Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in OT, Year C
October 3, 2004
Hab 1:2-3;2:2-4; 2Tim1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10
1) In the Gospel today, the apostles did not ask the Lord for money. They didn’t ask him for fame. They didn’t ask him, like Solomon, for worldly wisdom and prudence. They didn’t ask him for health or a long life. They asked him for something they had discovered was far more important than all of these things combined. They begged him, “Increase our FAITH!” The first reading from the prophet Habucuc tells us explicitly that “the just man lives by faith” and the apostles wanted to be such men. Their prayer for increased faith shows us their humble recognition that up until then they were not living enough by faith and that they needed the Lord’s help to do so. St. Paul would later describe the culmination of this type of faith-filled life: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the LIFE I NOW LIVE in the flesh I LIVE BY FAITH in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). This morning we come here with the same prayer to the Lord, to increase our faith, so that we might become the type of just men and women God created us to be.
2) To ask for an increase in faith means to ask for two things, because faith means two things. Faith means first AN OBEDIENT TRUST IN GOD. We see this type of trust in Abraham, our father in faith, and in Mary, our mother in faith. When God asked seventy-five year-old Abraham to leave everything he had behind and journey to a far-away land, Abraham trusted in God and did so (Gen 12:1 ff). He trusted in God when God promised that he and Sarah in their old age would finally conceive a son (Gen 15:5; Gen 18:1 ff). He trusted in God even when was asking him to sacrifice son Son, Isaac, thirteen years later (Gen 22:1ff). Abraham trusted in the Lord so much that he would do anything God asked. Similarly, Mary trusted in God’s words through Gabriel that she would conceive a child without the help of a man and that child would be the Son of God (Gen 1:35). She trusted in God still when Simeon prophesied that her son the Messiah would be a “sign of contradiction” rather than a triumphant king and that her own soul would be pierced (Lk 2:34-35). She trusted when she saw her Son carry the wood of his sacrifice up the same mountain which Isaac ascended and no angel held back the hands of the Roman soldiers nailing him to the Cross. She trusted when she held her son’s bloody body in her arms. She trusted that God would bring great good, in fact our salvation, out of all of this evil. Likewise for us to ask God to “increase our faith!” is to ask Him to increase our trust in Him, so that we might confidently obey him in everything, but especially in the most difficult times and circumstances. Each of us knows, in our humble moments, how much we need to grow in the type of trust in God that we see in Abraham and Mary. But when we pray to God to increase our trust in him, how will he respond? The increase will not normally and entirely be an infusion from on high; most often God will answer our prayer by putting us in circumstances that require such real, deep trust in Him and then giving us his help to remain faithful. In each of those circumstances when we trust in Him rather than trust in worldy wisdom or the advice of human gurus, we will grow in faith.
3) The second meaning of faith is the CONTENT OF WHAT WE BELIEVE on the basis of our trust in God who reveals those truths. This meaning refers to the various truths of the faith, found in the Creed we profess each Sunday, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and embedded throughout the Church’s liturgy. To ask the Lord “to increase our faith!” means to ask him to give us a greater knowledge and understanding of the truths of faith he reveals to us directly or through the Church he founded and to which he entrusted the Holy Spirit to “guide [her] to all truth” (Jn 16:13). The Lord wants to augment our assimilation of the doctrine of the faith, but he won’t do so without our effort. To pray for increased faith implies a willingness to make the effort, in response to his grace, to get to know our faith better, by studying the Catechism, by reading what the Holy Father writes to us, by praying Sacred Scripture, by attending adult education classes, by participating in Renew 2000, etc. To ask God to increase our faith without a willingness to put more effort into learning and understanding the content of the faith would be like a youngster’s asking God to help him get a 100 on a test without ever wanting to open a book. It is only in such a process of growing in faith through working with the light of the Holy Spirit to understand it better that the Lord makes us ever more PERSONS OF FAITH.
4) This Sunday there is a particular application of this request for greater trust in God and greater understanding of the truths he has revealed. The bishops of our country have designated the first Sunday of October “Respect Life Sunday,” so that Catholics throughout our land may become “just” by living fully our faith with respect to the dignity of all human life. While there are many challenges to the dignity of the human person made in God’s image, the bishops ask us to focus particularly on abortion, which is really the root of almost all of the rest of the problems against that dignity. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta — a just woman who taught us all how to live by faith — pointed to the centrality of abortion in establishing a culture of death ten years ago when she courageously addressed the National Prayer Breakfast attended by President Clinton and so many pro-abortion politicians. She spoke very plainly, as saints are wont to do:
“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child — a direct killing of the innocent child — murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? … By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
She then turned to directly to those we call “liberals,” so many of whom laudably work to care for the world’s needy and to eliminate violence in our own country, but so many of whom at the same time promote or tolerate abortion:
“Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa, where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today — abortion — which brings people to such blindness.”
5) Respect for human life in later stages of growth, Mother Teresa says, begins with respect for the dignity of the unborn child. That is why on this Respect Life Sunday the bishops ask us to focus on the horror and the horrible consequences of abortion. Every 23 seconds in our country alone another child dies by abortion. During the length of this twenty-minute homily, about 52 children will die by abortion in the United States. If we had ears to listen to what they would want to communicate, I think we would hear their womb-piercing screams to us and to God, saying, in the words of the first reading: “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” So many of us have turned a deaf ear to those cries. On behalf of them today, and on behalf of God, the Church asks us to tune in their frequency and to act. In the words of the responsorial psalm, “If today you hear [their] voice, harden not your hearts!”
6) Strictly speaking, we know that one does not have to have faith to recognize the evil of abortion. All one needs to do is to be aware of simple biology and the precept of the natural law that one should not murder.
a) By biology, we know that from conception, a new human life is formed, genetically different from that of both parents. That new life passes through all of the stages of human growth that each of us did. We’re not any more human than we were in the womb; we’re just BIGGER, more developed, and hopefully, with this passage of time, better and wiser. New modern ultrasound techniques have made it easier to see, by the 12th week of pregnancy, how human the child looks and behaves, sucking its thumb, kicking its legs, making fists, frowning and squinting. Even pro-abortion leaders have been forced to admit that “human life begins at conception.”
b) Even after admitting that human life begins at conception, however, abortion advocates still maintain that a woman should have a “right to choose” whether to keep the child or to terminate that innocent child’s life. Many atheist pro-lifers have recognized the untenable nature of such a contradiction: To kill an innocent human being, except by accident, is simply murder. The “right to choose” means the right to choose to kill an innocent human life. No one, these atheist pro-lifers say, would ever be in favor of a right for men to choose to rape. No one would ever claim that he is “personally opposed, but publicly in favor” of a right to choose to commit child abuse. No one thinks one should have a legally-protected sanction to choose to engage in the torture of another. To choose is always to choose SOMETHING. The “right to choose” abortion is the right to choose to KILL INNOCENT HUMAN LIFE. The pro-life atheists, on the basis of reason alone, wonder how our culture can stand and allow the choice to kill one out of every three children conceived in our country.
7) Those who are striving to live by faith, however, gain even greater motivation from our faith to take part in the greatest moral struggle of our time. We know by our faith that every fetus is not only an individual life but one made “in the image and likeness of God.” We know that Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mk 9:37). We know, in him, that every human life is precious, that it is unique, with a soul infused directly by God. Jesus says that everything we do — or fail to do — for such a child, he takes personally: “Amen, amen, I say to you, as often as you did it to ONE OF THE LEAST OF MY BROTHERS, you did it to me… As often as you failed to do it to ONE OF THESE LEAST ONES, you failed to do it to me.” (Mt 25:30-44).
8 ) Today, the Church wants us to ask the Lord for an increase in faith with relation to the dignity of the unborn child made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). Like Abraham, Mary, and Mother Teresa, we’re called to live by our faith in God, even and especially when it is in contrast with the prevailing winds of the world. Our trust in God should always lead to fortitude to act for him, confident that he will always be with us. This is what St. Paul described in the second reading: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord… but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard… in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Hence today it behooves us to discuss some concrete ways the Church is calling us live by increased faith, by putting this spirit of courage, power, love, self-discipline, sacrifice and sound teaching into practice? We can briefly specify three of them with relation to the loving the unborn as Christ loves them:
a) To pray — We are called to pray and to sacrifice for all those involved in abortion. First, we’re called to pray for those who are in difficult pregnancies, that they might withstand the pressure of others and welcome with love the child in their womb, however the child was conceived. We’re called to pray for abortion doctors and personnel, that, like St. Paul who used to kill innocent Christians for a living, they, too, may convert from their evil ways, like Dr. Bernard Nathanson, now a stauch pro-lifer. We’re called to pray for our legislators and judges, that they might support laws affirming the dignity of the human being in the womb and protect him and her, as well as laws creating a culture in which women would not be pressured to have abortions. We’re called to pray for women who have had abortions and who are suffering from post-abortion trauma, that they may come to receive God’s forgiveness and join so the burgeoning number of women who are now trying to help other women not make the same mistake they did. We’re also called to pray for those brave men and women who are on the “front lines” of the battle against abortion, especially those who are outside the abortion mills every day trying to persuade women not to go through with abortion-related plans.
b) To take an active part in the pro-life movement — We’re called to put our time, our talents, and our money where our faith is. Thanks be to God there are so many good people who have not been silent or lazy in the face of the greatest destroyer of peace in the world. The apostolates they have founded are always in need of volunteers and financial support. There are crisis pregnancy centers, like Our Woman’s Concern in Hyannis, who try to help women make the right choice for life. There are adoption agencies that give pregnant women a concrete alternative if they deem they cannot give their child a proper home. There are teen chastity programs, which help young people morally stay out of the situation where they might be tempted by the devil toward abortion. There is Project Rachel, which provides care and spiritual support for grieving mothers who have had abortions. There are Priests for Life and so many national organizations that teach the truths about human life and influence the national debate. We obviously cannot support and help every such organization, but we can support, help and become involved in some of them. By doing so we will save lives and help vulnerable women not make a choice they will regret for the rest of their lives.
c) To vote for pro-life candidates who will support pro-life judges — The stakes are very high in this election year, especially at the national level. The president we elect may have the opportunity to appoint, experts say, up to four Supreme Court justices, who will have a chance either to overturn or reaffirm the dreadful Roe v. Wade decision that decreed the legality of abortion in all nine months of pregnancy for any reason. There couldn’t be a sharper contrast between the two candidates on the subject of abortion. While both admit that “life begins at conception,” one candidate thinks that that child should still be able to be killed by abortion for any reason, while the other has pledged and has worked to try to ensure that every child is welcomed and protected. One thinks that children should be able to be created in laboratories and then killed in order to harvest their embryonic stem cells, while the other recognizes that killing someone to help another — for whatever reason — is wrong and immoral. A good end never justifies murderous means. Every time we vote, we tell God, tell others, and tell ourselves what is really most important to us. Every time we cast a ballot, we make a statement on who we are and what we value most. Most of us recognize how hypocritical it is for a politician to say that he’s personally opposed to abortion but publicly in favor of it, because one would then be publicly in favor of what one recognizes personally as killing innocent human life. But it is likewise hypocritical of a voter to hold — by reason, by faith, or by both — that abortion is wrong and then vote in favor of a candidate who not only supports it, but who celebrates it and wants to expand its access and funding not only in our country and in the world (over a candidate who wants to restrict access to it and eventually stop it). This does not mean that we’re called, necessarily, to be “one-issue” voters. But we are called to make sure that we don’t leave our faith and reason at the curtain of the voting booth. While there clearly are other important issues in the campaign, if abortion truly is the “greatest destroyer of peace in the world,” what type of person would we be if we cast our vote for someone who wants to advance it?
9) As we come to receive Jesus’ body and blood in this Mass, we ask him to “increase our faith!” and help us to “live by it” in all its practical applications. We remember that soon after Jesus was born, Herod hunted him down to try to murder him. In trying to kill Jesus, he shed the blood of countless “holy innocents” in and around Bethlehem of Judea. We ask the Lord Jesus to make us strong so that, like Mary and Joseph, who courageously worked with God to save Jesus’ life, we might work courageously to save the Holy Innocents of our own day.