Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
27th Sunday of OT, Year C
Respect Life Sunday
October 7, 2001
Heb1:2-3;2:2-4; 2 Tim1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10
1) We were all shocked by the tremendous violence and hatred that the whole world witnessed in the terrible terrorist deeds of September 11. We weeped over the incredible loss of life. Altogether, about 7000 human beings were horribly killed. It wasn’t an accident either. Certain people have formed and grown out of a culture that teaches that it’s morally okay — even morally praiseworthy — to kill innocent human beings to achieve your own ends. We were outraged that any culture would support this; even more so that any state or any people who call themselves religious would tolerate this. How could any culture that claims to want to follow God have such a blatant disregard for innocent human life? We immediately say that they’re not true followers of the One God, the God of Love, the Lord of life. And we’re right in doing so. Nothing can ever justify their actions. And we’ve mobilized as a nation to try to do everything we can to prevent those intent upon continuing such violence from having the ability to do so. And we’re right to do so.
2) This Sunday, the first Sunday of October, is Respect Life Sunday, the day on which the American Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even truth-seeking agnostics and atheists are called to reflect on the gift of human life and shore up our efforts to cherish it and defend it wherever it is threatened. Because of the horrible events of September 11, we’re much more sensitized as a nation to respect innocent human life, because we all have seen the consequences of what can happen when those without a respect for human life have the ability to achieve their ends. And we should all be resolved to stop them, because not only is it a threat to us and our families, but it is a huge offense to the Creator.
3) This heightened awareness to the dignity of human life should allow us to re-examine our own culture. Several people asked the question, over the past few weeks, why would the terrorists hate America so much that they would commit suicide to try to teach her a lesson? Why would Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and others, be able to call America “the Great Satan,” and convince millions of people that this is an accurate description of the United States? They think the US is diabolical. Evil. Why?
4) Because they think that America has a culture that has no disregard for innocent human life. Because they think America follows the inspiration of the Devil and not God. Because they think America doesn’t have true freedom — which is the ability to do what one ought before God and others — but license, which is the ability to do whatever one pleases, whether right or wrong. How can they convince their people that such stark claims are not propaganda, but true? Here’s what they cite:
a) In the US alone, 4000 children, made in the image and likeness of God, are slaughtered in their mothers’ wombs every single day. Every two days, in other words, there is another September 11th for innocent human life in the womb. And they say, America doesn’t deplore this terrible violence against human life, but in fact celebrates it as a “constitutional right.” They ask themselves, would this be a people that is following God, or following Satan, a culture that affirms human life or a culture of death?
b) They point to the laws in the State of Oregon and introduced elsewhere that allows doctors to kill their patients with their patients’ consent. Laws that give people the right to commit suicide. Whole movements that call this type of death, a good death, literally “euthanasia,” rather than an offense to the Creator, who never gives us anything we cannot handle. They ask themselves, would this be a people that is following God, or following Satan, a culture that affirms human life or a culture of death?
c) They point to laws in the State of Vermont that allows homosexual couples to enter into what they call “marriage,” with all the rights that pertain to a real marriage between a husband and a wife, meant to promote and support the family. They look at the glorification of homosexuality in Hollywood and in the media. They point to the amount of pornography on television, in the movies and on the internet, and all those who support this filth, saying that others have a constitutional right of free speech to publish this material. They ask themselves, would this be a people that is following God, or following Satan, a culture that affirms human life or a culture of death?
d) They point to the fact that in America they are creating children in test-tubes. Even worse, that privately funded laboratories are able to produce human embryos in test-tubes only to kill them later for medical research and that vast percentages of the American public support this type of killing. They ask themselves, would this be a people that is following God, or following Satan, a culture that affirms human life or a culture of death?
e) They point out that the United States, especially during the Clinton years, tried to export all of these things to people in the third world. Rather than give food to starving people in Africa, America tried to eliminate the people, by promoting abortion, contraceptions and other forms of family planning. At the Family Conferences of the United Nations, the US representatives tried to promote abortion on demand to children as young as ten without their parents’ consent, to promote homosexuality and other types of sexual freedom, liberalization of divorce laws and other things to weaken the family. They ask themselves, would this be a people that is following God, or following Satan, a culture that affirms human life or a culture of death?
5) The people who criticize America in this way criticize our culture for almost everything for which we criticize the violent and diabolical culture that led to the terrible events of September 11. They criticize us for a blatant disregard for innocent human life. For a terrible body count of 1.6 million children dead every year and 1.6 million mothers wounded. For a culture that teaches it’s moral to do things that God clearly says is immoral. For having a state government support all of these offenses to the Creator and fund them with public money. They say that they don’t hate America because they hate “freedom,” but because they hate what America says “freedom” should allow. No one should have the freedom to kill other innocents, they say. Any culture that allows this is a culture that is Satanic, rather than God-fearing.
6) Now, after the events of September 11, we could clearly call these critics hypocrites, for violating their own principles. But in order to avoid ourselves being hypocritical in our outrage at the violent taking of innocent human life, we have to look at our culture squarely in the eye and ask what we can do. Jesus says that we always have to first take out the plank from our own eyes so that we can see clearly in order to help others take out whatever they have in their eyes.
7) In the days following the attacks, a well-known Protestant Minister, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, made headlines by saying that, essentially, the attacks of September 11 were God’s punishment for all of the abortionists, homosexuals and members of the ACLU in America. He was immediately criticized by other men of faith. God never does evil, although God sometimes allows evil to be done — since he made us all free and we can use our freedom to do good or to do evil, to love or to hate — in order to bring us literally to our “knees” in prayer. Others criticized his statement, rightly again, for not mentioning his own sins. None of us is sinless and hence none of us really has the ability to throw stones at any other group of people without first throwing the stones at ourselves. But what was in some ways more disturbing than Reverend Falwell’s comments were some of the reactions from certain segments of our culture and the media. They were aghast that anyone could be criticizing America at all. Even some people who claim to be faithful were talking as if God would find nothing to be displeased about in any of these things they named, as if God had no position on abortion, on in-vitro fertilization, on homosexuality, on euthanasia, on pornography, on the ACLU’s systematically trying to get religion out of all spheres of public life.
8 ) God never does evil, but he does permit it so that he can draw some greater good out of it. We have already seen some good out of the evil of September 11. We have seen all of the heroism by hundreds in NY on the plane. We have seen an enormous amount of generosity. Almost $500 million have been given to charities. (Espirito Santo Parish gave over $3000 alone in the second collection two weeks ago.) We have seen our nation pull together, united. Priest friends have told me that they have seen their churches packed with people returning to the faith. There is some good coming out of this already. But I think if we were to ask God what he would want most to come out of this terrible evil, we’d get a very stark, and perhaps surprising answer. It would be a similar answer to which he gave the prophets in the Old Testament and announced through Jesus, his Son, the Word of God. God would want us to declare WAR on all the forces of evil, on all the culture of death, on all offenses against human life, on Satan and all he is trying to achieve in this world, not just in the Middle East, but here in America as well. To be consistent in our courageous defense of human life, here and abroad. To form the type of culture here in America that would get those in other parts of the world not to call us the “Great Satan,” but the “people of God.” And by our baptism, God has drafted each of us into that war against evil, wherever it raises its ugly head. All of us have a choice, every single day, to choose whose side we’re fighting on. There are only two sides. And some in our own country, unknowingly, are allied with the forces of evil that they so detest in those who did so much damage on September 11.
9) Each of us has a role to play in rooting out the Devil’s terrorism, both abroad and here. There is so much we can do, in small and big ways, to build up a culture of life, a culture of the God of life and to defend life and God against all who threaten it. Two weeks ago we had a sign-up for MCC-Net, which is a way to stand up for God as Catholic citizens here in America. Not only did Father Jim and I ask you to sign up, but Bishop O’Malley, a successor of the Apostles, chosen by God, did. Only 150 people signed up. Less that 10% of the people here at Mass that weekend. Why did the other 90% not do it? I remember a conversation I had with a young man leaving one of the Masses. I asked him if he’d sign up. He says, “for what?” I told him, “for an association started by the bishops of MA to defend the family, promote pro-life issues and defend the faith.” He looked at me and said, “No thanks.” What’s going on in his mind? Last week we focused on Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was in hell not because he kicked, beat or did anything evil to the poor man, but because he did nothing to help him. When you come before God for your judgment and he asks you, what did you to try to help those 4000 little Lazaruses being massacred every day in their mothers’ wombs in your own country, what would you be able to say? Next week, there is the Walk for Life in Boston. Last week, 38 people signed up for it. This is one way to stand up for God and for the culture of life. Obviously, not everyone can go. Some people will certainly have concrete and important plans. But you, what’s stopping you from going?
10) In today’s Gospel, the apostles, hand-picked by the Lord, asked for an increase in faith. They knew they needed it, particularly to live the faith more fully. In the second reading, St. Paul assured St. Timothy, that the Spirit God has given is not a cowardly one, but one that makes us strong, loving and wise. Therefore, he says, we should never be ashamed of our testimony to the Lord, but bear our share of the hardship with the Gospel entails. The time is for us, for all of us, to stand up and be counted for God, to declare war on the devil and all his agents, not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but here in our midst. To build up a culture of life, a culture of increased faith. This isn’t just an invitation. It’s a solemn duty. So that we might be able to say to the Lord, as the Gospel, finishes, “we have done no more than our duty,” when he says, “well done, my good and faithful servant, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of time.