Prophets of the Gospel of Life, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), January 22, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
January 22, 2006
Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

1) God raises up prophets for every age. He raised up Jonah to convert Ninevah. He raised up Paul to bring the Corinthians and so many other communities to the truth about God and themselves. He called Simon and Andrew, James and John to be fishers of men, rescuing others from death and catching them for life. And as we focused on last week, the Lord Jesus has raised US up for our own age.

2) He has called us to be his prophets, his ambassadors, his voice to our contemporaries. The message he wants to put in our mouths is the same he put on the lips of Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, his apostles and countless male and female saints throughout the centuries. It’s the very message he himself proclaims in today’s Gospel. There we find his first homily, all nineteen words of it. It is what he waited his entire hidden life in Nazareth to announce. It’s also what he, as God, had been waiting since the Fall to inaugurate: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the Gospel!”

3) Jesus concisely articulates four truths:

a. “The time is fulfilled” — In other words, the time is now, the era of waiting is over.
b. “The kingdom of God is at hand” — The kingdom is about to be launched, because the king himself is here.

Both of these truths point to the objective reality erupting around us. Next he turns to how we’re supposed to respond to this reality:

c. “Repent” — First we have to realize that we’ve sinned, be sorry for them, and make the resolution to turn away from these and other sins in the future; and
d. “Believe in the Gospel” — Turning away from sin is not enough. It must be followed by deep adherence and living the truly joyful good news of the kingdom.

4) No matter how times change, from Ninevah in the 5th century BC to New Bedford in 2006, the message of God’s prophets contains these four elements: urgency (the time is now!), God’s presence (the kingdom is here), conversion (repent!) and faith (believe in the Gospel). These are four elements that the prophets must first embrace in their own lives and then announce to others.

5) Some embrace this reality quite readily. In today’s Gospel, we see that when Jesus called Simon and Andrew, John and James, to follow him, they “immediately” left their boats, their businesses, even their families behind and followed him. It was an urgent call from the king himself, and they didn’t hesitate. They turned away from everything and, in faith, embraced him who is everything, who created everything.

6) The response of Jonah from the first reading wasn’t so neat and prompt. The first time God called him to “go at once to Ninevah, that great city and cry out against it,” he “set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:2-4). We know what happened afterward. There was a great storm and the passengers on the ship, hearing from Jonah that he was running away from the Lord, tossed him overboard so that they might not all suffer a calamity. Fearing for his life, Jonah turned back to God and prayed, and God saved him miraculously. As soon as Jonah was back on shore, God spoke to him again, with the words that begin our first reading: “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” And Jonah this time went without hesitation.

7) Once he had finally embraced the urgent call that God had given him to conversion and faith, Jonah was equipped to go to announce it to others. His was the classic message of the prophet. It first featured urgency: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The Ninevites recognized that they had been living as if they, not God, were in charge, as if the world were their kingdom, not His. Jonah’s message brought them to recognize that God was present and he wasn’t happy with their immorality. For God, Jonah called them to repentance, and they converted. “They turned from their evil ways,” we read. They fasted, and “everyone, great and small,” even down to their pets, put on sackcloth. And they began to live by faith: as we see toward the end of today’s passage, “the people of Nineveh believed in God.”

8 ) Sometimes the recipient of the prophet’s message won’t respond as readily as the pagan Ninevites did. When Jesus sent out Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles the first time, to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he told them he was sending them out as “lambs into the midst of wolves.” He told them to “cure the sick” and say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you,” but warned them that some would welcome them and some would reject them (Lk 10:3-12). When they were ready for more, he gave them the commission to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to “all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” (Lk 24:47) but he also told them clearly what would happen to them. They would receive the same destiny as Jesus, received by some and rejected by many. About Jerusalem, God’s own city, from where that proclamation would start, Jesus said that not even God would be accepted in his native place: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Mt 23:37; cf. Lk 4:24). He told his prophets: “They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name; they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name (Lk 21:12; Mt 24:9). The reason why they would suffer the same fate as Jesus he told them during the celebration of the first Mass: because “servants are not greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (Jn 15:20). They would be rejected because people were rejecting God in them. And we saw that this in fact happened. For Christ and like him, the apostles were thrown into prison. They suffered. And ten of the eleven original apostles were martyred. But as we read in the a beautiful part of the Acts of the Apostles, “they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41).

9) Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul, Jonah, Elijah, Micah, Amos, Ezekiel, Ignatius, Sebastian, Agnes, Agatha, Cecilia, Catherine, Therese, Francis, Anthony, and so many others have accomplished their prophetic missions and are triumphantly with the Lord. Now it’s our turn. In the fullness of time, right now, the Lord has called us to conversion and faith and has commissioned us to be his prophets today. Some of us, perhaps most of us, may be attempted to respond like Jonah and try to run away from God’s presence and duck the mission. Others, like the first apostles, might respond immediately to the task. But regardless of how we feel about it, the Lord has given us this mission, which concerns not only our salvation but the salvation of the world. He has called us to announce with urgency that the Kingdom is here now, and if people wish to enter it, they must now renounce sin and everything that keeps from God and believe and live his Gospel. And he has told us that not everyone will accept this message, that some will try to persecute and even kill the messengers, but he has promised us his help and an eternal reward if we’re faithful.

10) One part of that prophetic message that all of us in the Church must proclaim with one voice today is the Gospel of human life. Every twenty-three seconds in our country alone, another innocent child, made in the image and likeness of God, is killed in the womb of his or her mother. In the span of this twenty minute homily, over fifty more children will die. This is made possible because thirty-three years ago today, the Supreme Court published its disgraceful Roe versus Wade decision, which overturned all state laws against abortion. Since that decision, 45 million children have been killed in their mother’s womb in our country alone. 45 million mothers have been wounded. And so many other have been hurt and victimized through abortion’s massive collateral damage. Jesus has told us very clearly in the Gospel that we will be judged on how we treat the “least of his brothers and sisters.” Whatever we do to them, or fail to do for them, we do, or fail to do, to Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Therefore every time a child is put to death through abortion — and every time we do nothing to try to stop this massacre of Jesus’ littlest brothers and sisters — we do it, or allow it to be done, to Jesus himself. The Lord wants us, first, to recognize the time is now and he is present in his image in the womb of every pregnant woman. He wants us to repent of selfishness and sexual sins and embrace in faith the Gospel. Then he wants each of us to proclaim with particular urgency the need for our nation, a modern Ninevah, to repent of this tremendous evil — which no court, or group of politicians, or president could ever make moral, no matter how many times they falsely call it a constitutional right. Jesus is particularly calling us who claim to be his disciples to get on the front lines. We may be afraid, like Jonah, but the Lord will make us strong. We may have to suffer as a result of proclaiming the Gospel of life — as others try to call us anti-woman, or anti-freedom, or bigots — but the Lord promises to be with us to make us worthy of suffering on account of his name.

11) Among the greatest modern prophets of this ever-urgent message of life are women who have experienced first-hand the horror of abortion. They speak with a credibility that perhaps no man — and a fortiori no priest — could ever have on this issue. As the number of women who have had abortions has grown, the number of women who have repented and begun to beseech their fellow women not to make the same awful choice, has also grown. Priests for Life has a website (priestsforlife.org) with so many testimonies that it would take hours to read. I will share with you today two of these messages, from two different sides of the abortion decision.

12) The first comes from registered nurse in Oregon named Terri Saunders, who was 25 when she discovered she was pregnant. Here is her story in her own words:

“I couldn’t believe it when I got the news. I knew it was true, but I did NOT want to think about it. Wrong time. Wrong place. Absolutely the wrong person. I was pregnant by a man I didn’t love and I didn’t know who to tell and where to go and was feeling very alone. My boyfriend Robert was repulsed by my unexpected pregnancy. We had been talking about marriage for quite some time. When I told him that we were going to have a baby, he responded with a coldness that shocked me. ‘Take care of it,’ he told me, ‘I don’t want to be bothered with it.’ Any love I had for him died right there. Things were already falling apart in my life, and it was absolutely the wrong time for me to be pregnant. My mother was back in Pennsylvania. I really didn’t know where to turn.

“I asked my sister what to do, and she told me the same thing as my boyfriend: ‘Go do it now, if you’re going to have an abortion.’ A few day’s later, Robert’s mother sat me down in her kitchen and told me point-blank, ‘Get an abortion.’ I felt abandoned, as if I was some sort of bad person, as if I had gotten pregnant all by myself and ought to be ashamed. But I didn’t want people handing me a quick solution that would haunt me later. Somehow I also got the feeling that my family wanted an easy solution for themselves – even if it was at my expense.

“There was one person who did listen to me, though: I had read a bulletin insert that told about a pregnancy help center in a neighboring town. I went to see them. They gave me a follow-up pregnancy test and one of the ladies there talked to me about where I could find help. I asked about adoption information, because I was thinking about that for a time, and the woman connected me with Catholic Charities. Later on, I changed my mind and decided to raise my daughter myself. The important thing is that I had the support to do this. After I decided [to keep my daughter], I met many people in the community who were willing to help. A local family let me come over to their house and use their swimming pool. (It was a hot summer). I would like to say something to other women who are facing pressure for an abortion: if you just decide to hang in there and tell people that you need help, there are a lot of supportive people.

“The ironic thing about all this is that Julie is now the apple of everyone’s eye. She looks just like Robert, and when he takes her on holidays, he reminds us all of that fact! Robert’s family loves her, too. Robert’s mother, who had told me to end her life, now spoils her with cookies and dolls and loves to write stories for her. One thing bothers me, though, when everyone fawns over her at Robert’s house. I still can’t reconcile that with the fact that they all pushed me so hard to destroy her when she was in my womb. Is love so selfish that people only give it when they ‘feel like it’? What I do know is that many people in my family and in Robert’s family have had a big change of heart about Julie being in the world. I’m so glad I didn’t let their ‘well-intentioned’ advice get to me! I am so sick and tired of hearing the ‘pro-abortion’ slogans that basically called for the death of my daughter. I knew enough to stay strong when I was pressured to kill her, but I can’t help thinking of other unwed mothers who buckle in to the pressure.

“I’ve drawn a few conclusions from all this: Pro-choice? Sure seems like a lot of people who don’t want to be ‘caught’ push abortion! Guys who make love to a woman and then reject her when she turns out pregnant – I think that’s going on a lot, and that a lot of guys are hiding behind the ‘pro-choice’ line when it comes to taking responsibility. Many of my friends who have had abortions are really bitter at men. I think I know where they’re coming from. Anyway, I’m glad I stood up for life for my daughter.”

13) The second testimony comes from a woman named Jennifer Speltz, who witnesses to a child’s side of the abortion experience:

“I first began to recognize that I had a story to tell when I was attending a public Junior High school in Forest Lake, MN. Quite often the abortion topic would come up and on occasion comments were thrown out by abortion-minded teachers. I would always cringe a little when they would say ‘I don’t like abortion, I think it is wrong . . . except in cases of rape and incest.’ My mom had slowly been revealing the circumstances of my conception to me over the years and by the time I was 13, I had come to grips with the reality that my father was, essentially, a rapist. Though he was 18, as was my mother at the time of my conception, and most likely had acted out of a dare by his friends, he had violated my mother against her will. When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, the only advice she was given was to discard the ‘products of conception.’ She was never offered support to keep me, though this is where her heart was leading her. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful that she heeded that still, small voice in her heart which told her that the life growing within had a purpose and did not merit death.

“When the topic came up throughout Junior High and High School, [people would] persist with emotional arguments: ‘You just can’t make a woman go through with a pregnancy like that.’ Though it is an unjust and heart wrenching scenario to consider, it must be dealt with, and so I would tell them our story. Only once in High School did a person who heard this story turn away cold-faced. Every other person who was confronted with ‘a face’ allowed their hearts to melt at the truth of matter – God has a plan for everyone!

“As my 27th birthday approaches, I am ever discovering God’s magnificent plan, not only for my life, but for every life that he calls into existence. It is crucial that every citizen realize that a person’s dignity is not founded in whether or not one is wanted, as abortion peddlers and legislators would like us to believe. A person’s dignity is founded in the reality that persons are created in the image and likeness of God. The circumstances of my conception, yours, or anyone’s do not determine quality of life.

“Young people across the nation and the world are coming to recognize the double-standards of abortion rhetoric and that all of the promises of the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ are coming up empty. Young people are renewing the pro-life movement with an unmatched determination to herald in a new ‘Culture of Life.’ By the grace of God my mom and I were spared the life-long, direct agony that abortion reaps.

“On the other hand, when you consider Planned Parenthood’s grisly statistic that 40% of all women in the U.S. will have an abortion by the age of 40 (mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, granddaughters, cousins, wives) every American citizen has been touched by the grief of abortion directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, every one of us has an obligation to stand up! I am overjoyed to be a part of the generation that WILL turn the cultural tide so that following generations will be spared of this unjust suffering.”

14) Those are the testimonies of two women who know very well what is involved in abortion. Those are the witnesses of two modern prophets, calling us and our nation to urgent repentance and to embrace the Gospel of life. But their voices must be part of a strong chorus if we’re ever going to turn our nation around. The Lord is calling each of us — and that includes you — first to embrace this Gospel and then to announce it. He is calling us, as his disciples, to work with Terri Saunders, and Jennifer Speltz, and with the successors of the apostles, and countless people of good will, to work to change laws and most importantly to change hearts so that no other women needs to experience the pain of abortion, so that no other innocent children need to lose their lives. As we prepare now to receive Jesus, whose kingdom is at hand, we ask him to strengthen us all to preach the Gospel of Life, to work for its implementation in our country, and to live it. He wouldn’t be calling us to be heralds of the Gospel of life unless he knew that we, strengthened by Him, were fit for the task!