Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat for the Priests of the Diocese of Winona
Alverna Center, Winona, Minnesota
Mass in Thanksgiving for the Gift of Human Life
Day of Prayer and Penance for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children
Readings from Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
January 22, 2014
1 Sam 17:22.214.171.124-51, Ps 144, Mk 3:1-6
To listen to an audio recording of this homily please click here:
The following was the written text that guided the homily:
Hope versus Cynicism
As we mark today the Day of Prayer and Penance for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children called for by our bishops on this 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that has led to a killing spree of nearly 55 million children in our country, I’d like to begin with something Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in an article last week preparing the Catholics of Philadelphia for today. What he wrote is a very fitting frame for what God seeks to teach us in the Word of God we have just heard.
Archbishop Chaput wrote, “There’s a very old Christian expression that goes like this: ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.’” The forthright Catholic leader asked, “Are we troubled enough about what’s wrong with the world — the killing of millions of unborn children through abortion; the neglect of the poor, the disabled and the elderly; the mistreatment of immigrants in our midst — [to do something about it]? Do we really have the courage of our convictions to change those things?”
He added, “The opposite of hope is cynicism, and cynicism also has two daughters. Their names are indifference and cowardice,” those who say falsely that they can’t make a difference and because they don’t even want to try, faintheartedly stay on the sidelines.
Together with the whole Church, Archbishop Chaput is trying to summon us as Catholics to live as people of hope, righteous indignation at evil and bravery in confront it. This is part of the needed renewal and reform in the Church. “In renewing ourselves in our faith,” he said, “what Catholics need to change most urgently is the lack of courage we find in our own personal lives, in our national political life, and sometimes even within the Church herself. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote, ‘The line separating good and evil runs not through states, nor between classes, nor even between political parties, but right through the center of each human heart, and every human heart.’ That [line] includes you and me.” The line separating good and evil, anger and indifference, courage and cowardice runs down each of our hearts.
Today in the readings, we counter both anger and courage, but also indifference and cowardice.
Anger versus Indifference
Let’s first look at anger and indifference. In the Gospel, Jesus met in the synagogue a man with a withered hand and immediately responded with compassion. The Greek word used to describe his hand strongly suggests it was withered through an injury, not because of something from birth. And Jesus wanted to cure his hand and allow him to use it to work and build up a life for himself. But the Pharisees present didn’t look at the injured man in the same way. They were indifferent to his plight. Far more important to them was keeping their notion of the Sabbath. Hence Jesus asked if it were against God’s law and will to do good and save life. They didn’t reply. And St. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at them with anger at their malice and malevolence and was grieved at their hardness of heart, which prevented them not only from seeing the place of charity in the law of God but also from looking on this man with love.
Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful to do good … rather than evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?,” is still very relevant today. When he said it, he was illustrating what was really going on behind the scenes in the synagogue. He had come to do good, but they were plotting evil; he was seeking to enhance the injured man’s life, and they were seeking grounds to end Jesus’. But the question reverberates on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade and is something we and our whole nation must confront. “Is it lawful to do good and save life? Or is it lawful to do evil and to destroy life?” Our law should help us to do good and to preserve, defend and advance human life. But with Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, our laws now sanction and promote evil and the destruction of life. And certain of those in government and culture are trying to call that evil good and that destruction praiseworthy, and force the rest of us to subsidize it in order to receive or offer health care.
We need to share Jesus’ holy anger against this evil annihilation of our fellow human beings. We need his help to overcome the hardness of heart that leads to difference toward the plight of those whose hands are not yet fully formed in the womb but who are meant to join hands with us one day, both in this life and forever.
Courage versus Cowardice
The second thing we encounter in these readings is both courage and cowardice. For 40 days Goliath had been calling on someone from the Israelite Camp to come out and fight him, one on one, to determine the outcome of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. But none of those on the Israelite side, including Saul, were willing to take him up on the challenge. Everyone was too cowardly. The text tells us that they were all “dismayed and terror-stricken.”
David, however, was not. He was a young boy, a harpist — not exactly a form of music associated with warriors! — who had with him a simple slingshot that he would use to get the attention of the sheep he would watch. He heard Goliath’s challenge on the 40th day as he was bringing food to his older brothers in Saul’s army. He volunteered. He was not afraid of going head to head — more like head to waist! – against the 6’9”warrior with all the latest gear, a heavy, long sword, a javelin with an iron head weighing 15 pounds and bronze scimitar, a bronze helmet on his head, a bronze corselet of scale armor weighing 125 pounds. David didn’t even bother with using Saul’s armor. He was satisfied with his sling and five stones he got from a Wadi because he knew he would be acting “in the name of the Lord.” He said, “Not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s!”
Likewise in our pro-life work, we need to remember that the battle is the Lord’s. Even though it might sometimes seem we’re fighting against Goliath’s in politics, in the courts, in the secular media, in Hollywood, among the lawyers of the ACLU, in bottomless foundations like the Gates Foundation and the Planned Parenthood foundation, who are using all of the latest slogans, media, political machinations and more against us, we shouldn’t be afraid. Like David, and in the name of the most famous Son of David, we should remember that with the Lord on our side we shouldn’t fear.
Our Five Stones for Battle
At the same time, however, it’s not enough for us, like all the Israelites before David, just to sit on the sidelines doing nothing. But wants us to go into battle in his name. He wants us to be courageous enough, and angry enough — as David was angry with Goliath’s insulting of Israel and the armies of the living God — to go into battle. He wants us to go out with our slingshot. But what would be the stones we use to defeat the monster coming at us?
With the help of Pope Francis, I’d like to mention five stones he’s encouraging us to use.
First Stone: Vision
The first stone is recognizing who the child is that is being killed. Back in September, in an address to Catholic doctors, Pope Francis said that the first step in a “decisive and unhesitating ‘yes’ to life” is to recognize Jesus in every child growing in the womb. “Each one of us,” Pope Francis stressed, “is called to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord…. Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to being aborted, has the face of the Lord.… They cannot be discarded!” Jesus said to us quite powerfully that whoever receives a little child in his name, receives him: that’s how much he identified with every child. Whatever we do to the littlest of his brothers and sisters, we do to him. This first stone is the truth of the Word of God. To abort a baby is essentially to abort Jesus in disguise, to treat him like Herod tried to do. To embrace a baby with love is to embrace Christ, much like the Blessed Mother did. Every child has been made in his image and likeness and is at the same stage of growth each of us once was. The first step is for us to recognize the face of Jesus in the unborn and treat him with reverence.
Second Stone: Witness (Martyria)
The second stone is to seek to promote this vision, to help others see things this way. Back in 1998, the US Bishops published a great document called “Living the Gospel of Life,” and it called on priests to “form the Catholic faithful in a reverence for the sanctity of life” and to “witness loyally and joyfully to the truth that every human life, at every stage of development, is a gift from God.” Pope Francis back in September said that it’s not enough for Catholics to be personally pro-life in conviction and never to have an abortion themselves. He said that each of us has received a “mandate” of the Lord to be “witnesses and propagators of [the] ‘culture of life.’” Listen to Pope Francis: “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.’”
It’s not easy for us to suffer for anything, but the Pope is calling on us to be willing to suffer to spread the Gospel of life in the midst of a culture that may mock us for living this Gospel, that might fire us, that might seek to persecute us. That’s why we need the courage of David, the courage of Jesus, the courage of the martyrs like the deacon St. Vincent whom the Church celebrates today. The source of our courage is our faith in Christ’s presence. Back on August 3, 1999, Cardinal Bergoglio gave an address to Latin American legislators the faith it takes to be persevering and bold in defending life. He said, “We are like Peter that night on the lake: On the one hand, the presence of the Lord encourages us to accept and face the waves of these challenges; on the other hand, the environment of self-sufficiency and arrogance — pure pride — that this culture of death is creating threatens us, and we are afraid of sinking in the midst of the storm. The Lord is there: We believe it with the certainty that the power of the Holy Spirit gives to us. And, in defiance of the Lord, there is the muffled scream of countless unborn children: this daily genocide, silent and protected. There is also the cry of the dying ones who have been abandoned and who are begging for a tender caress that this culture of death cannot give. And there is the multitude of families reduced to shreds by the proposals of consumerism and materialism. In the midst of this conflict and in the presence of Jesus Christ in glory, united today as the faithful people of God, we cry like Peter did when he began to sink, ‘Lord, save me’ (Mt 14:30), and we stretch out our hand — [like the man with the withered hand in today’s Gospel] — to grasp the only One who can give true meaning to our going into the waves.”
As priests, we may also pay personally for our advancing the Gospel of Life. We may lose parishioners over it. Heck, we might one day end up in jail. But that type of courage we’ve signed up to give and God won’t let us down. I ponder a lot St. Gregory the Great’s words to us in the Office of Readings, “Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead, let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season.”
Third Stone: Compassion for Mothers
The third stone is care and sympathy for the mother of every child, especially for those in difficult, unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said last night in his powerful homily at the national shrine that in order to save the life of a baby in the womb we first need to save the life of his or her mother, the mother who is frightened, worried, feeling alone or abandoned, not knowing what else to do but to make the choice to end the life of her child.
Pope Francis said a similar thing in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “It is true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” We must look at such mothers with the love with which Jesus looked at the man with the withered hand, with the love with which Jesus looks at them. Even though in the United States, we’ve developed so many beautiful ministries to help women in difficult pregnancies, it’s clearly “little” in comparison to the magnitude of the problem that leads to the death of another baby in the womb every 23 seconds in our country alone. We must do more. We must grow in our compassion, love and care for mothers, when they’re pregnant, after they’ve given birth and beyond.
Our love is for both. Six months before his election as Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio published a message with regard to an abortion bill in Buenos Aires, “When talking about a pregnant mother, we are talking about two lives. Both must be preserved and respected, because life has an absolute value. … Abortion is never a solution. For our part, we must listen, support and understand in order to save two lives: to respect the smallest and most defenseless human being, to adopt measures to preserve his life, to allow him to be born and then to be creative in finding ways that will lead to his full development,” through helping his mother lead him to full development.
Fourth Stone: The Truth
The fourth stone is to unmask the lies behind the abortion ideology. In June, the Holy Father said to a group of European pro-lifers who had come to Rome to celebrate Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) Day: “All too often, as we know from experience, people do not choose life, they do not accept the ‘Gospel of Life’ but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others. It is the eternal dream of wanting to build the city of man without God, without God’s life and love.”
The clearest way to cut through the abortion ideology is with the truth, not specifically the truths we know through revelation but through science and common sense. In the book length interview El Jesuita (2010), the future Pope said, “A pregnant woman isn’t carrying a toothbrush in her stomach, or a tumor. Science has taught us that from the moment of conception, the new being has its entire genetic code. It’s impressive. Therefore, it’s not a religious issue but, rather, a clear moral issue with a scientific basis, because we are in the presence of a human being.” Anyone who doesn’t see this is blinded by an ideology, and we need, patiently and perseveringly to try to help them to see.
Fifth Stone: Prayer
The fifth and final stone is perhaps the most important. It’s our greatest weapon. Prayer. It’s what we’re doing today, united with all Catholics across the country, united with Pope Francis who tweeted this morning, “I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable.” We’re here to pray for all women in difficult pregnancies, all men who have impregnated them, all babies who lives are in danger, all abortion doctors, nurses and administrative personnel who put them in danger, all politicians, judges and citizens who support abortion that they convert, all pro-lifers marching today, all those participating in prayer vigils, all those working to care for pregnant mothers, that they persevere and are rewarded, and in a special way for all Catholics, especially our brother priests, that we may all become heralds in word and action of the Gospel of Life.
We mentioned earlier today what Pope Francis said in his October 17 Angelus address. “In our daily journey, especially in difficulties, in the fight against evil outside of ourselves and within us, the Lord is not far away, He is at our side; we fight with Him beside us, and our weapon is prayer, which makes us feel His presence alongside of us, His mercy, even His help.” In August, he specifically called us to take the arms of the Rosary and pray along with the woman, the mother of all the living, the mother of every child, including those in the womb, and the one who crushed the head of the evil one. And as we were discussing this morning in the conference on prayer, we need to pray as if our life depended on it, to bang down the door of heaven, because so many lives actually do depend on it.
Is it lawful to do good and save life? Or is it lawful to do evil and to destroy life? That is the question that faces our nation’s future, whether we’re going to enshrine goodness and life or evil and destruction. Let us ask Jesus to give us his saintly compassion, his righteous indignation, his holy courage so that we may take up our sling and these stones and go out to slay the abortion mentality and all that it leads to. And let us ask him for the grace as his priests never to forget that the battle, that our life and every life, belongs to the Lord!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 SM 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
“Let your majesty not lose courage.
I am at your service to go and fight this Philistine.”
But Saul answered David,
“You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him,
for you are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth.”David continued:
“The LORD, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear,
will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.”
Saul answered David, “Go! the LORD will be with you.”Then, staff in hand, David selected five smooth stones from the wadi
and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag.
With his sling also ready to hand, he approached the Philistine.With his shield bearer marching before him,
the Philistine also advanced closer and closer to David.
When he had sized David up,
and seen that he was youthful, and ruddy, and handsome in appearance,
the Philistine held David in contempt.
The Philistine said to David,
“Am I a dog that you come against me with a staff?”
Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods
and said to him, “Come here to me,
and I will leave your flesh for the birds of the air
and the beasts of the field.”
David answered him:
“You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar,
but I come against you in the name of the LORD of hosts,
the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted.
Today the LORD shall deliver you into my hand;
I will strike you down and cut off your head.
This very day I will leave your corpse
and the corpses of the Philistine army for the birds of the air
and the beasts of the field;
thus the whole land shall learn that Israel has a God.
All this multitude, too,
shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves.
For the battle is the LORD’s and he shall deliver you into our hands.”The Philistine then moved to meet David at close quarters,
while David ran quickly toward the battle line
in the direction of the Philistine.
David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone,
hurled it with the sling,
and struck the Philistine on the forehead.
The stone embedded itself in his brow,
and he fell prostrate on the ground.
Thus David overcame the Philistine with sling and stone;
he struck the Philistine mortally, and did it without a sword.
Then David ran and stood over him;
with the Philistine’s own sword which he drew from its sheath
he dispatched him and cut off his head.
PS 144:1B, 2, 9-10
Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
My refuge and my fortress,
my stronghold, my deliverer,
My shield, in whom I trust,
who subdues my people under me.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
O God, I will sing a new song to you;
with a ten-stringed lyre I will chant your praise,
You who give victory to kings,
and deliver David, your servant from the evil sword.
R. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up here before us.”
Then he said to the Pharisees,
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.