Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
January 23, 2005
Is 8:23-9:3; 1Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23
1) We are now within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which occurs every year between January 18-25, the latter date being the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the apostle to all the nations. In today’s second reading, the converted St. Paul begs the Lord’s disciples in Corinth “that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” That same mind, he prayed, would be the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). That same purpose would be Christ’s purpose. Christ’s mind and purpose were shown quite clearly in his prayer to the Father during the Last Supper, which St. Paul echoed in his words to the Corinthians. Jesus begged the Father that his disciples “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me … and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:21-23). Jesus wanted us to be as united in love as the Three Persons in One God are united.
2) Right before Christmas, Jesus’ vicar on earth stated that this unity so sought after by Christ and Christ’s ambassador — which he phrased as “communion with God and unity among all people, beginning with believers” — is the Church’s priority commitment. It’s obvious, though, that the reason why Jesus and St. Paul were both praying for this unity — and why we need to spend a whole week praying for it each year — is because we still lack that unity!
3) St. Paul describes with detail one of the reasons why it didn’t exist yet among the Christians in Corinth. “It has been reported to me … that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’” And Paul gets straight to the point in his response to them: “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” He was saying that believers must be united in a discipleship of Christ and Christ alone, who works through each of the ministers. The very pursuit of “favorite ministers” led to the division of Christ’s flock.
4) The same type of fractioning and division in Christ’s body can still happen today. Here at our parish, I know that there are more than a handful of parishioners who have latched on to one priest or another, such that they’ll try only to go to the Mass of their favorite priest celebrant. I also know that there are others who avoid one particular priest’s celebration of the Mass at all costs — when they arrive at Mass and see his car in the parking lot, or him vested in the back of Church, they turn right around and head out the door. Sometimes people can start to think that what they go to is Fr. Landry’s Mass, Fr. Frechette’s Mass, Fr. Dufour’s Mass, Fr. Murray’s Mass, Msgr. Munroe’s Mass, rather than to CHRIST’S MASS, who himself is the unique celebrant of each. When we focus too much on the minister, we focus too little on Christ, and we start to make comparisons among ministers that does not advance the cause of unity.
5) The same type of partitioning and division happens at a larger level in the Church, when many Catholics start to look at the Church with political or sociological categories. People start to identify themselves and be identified as “liberal Catholics” or “conservative Catholics,” as “progressive Catholics” or “traditional Catholics.” These are all terms that stress and effect division among the mystical body of Christ. What we need are FAITHFUL Catholics. These would be Catholics who aspire to be 100% faithful to Christ’s teaching and 100% faithful to Christ’s command to love others — including those who we find least lovable — as Christ has loved us.
6) In the Gospel today, we witness Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles. He trained them to be faithful disciples and eventually faithful fishers of men. During the period of their formation, Jesus castigated them for taking sides, for seeking positions of privilege. He taught them to fight not for the best seats, but for the towel, to be the ambitious only to imitate him in being the servant of all the rest (Mt 20:20-28; Jn 13:3-17). He stressed that to be great in the kingdom of heaven, they needed to keep his commandments and teach others to do the same (Mt 5:19). Then he summed all his teaching up by instructing them to love others to the point of death just as he has loved them (Jn 15:12-13), even their enemies and persecutors (Mt 5:44-45). And Jesus strived always to teach and help them have the unity for which he prayed so earnestly. In their prayer, he taught them to pray the OUR Father (Instead of “my” father), reminding them that whenever “two or three” are gathered in his name, he will be there among them (Mt 18:20). He left them a real source and figure of unity in St. Peter, whom he made the first pope (Mt 16:16-18). He gave them Holy Communion as a means by which they could continually grow into that communion that He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, into his one mystical body (1Cor 10:17).
7) But Jesus also made quite clear to them that there would be those who would reject this invitation to enter into full communion, who would refuse to be faithful to the new covenant. He taught them and us that at times we would need to wipe the dust off our feet because of others’ lack of willingness to receive his word (Mt 10:14-15). He taught us that there would be those who would come as false prophets, thieves and marauders (Jn 10:8-10), who would harm Christ’s flock and lead them astray (Mt 24:24). He warned us ahead of time not to believe them, but to flee and reject them (Mk 13:23), because they were sources of division, seeking, as St. John wrote, to make us not children of God but of the evil one (1John 3:10). This is part of the reality of the proclamation of the Gospel. In the earliest Christian mosaics in the world, found in the necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, there’s the image of St. Peter’s casting a line into the sea with two fishing hooks on it, both with bait (Christ and his Gospel). One fish takes the bait and one fish swims away from it. One enters into communion and one does not.
8 ) The same fishing principles apply today. The same imperative for unity is still valid. The same sources and causes of division that Jesus fought in Palestine and Paul battled in Corinth are still present. One area in which we see them at work is with American Catholics and the abortion issue, which we need to talk about on this weekend on which our nation marks the 32nd anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton, which has led to the death of 44 million children in our nation alone.
9) For Catholics who want to be faithful to Christ, there is really only one option with respect to abortion: to be pro-life in mind and in deed. Faithful Catholics will love — and being willing to sacrifice for — pregnant mothers, especially those in hardship, and to love their children in the womb. Anything short of this is simply not to be a faithful Catholic. Like in ancient Corinth, we have today people who try to distinguish themselves among the members of the Mystical Body by calling themselves “pro-choice Catholics.” They are definitely pro-choice, but I can’t see how they’re Catholic except in name, because they really are not disciples of Jesus, who would never be “pro-choice” if that choice were one to abort an innocent child, made in his image and likeness, in the womb. It’s obvious that such “pro-choice Catholics” are not in doctrinal communion with Christ and the Church he founded — for the Church, since her inception, has always been against abortion (see the Didache, 80 AD, which said: “do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant”). But they are also not in moral Communion with Christ and his Church, for we are called to love Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters (Mt 25:40), to receive children in his name (Mt 18:5; Mk 10:15), and to say to every pregnant woman what Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1:42). Any true Catholic would be as revolted by the abortion of any child made in Christ’s image as we would have been revolted if Mary had chosen to abort Christ himself. If any woman ever had an “unplanned pregnancy” it was Mary! Yet she responded to Him with love and showed the pathway to authentic feminine fulfillment and human holiness. If we truly love women, then we will point them along the same path.
10) The last time I preached on abortion was in October, and after Mass a woman called to complain about what she said was my politicizing the pulpit by talking about the moral obligations of Catholics with response to pro-abortion politicians and the election. I asked the woman politely if she shared the Church’s teaching on abortion. She replied that she was personally opposed to abortion, but considered herself pro-choice, because she didn’t think it was right to tell other women they couldn’t choose to have one. When I tried gently to address that issue, she interrupted me and said, “With all the sexual abuse by priests, I can’t believe that you would even talk about abortion in the pulpit!”
11) Priests, in general, are getting used to people using the clergy sex-abuse crisis as an argument against any Church teaching they don’t like. But I thought that, since she brought the topic up, it might be an effective way to illustrate the flaw in her position on abortion. I think that our conversation might also be helpful for those here who might think like her and for all those who regularly encounter people who articulate similar positions.
12) I responded to her sexual abuse comment by saying that it was PRECISELY BECAUSE OF THE SEX ABUSE SCANDALS that the Church couldn’t be silent on abortion. That got her attention. Then I respectfully asked her a few questions:
“Do you agree that there were two evils in the sex-abuse crisis: first, the sin and crime of the abuse itself; and, second, the sin of omission by all those who knew it was going on and didn’t do all they could to stop it?”
“That’s exactly right, Father,” she replied.
“Do you think the abuse would still have been wrong if the victim’s parents knew about it and allowed it?”
“Of course it still would have been wrong!”
“And do you think that it still would have been wrong if the perpetrators, rather than abusing the kids, would have killed them instead?”
“Obviously it would still be wrong.”
“Then, honestly, ma’am,” I continued, “ I can’t see how you can think the Church should be silent about abortion or how you can, in good conscience, say that you’re pro-choice but personally opposed to abortion.”
She didn’t say anything, so I finished the point: “If abortion is the killing of an innocent human being, then to do nothing to try to stop that killing would be just as bad as knowing that sex abuse is wrong and not lifting a finger to protect kids from the abusers.”
She then asked: “Are you saying that pregnant mothers are analogous to abusers?”
“No,” I replied. The abortion doctors are analogous to abusers. But just as you said that sex abuse would still be wrong even if parents allowed it, so the KILLING of a child is wrong even if the parents allow it or choose it. And no law legalizing sex abuse or abortion could ever make either right.”
She was silent for what seemed like minutes. Then she told me she would get back to me. I’m still hoping she does.
13) I make this analogy not to relativize the horror of the sexual abuse of minors, but to put the horror of abortion — and the inaction of so many in response to it — in its proper perspective. No Catholic worth the name would ever say today, “I personally would never abuse a child, but who am I to stop someone else from abusing a child?” None would say, “How can I impose my morality — that says that child abuse is wrong — on you?” The simple fact is that WE ALL recognize that child abuse is wrong and willfully impose that morality on perverts, because IF WE DON’T, our kids will end up getting hurt. The same principles must apply with abortion. If we don’t act in the same way as we do with response to sex abuse, our innocent young children will end up not just traumatized and gravely wounded, but dead.
14) All of us should learn from how the Church and society as a whole has condemned and rejected BOTH the sexual abuse of minors by perverts AND the failure of those in responsibility to prevent and stop the abuse of children by those who would do them harm. If we were to see a child being abused, a good Catholic could never just stand at a distance and utter, “Isn’t that awful!” It also wouldn’t be enough merely to send in a postcard to legislators, saying, “We need better laws.” The only adequate response is to intervene to save the child from imminent harm. In the same way, it’s not enough for Catholics merely to be conceptually pro-life. It’s not enough for us to send in postcards to Congress or the State House asking for new pro-life legislation, while every 23 seconds another child is killed in the US. We need to find ways to try to stop the killing. This weekend is a good time, therefore, publicly to thank and laud those members of our parish who do — those who work at crisis pregnancy centers, who go to pray and give counsel outside of abortion clinics, and who have involved themselves, their time, and the blessings God has given them, to direct work and care for pregnant mothers. It is also a good time for us in conscience to ask ourselves, before God, if we’re doing enough.
15) One of the most popular slogans of the pro-abortion movement is “my body, my choice.” This could not stand in greater contrast to what Jesus will say to us today in the Eucharist “This is my body, given for you.” Jesus shows us, by the use of his body and life, what real love is, a gift of oneself to others. We pray today for all pregnant women, that they may whisper to their children Jesus’ salvific words. And we pray that through our communion with Christ today, he may bring us all into greater unity with his heart and his mind, so that we may be strengthened to go stick up for him in our endangered brothers and sisters in the tabernacles of their mothers’ wombs.