Opening our Hearts to Life, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), October 6, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Respect Life Sunday
October 6, 2013
Hab 1:2-3.2:2-4, Ps 95, 2 Tim 1:6-8.13-14, Lk 17:5-10

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 


The Mountains that Increase our Faith

In today’s Gospel we hear the apostles beg Jesus for what we have been asking him since last October 11 when we began the Year of Faith: “Increase our faith!” The Year of Faith has been up until now an opportunity for God to “stir into a flame the gift of God [we] have received,” as we hear in today’s second reading. With St. Paul, we recognize our faith as a “rich trust” that we’re called to guard, as a “norm” that guides us in the “faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Habakkuk tells us in the first reading that the “just one shall live because of his faith” and Jesus in the Gospel tells us that the way we evaluate whether we are living by faith is whether we are faithful in “doing all [we] have been commanded to do.” This Year of Faith has been precisely to help us to live justly by faith, to live it with greater fire, to guard it, and to put it into practice with regard to all the Lord’s commands — all as we beg God for the grace to increase it.

To live by faith isn’t easy. The prophet Habakkuk felt surrounded by destruction, violence, strife and clamorous discord that got him to cry out to the Lord for help. St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy with his hands chained to Roman prison walls. He reminded the young bishop that God didn’t give us a spirit of cowardice, and that, even if we should suffer, none of us should be ashamed to give witness to the Lord and to bear our “share of hardship for the Gospel” with the strength that comes from God. Jesus himself many times reminded us that in giving witness to our faith in him, we would often suffer rejection; that if they hated him, they’d hate us; that just as he would be rejected and crucified, each of us would likewise need to assume a Cross to follow him; but said in all of it, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven, for thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This Year of Faith is meant to strengthen us for those challenges and difficulties, the challenge of sharing our faith with others, the difficulties of living by faith when others make fun of us for doing so, or even when our employers or our government starts to try to coerce us to act against our faith and the truth we know in our consciences. The Lord did not give us a spirit of cowardice and when we boldly soldier on when we suffer because of Christ our faith grows. This is an important lesson. When we pray, “Lord, increase our faith” — as Pope Francis asked all the people with him at the Angelus today to repeat several times with him — the Lord often responds not by a direct infusion of faith, but by placing us in situations where our faith is tested, because when we pass those tests our faith grows. We can only learn the truth that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains when we encounter mountains and difficulties that need to be moved.

One of the tests that God gives us all so as a context for our faith to grow is our culture, which in many fundamental ways is opposed to our faith. There’s a great danger in living in such a culture, but, as we see in the lives of the martyrs who lived in even more challenging times, it’s also a great opportunity to grow in faith by leaps and bounds and to spread the faith.

Living by faith with regard to human life

Today, the first Sunday of October, is Respect Life Sunday in the Church in the United States. The whole cause for life is a tremendous opportunity for us to grow in faith and to bring Catholics, Protestants and others together in witness to God the Creator and to the inviolable dignity of every human person. It’s an opportunity for each of us to examine whether we’re living by faith and not ashamed to give witness to the Lord with respect to the dignity, beauty and precious value of every human life, regardless of whether one is handicapped, productive, wanted, appreciated or not. In this Year of Faith, it’s an opportunity for us to ask the Lord to increase our faith in all that he has taught about the sacredness of every human life and about how the way we treat others is effectively the way we treat Jesus himself. He tells us that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him, and that whoever receives a little child in his name receives him.

On this particular Respect Life Sunday, we need to confront directly the enormous confusion that has been spread, mainly by the secular media, about what Pope Francis is asking of all people in the Church with regard to the promotion and defense of human life. In press reports about a lengthy interview Pope Francis gave September 19 to Jesuit publications across the world, the impression was given that Pope Francis was saying there are too many Catholics “obsessed” with the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception and that we should just stop talking much about them. That, of course, is what certain secularists would want the Church to stop doing. But that is a total misinterpretation of what Pope Francis is calling the Church to do. What the Holy Father is stressing needs to occur is that our conversation on these topics and others always needs to take place within the context of Jesus’ will to save, his desire to show mercy, his hunger to embrace us with love no matter what we’ve done, his passion to bind our wounds and help us to heal. Pope Francis has said that sometimes Catholics can get so “obsessed” with the evils around us that we can forget that Jesus came to bring good out of evil and turn even our sins into “happy faults” that convince us that his mercy is always greater than our misery. Pope Francis is saying we should never talk about the issues of life, or sexuality, marriage and family as isolated issues — merely as evils that need to be opposed — but to do so within this bigger picture of the Lord’s saving love that always mercifully calls us to repentance, conversion, reconciliation and holiness. Otherwise, if we focus on the evil without the Lord’s mercy, we risk turning away from the “field hospital” that Pope Francis says that the Church needs to be many of those who need Christ’s healing the most.

Pope Francis’ Pro-life Summons

That’s what Pope Francis himself is doing by his own words and example. The day after he gave the September 19 interview that some in the media spun as if he were trying to muzzle the rest of the Church on issues that many in the secular world would prefer not to hear, he gave one of the most beautiful testimonies in the history of the papacy to the beauty of human life and the evil of abortion. It was an address to the participants of a meeting organized by the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations meeting in the Vatican. Even though this address is the formal teaching of the Pope and therefore much more significant than a hundred off-the-cuff interviews, it hasn’t gotten one one-thousandth of the attention that the interview has, because it doesn’t fit into the narrative many of those opposed to Church teaching in the media have been claiming: namely, that Pope Francis someone agrees more with the New York Times editorial board than the Catechism of the Catholic Church on moral teachings with regard to life, love, and family.

So today, on this Respect Life Sunday, I’d like to share with you Pope Francis’ words with you, making a few comments along the way, so that hear straight from the horse’s mouth what our great new Holy Father, on behalf of Jesus Christ, is saying about the cause of human life and calling all of us to do in faith.

In his address, Pope Francis made five different points:

First, he talked about how the right to life is the most fundamental right of all. “Although, by their very nature, healthcare professions are at the service of life, they are sometimes induced to disregard life itself,” he said. “This paradoxical situation may be seen in the fact that, while persons are being accorded new rights — at times even presumed rights [like the “right” to abort your baby or the “right” to have other people pay for your aborting your baby] — life itself is not always protected as a primary value and primordial right of every human being.”

Second, he said our culture is a throw-away culture that now even throws away human beings and our response must be a full yes to life. Many of the abortion clinics in America actually throw out the remains of aborted children directly into dumpsters and that’s a testimony to how those who work in the abortion industry respect life. Imagine if, rather than having a funeral and doing a burial, you just threw your deceased family member’s body in the trash can for Wednesday pick up or if hospitals just threw their patients into the dumpster once they died. That’s what’s occurring in many abortion facilities, out of a total disregard for human life first shown in the abortion. Pope Francis says about this culture, “A widespread mentality of the useful, the ‘culture of waste’ that today enslaves the hearts and minds of so many, comes at a very high cost: it asks for the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker. Our response to this mentality is a decisive and unreserved ‘yes’ to life. The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious [like the good of his supernatural life], but this one is fundamental — the condition of all the others. Things have a price and can be sold, but people have a dignity; they are worth more than things and are above price. So often we find ourselves in situations where we see that what is valued the least is life. That is why concern for human life in its totality has become in recent years a real priority for the Church’s Magisterium, especially for the most defenseless; i.e., the disabled, the sick, the unborn, children, the elderly, those whose lives are most defenseless.” Notice that he says that concern for human life, including those waiting to be born, is a “real priority” for the Church. It will always be a real priority for the Church, as long as the lives of the innocent are being threatened. Could Jesus expect anything else of the his vicar on earth or the Church united with him than to stick up for the least of our brothers and sisters made in his image and likeness? Anyone who tells you that Pope Francis is trying to decrease the Church’s witness to life is either ignorant of what he’s saying and teaching or intentionally trying to deceive you.

Third, in perhaps the most powerful point of all, the Pope said that we are called to recognize Jesus in the unborn. “In a frail human being, each one of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and solitude to which we so often condemn the poorest of the poor. …Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection. … They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!” To abort a baby is equivalent to trying to abort Jesus in Mary’s womb. An abortion is Jesus’ crucifixion all over again — with means that are even more gruesome than what Jesus experienced on Calvary. We must remember Jesus’ face in every embryo, every fetus.

Fourth, Pope Francis says that this truth about the identity of every human being growing in the womb leads to a “mandate.” It’s a command that is especially serious, he says, for us Catholics, even if we should have to suffer. Conscious of the Gospel in which Jesus calls us to do all that he has commanded us to do, we should listen especially attentively to what the Holy Father is telling us in Jesus’ name. “Be witnesses and diffusers of the ‘culture of life,’ the Pope said. “Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility: first of all to yourselves, through a commitment consistent with your Christian vocation; and then to contemporary culture, by contributing to recognizing the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work, from the first moment of its conception. This is a task of the new evangelization that often requires going against the tide and paying for it personally. The Lord is also counting on you to spread the ‘gospel of life.’” Indeed, those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ have a greater responsibility than all the rest to defend him in the person of the least among us, and to be willing to sacrifice and even pay the price for defending life. There are many Catholics who pay this price, who sacrifice for the cause of life, work in homes for pregnant mothers, who adopt babies whose mothers couldn’t raise them, who go to pray outside abortion clinics and try to talk frightened mothers from entering to allow their babies’ lives to be ended. These people are living by faith. The Pope is reminding that all of us have a serious responsibility before the Lord to be witnesses of the culture of life and diffusers, those who spread the culture of life.  We’re not living as faithful Catholics unless we are.

Finally, Pope finished by reminding all of us that human life, even “its initial stage … is sacred. At each phase and at every age, … it is always valuable. There is no human life more sacred than another, just as there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another.” The life of the mother is not more sacred than the life of her son or daughter in the womb, even at its earliest stages. The life of Prince William and Princess Kate’s son before birth is not more significant before God’s eyes that the life growing in the womb of a single mom in a poor inner city housing complex. The life of the child of two geniuses is not more sacred than the life of a child with Down’s Syndrome, 90 percent of whom are aborted. Jesus reminded us all this week on the feast of the Guardian Angels that each child has a guardian angel constantly before the throne of God praying for that child and seeking to protect that child. We had our guardian angel from the time we were conceived, just like every child has a guardian angel from the first moment of their conception. Imagine the reaction of a guardian angel when someone says that such a precious charge is worthless and should be slaughtered!

Opening Our Hearts to Life

What is our response to the Holy Father’s words?

On the front cover of the bulletin today, I’ve printed the phrase “Open your hearts to life,” that the future Pope Francis said in 2005 homily in Buenos Aires in honor of St. Raymond Nonnatus, the patron saint of expectant mothers. We’re called to open our hearts to life. In the bulletin I’ve also printed a letter from Cardinal Sean O’Malley to Catholics throughout the United States about the practical ways we’re being called to do just that. In addition to being Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean is also chairman of the US Bishops’ pro-life efforts and he’s written a letter to help all of us get practical about joining Pope Francis in opening our hearts to life and helping the entire world do the same. In the Responsorial Psalm today, we sang several times the expression, “If today you hear [the Lord’s] voice, harden not your hearts!” We either open our hearts or harden and close them. Today is a day to hear God’s voice crying out to us through Pope Francis, Cardinal O’Malley, and the constant teaching of the Church and not harden our hearts to it, but precisely open our hearts to embrace it. It’s the day to hear the silent screams of the unborn whose lives are threatened and make the commitment and sacrifices to help their frightened mothers choose life. It’s the time to listen to the voices of all those made in God’s image and likeness at every stage of life and open our hearts to them, rather than respond to them with hearts of stone.

Cardinal Sean begins his letter reminding us that since the disgraceful Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, “Over fifty-five million unborn children’s lives have been taken, leaving many millions of mothers, fathers, and family members wounded and grieving their loss.” Think about that figure, 55 million children. It would be as if someone wiped out 618 cities the size of Fall River. It’s like eliminating the entire population of Italy. It’s ten times the body count of the Holocaust. This is something that needs to grab our attention. A child dies through abortion every 23 seconds in the United States alone. Will we harden our hearts to this reality or open them to life?

Cardinal Sean goes on to say that to open our hearts to life means “to search our souls and acknowledge our deepest longing for Christ’s love. Though we are capable of sins against human life such as abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, we are not beyond Christ’s mercy. It is important for us to know and share with others that Christ’s forgiveness is offered even to those who have taken another person’s life, if they are truly repentant of that act.”

He says that it also means that each and all of us need to get involved. “We must respond to Pope Francis’ call with great urgency. Opening our hearts to life in Christ empowers us for loving, merciful action toward others. We must give witness to the Gospel of Life and evangelize through our lives. We must personally engage others and share the truth about human life.” Notice that he’s saying that it’s not enough that we be personally pro-life. We are called as Catholics personally to engage others and share the truth about human life with them. We’re called, together with Pope Francis, Cardinal Sean and so many others to change the throw-away culture of death with a true openness and reverence for life.

To do this doesn’t mean just to curse the darkness, because as Pope Francis has been reminding us, that’s not effective in bringing people to conversion and to happiness. Alongside our focus on the beauty of human life and the evil of abortion, we also need to bring Christ’s mercy. Cardinal Sean states, “We must continue to show love and mercy, especially with those who have been involved in abortion. All members of the Church can bring healing to the world by upholding the beauty of human life and God’s unfailing mercy.  Only a tender, compassionate love that seeks to serve those most in need, whatever the personal cost, is strong enough to overcome a culture of death and to build a civilization of love.”

He then gets practical. “Let us open our hearts and reflect on how God might be calling each of us to witness the sacredness of human life and assist in pro-life efforts. We may be called to help parents welcome their unborn child as a miracle of God’s creation, to visit the elderly or aid those who are sick and suffering, to pray and fast for life, to advocate to our elected officials, or to assist educational efforts in our parishes.”

About those educational efforts in the parishes, here at St. Bernadette’s we will be showing on Friday, October 25, at 7 pm the beautiful new movie October Baby, which is based on the true story of a woman who survived an abortion attempt and is led on a journey in which she needed to open her heart to life, love and forgiveness. It’s a very moving film, which is PG-13. I’d ask you to make a point to come to view it and also to invite others to come to see it. It’s part of our parish’s educational efforts to which Cardinal Sean on behalf of God is calling all of us to assist..

Then the following day, Saturday, October 26, our prayer, charitable and educational efforts will all take place at once when the Knights of Columbus and I will be leading a pilgrimage to Attleboro to pray outside the last abortion facility in the confines of our Diocese as abortions are scheduled to take place inside. This abortion facility is a short distance from the Shrine of LaSalette, where there’s the statue of Mary weeping, as she wept over the sins of the world before the two shepherd children in the French Alps in 1846. And how can the Blessed Mother not weep over the continued slaughter of the holy innocents that occurs in that house of horrors? Every time a little child made in her Son’s image and likeness is killed, it’s like her own Son is being crucified anew. But I also think that she still weeps today over the fact that many of her Catholics sons and daughters are too afraid to put their faith into action and give public witness to the inviolable sanctity of human life like we’ll be doing on October 26, who just go on with life as if nothing really serious is happening at that abortion facility. I’m hoping that every member of the parish — all the men, called to be men of God and protect children like St. Joseph protected Jesus; all the women, who know that what grows within them during pregnancy is not a tumor but another human being; all the teens and children of the parish, who are particularly sensitive to the evil of violence and the way we can fail to treat others with love — will have the faith and courage to come on that day to pray with love and mercy. We have not received a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power, love and self control. Let’s put that power into practice on October 26. There’s a sign-up sheet in the sacristy.

From seeing Jesus in the Eucharist to seeing him in Embryos

Today as we come to Mass and profess that under the appearances of tiny host we know that Jesus is present in his body, blood, soul and divinity, it strengthens us to go out and recognize Jesus in his image and likeness in the unborn. In response to the culture of destruction, violence, strife and discord all around us, we ask the Lord to strengthen our love for him and neighbor, however young, small and vulnerable. We ask him especially in this Year of Faith to increase the light of our faith so that we may see his presence in others more clearly and open our hearts to him. We ask him to stir into a flame this gift of faith and give us the courage to live by it now and always! And we beg him to give us the strength he knows we need to do all that he is commanding us with regard to life!


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1

HB 1:2-3; 2:2-4

How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2
2 TM 1:6-8, 13-14

I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. 
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control. 
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 
Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit
that dwells within us.

LK 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied,
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.'”