong because the Church has always taught it was wrong. A faithful Catholic trusts in God’s guidance of the Church in matters relevant to our salvation, just like Abraham trusted in God, and left his home at 75 because he knew God wanted him to do so, even though that probably made no sense at all. He was even willing to sacrifice his much loved Son Isaac, even though that made no sense at all, because he believed in God and somehow knew that God knew what he was doing.

7) Hence one of the great scandals of our day is when the media prints surveys showing the Catholic teaching on one hand and the “opinions” of the majority of Catholics on the other. We saw them again this past week with the debate on embryonic stem cell research. 58% of Catholics in the United States were in favor of destroying human beings in order to help other beings, even though the Catholic Church teaches clearly that such actions are always wrong, that we can never kill another innocent human being for any purpose, not even the good purposes of trying to cure diseases. We can never do evil so that good might come from it.

8 ) Part of the problem, we have to be honest, is that too often faithful Catholics don’t know what the Church clearly teaches on these issues. Part of the blame could clearly go to priests, who don’t talk about these things as much as we might. But not everything can be done in a Sunday homily, if the people don’t want the homilies lasting an hour each week. These things all exist in the Catechism, on the Internet, in good books. Catholics who want to know what the Church teaches on these moral issues can always find out, and generally find out rather easily. But part of the reason has to be that many Catholics don’t try to find these things out, don’t really care what God is saying through the Church he founded about these particular issues. Some, even when they do find out, think that they are somehow entitled to have their own ideas, as if God could ever be wrong on these things, or if the Holy Spirit could ever guide the Church into error.

9) Therefore, this weekend, I want to just list some things first that Catholics ought to know about this “Brave New World” we’re living in.

• In-vitro fertilization — In vitro fertilization is always and everywhere wrong and against God’s plan. God’s plan is that a child be born out of the loving sexual union of husband and wife, not in a test-tube in a laboratory. We all recognize how hard it is for couples who want to have children but who cannot have children. The Church grieves with these couples. There are many treatments that can be done, and many techniques, including natural family planning. But the couple must always be open to God’s will. Sometimes God does not grant the a couple be fertile physically, so that they might be able to adopt children, or serve God in other ways. It is never right to manufacture children in a laboratory. Children aren’t something we’re supposed to “have” like pieces of property. We see this in something that was in the news just today. A couple in California wanted to have a child by IVF. The woman didn’t even want to deal with pregnancy, so they hired a woman from England to be the surrogate mother. It turns out the IVF produced twins. The couple didn’t want two children, just one, so they told the surrogate mother to abort the other one. She didn’t want to. So the couple then said, “keep the children.” These are the types of ridiculous things we’re getting into. We also have to admit that another serious problem comes from the consequences of IVF. They produce far more children than are implanted. These are the children that are in the laboratories frozen that people are saying should be destroyed for research. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that once we allow doctors to try to play God in the creation of human life, that some doctors will want to try to play God in the destruction of human life.

• Embryonic Stem Cell research — Stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos is wrong. We cannot benefit from the sins of others. Not only will it lead to more killing of the innocent, but it will hurt those who participate in it. The Church is not against finding cures for these diseases. All the more, the Church wants to find cures for these diseases. But just as the Church would say that it would be wrong to kill the children here at this Mass to save other’s lives, so we stand up for all those children frozen in laboratories who have no one else to defend them. The fact of the matter is that we can get stem cells from adults. These have actually worked in curing people, whereas we’ve never had a cure from embryonic stem cells. We need to get active on this issue. Congress will be debating it in the upcoming days as will the new committee that President Bush is putting together.

• Cloning — Human cloning is always wrong.

10) We learned an important lesson a few weeks ago on a small scale, when we were talking about getting new water mains for the Church put in on Choate Street. We acted together as a parish and effected a change that will bring good. But that’s just on a relatively trivial thing like clean water. The subject of human life is so much more important. We need to band together as a Church and start to effect changes that are crucially important. For too long we’ve been allowing others to try to get us to bury our faith here in the Church on Sundays, as they ram their immorality down our throats. We’ve been told by them not to push for abstinence before marriage — that that would be forcing our morality on them — as they take sex ed into the schools and promote homosexuality and promiscuity among them. We’ve been told by them that abortion is a private issue, and then they try to get us to pay for it with public money, all the while trying to prevent us from giving the information of life, even ultrasounds, to the women. It’s time we fight back with faith and in faith.

11) Taking our faith outside the Church, into the streets, into the halls of Congress is our right. We’re as much citizens of this great country as anyone else is and we should never be told to shut up by others who are hostile to the faith. They’re taking our country into perdition and taking many down with them. But taking our faith outside won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for Abraham: he suffered for God, but God rewarded him tremendously. It wasn’t easy for Mary, who conceived as a virgin at the risk of her life, but who was assumed body and soul into heaven, as we celebrate this Wednesday. It wasn’t easy for the apostles, or the martyrs, or the saints down to our own day. But it was right. It was a full response in faith to God out of love and trust. Such trust in God and fidelity to him in good times and in bad constitute the only life truly worth living. It constitutes the life of faith. May the Lord strengthen our faith so that we might live it, defend it and share it.