Welcoming the Beauty of Life, Fall River Diocesan Pro-Life Bootcamp, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), July 21, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Diocese of Fall River Pro-Life Bootcamp
Stonehill College, Easton, Massachusetts
Sixteenth Sunday in OT, Year C
July 21, 2013
Gen 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42

In today’s Gospel, Jesus visits the home of his friends Martha and Mary in Bethany. What happens there is very important not just for the whole of our Christian life but also for the pro-life work each of you has been getting trained for on this bootcamp. Martha succumbed to the temptation to think that what Jesus most wanted from her was a good meal. As hard as she worked in cleaning the house, setting the table and preparing the food, she didn’t grasp what her sister Mary did, that Jesus had come to their home not to be fed but to feed. Mary chose the better part, the one thing necessary, namely Jesus himself, and sat at his feet, receiving all the nourishment he wanted to give her.

Today at the end of this pro-life bootcamp for young people, in which you’ve learned so much through debunking the various half-truths of abortion propaganda and responding with the truth, it’s tempting to want to leave the beautiful campus of Stonehill and set the world on fire. But first things first. What’s most important is not what we can do for Jesus in dedicated pro-life activity. What’s most important is what Jesus wants to do in us, for us, and through us for the world. Jesus, the source of life, wants to feed us by his Word and the Word made Flesh in the Eucharist, so that we might become more firmly united to him as branches on the Vine and thereby not only bring the truth to others and help save the lives of those who are at risk, but help them come to discover that that truth and life have a proper Name.

So let us learn from Mary’s great example, sit at Jesus’ feet, and allow him to teach us some really important lessons to strengthen us as believers so that we might be even greater missionaries of the Gospel of Life in a world that desperately needs that good news.

As we sit at the feet of God in today’s readings from Sacred Scripture, we are nourished by three very important truths.

The blessing of every child

Abraham and Sarah longed for a child of their own. When Abraham was 100 and Sarah 91, God blessed them with Isaac. We see in their yearning and God’s response that children are always blessings, gifts from God above. We also see in Abraham’s and Sarah’s story that through Isaac, they became not just parents of a son, or parents of a family, or parents of a nation, but the progenitors of many nations. Children are a blessing that can continue to bless for hundreds or even thousands of generations. Every son or daughter carries within such a possibility of almost unending blessings. Little did your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents ever fathom that you would be here today. They couldn’t see into the future, but because of their yes to life, because of the yes of every parent stretching back from yours to Adam and Eve, you’re here today.

Likewise even with children conceived in troubling circumstances, we’ll never know what great good will come from their birth and life. In Jesus’ line, there was a prostitute, a murderer, a foreigner and many people who were far from the sanctity of the Blessed Virgin, but from them all according to the flesh, Jesus descended.

I just got back last night from a week in Rome where I was leading a pilgrimage of religious sisters from various congregations. While we were there, I introduced them to Pope Alexander VI, the notorious leader of the Church from 1492-1503. He spent a fortune to buy the papacy. He had ten illegitimate children from six different concubines. He even put contracts out on people. And many of the children he had fathered out of wedlock were even more notorious, as is told, somewhat fancifully, in the HBO series The Borgias. But I reminded the sisters that God always seeks to bring good out of evil and in the case of Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, one of his grandsons turned out to be St. Francis Borgia, the second founder of the Jesuits, without whose life the Jesuits likely never would have grown the way they did, and would likely have never produced Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, our new Holy Father.

We never know what will become of a young child, including one conceived in less than optimal circumstances. We do know what happened through Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, who was an ancestor of the Lord Jesus and part of the fulfillment of God’s great plans for the salvation of the world. We know what happened through St. Francis Borgia. And we could cite so many others who rose from inauspicious beginnings to be great figures in the world. That’s the first lesson. Every child is  a blessing, including some children that might initially seem to have been born under a curse.

The Importance of Hospitality in a Culture of Life

The second lesson is about hospitality. Martha and Mary welcomed Jesus with great love in the Gospel. Likewise Abraham and Sarah welcomed the three men, preparing a real feast for these supposed strangers. Little did they know that they were welcoming angels of the Lord and that through their hospitality they would be blessed forever.

We’re all called to this type of hospitality, because when we welcome anyone, God takes it personally. He identifies with everyone received. “I was a stranger,” Jesus said, “and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). “Whoever receives a little child in my name receives me,” he added elsewhere (Mk 9:37).

When we speak about hospitality, it’s easy to think about the Benedictines, who are famous for they way they receive guests. In his celebrated rule, St. Benedict spoke about how guests are to be received. When a guest arrives at the monastery, St. Benedict wrote that the bell should be rung and all the monks who are not attending to some urgent task should assemble near the front entrance. There they should all prostrate themselves before the guest on the floor. Afterward, the abbot (the head honcho of the monastery) or if he’s not present the prior (the number two man) is to accompany the guest to the chapel to pray for as long as he’d like. Then the abbot himself is to take him to the refectory to make sure he’s gets enough to eat and drink. Then the abbot is to take him to his room and ensure that he has everything he needs. Now that would be impressive even if it happened once a month. But in some monasteries there could be many guests a day. And each time all of the monks leave what they’re doing and come to the entrance to welcome each guest, and the abbot, who has the most responsibilities of all in a monastery, leaves whatever else he is doing to come and spend that time with each guest. While this might seem excessive, we have to remember that for the Benedictines, hospes Christus est, the guest is intentionally treated as if he were Jesus Christ. And it doesn’t seem crazy at all that if the Lord Jesus himself came to the monastery, that all the monks would come to greet him, that they would lie prostrate, and that the abbot would prioritize praying with him, feeding him, making sure he’s got all he needs. Their rule is a direct consequence of taking Jesus seriously when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Likewise, to create a culture of life, we all need to learn from the Benedictines. Every child in the womb ought to be welcomed and treated like the blessed Fruit of Mary’s womb, as Jesus himself. If there ever were an unexpected pregnancy it was Mary’s! But thanks be to God she said “fiat,” “yes,” to life and her response is not just a model for every woman who finds out she’s with child, but a challenge for everyone who meets a pregnant woman, to welcome that woman the way the Bethlehem innkeepers all should have welcomed Mary.

We all know that it’s not easy to receive guests. They may be very inconvenient. Sometimes they may arrive at the worst times. Often they’re ungrateful. It’s likewise a lot of work to care for guests. We see that in the efforts of Abraham, Sarah and Martha. If it’s challenging to welcome guests into our homes for a night or two, then it’s even more challenging for someone to welcome a guest within her womb for nine months. But we know that when we welcome others in the name of the Lord, God never forgets it, and in the process we become more like God, who welcomes us in prayer, into his own family through baptism, and one day wants to welcome us in heaven.

That’s the second great lesson we learn sitting at Jesus’ feet today, the importance of hospitality. We’re all called to make the world a far more welcoming place for every child, especially those who are at greater risk of rejection, like those with disabilities or conceived in less than ideal circumstances. We also need to welcome with great affection those who like Mary in Bethlehem are in need of help during their pregnancy and beyond. It’s not easy to inconvenience oneself to care for a woman in these situations, but it is a beautiful service. The more we welcome with love women in such situations the easier it is for them to learn from us how to welcome their children.

The Meaning of Full Christian Maturity

The third thing we learn from the great meal with which Jesus wants to feed us today is what St. Paul tells us in the second reading. He writes to the Colossians that he wants to bring to fulfillment for them the word of God, whom he says is “Christ in you.” The goal of life is to have Christ be fully formed with in us, so that we become living, breathing, walking, loving icons of Jesus. To bring this about, St. Paul says that he corrects and teaches everyone with all wisdom — or, to use the words of this year’s bootcamp, he debunks the myths and instructs with the truth — so that everyone may come to full stature, full maturity, in Christ.

The full maturity to which God calls us is to allow Christ to come fully alive within us, so alive that we cannot help but share him with others, just as St. Paul shared him with the Colossians and so many others in the ancient world.

As many of you are learning during this time of your life, true maturity means that we have become responsible for ourselves, for others entrusted to us, and for the gifts given to us. God wants us to come to full stature, by becoming responsible co-sharers in Christ’s mission to save the lives of others in this world and forever, to make up by our own sacrificial love for what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was in itself perfect to save us, but while on the Cross he left room for us to unite our efforts to his. That’s what it means to make up for what was absent in Christ’s  sacrifice. To come to full maturity in Christ means that Christ be fully formed in us, including the capacity to dedicate and sacrifice our life to save others, which is what the pro-life movement is all about. One consequence of the need for each of us to make up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of others is that there will be some people whom only you are going to be able to reach. There will be one or more people who will only hear the Gospel if you bring it to them. There will be some who will come to know Jesus Christ and experience the full power of his love only if you radiate it. True maturity helps us to become conscious of this task and to become aware that if Jesus is summoning us to this, then he will give us all the help we need to fulfill it.

Tomorrow Pope Francis will arrive in Brazil for World Youth Day and he will be preaching all week about how the young of the world are called maturely to embrace Jesus’ valedictory command to “Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.” So great is Jesus’ trust in us that he has placed in our hands his own mission for the salvation of the world.  A huge part of that proclamation of the Gospel to which Jesus calls us is the Gospel of Life — a Gospel we’re called to live and then share with others as the great gift, as the pearl of great price, as the “better part,” as the “one thing necessary.”

As the Pope (Benedict XVI) wrote in the message to all young people of the world in preparation for World Youth Day, “To evangelize [to carry out the mission to make disciples, to spread the faith] means to bring the Good News of salvation to others and to let them know that this Good News is a person: Jesus Christ. When I meet him, when I discover how much I am loved by God and saved by God, I begin to feel not only the desire, but also the need to make God known to others. At the beginning of John’s Gospel we see how Andrew, immediately after he met Jesus, ran off to fetch his brother Simon (cf. 1:40-42). Evangelization always begins with an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Those who come to Jesus and have experienced his love, immediately want to share the beauty of the meeting and the joy born of his friendship. The more we know Christ, the more we want to talk about him. The more we speak with Christ, the more we want to speak about him. The more we are won over by Christ, the more we want to draw others to him.”

That’s why before we can carry out the mission Christ has given us, we first have to sit at his feet like Mary and experience within his love and friendship. Once we do that, the Pope continues, we can’t help but share him with others. And when we’re really touched by the Lord in this intimate friendship, we can’t help but give others not only ourselves but Christ.

The Pope writes, “Proclaiming Christ is not only a matter of words, but something that involves one’s whole life and translates into signs of love. It is the love that Christ has poured into our hearts that makes us evangelizers. Consequently, our love must become more and more like Christ’s own love. We should always be prepared, like the Good Samaritan, to be attentive to those we meet, to listen, to be understanding and to help. In this way we can lead those who are searching for the truth and for meaning in life to God’s house, the Church, where hope and salvation abide (cf. Lk 10:29-37). Dear friends, never forget that the first act of love that you can do for others is to share the source of our hope. If we do not give them God, we give them too little!”

Our love must become more and more like Christ’s own love and unless we love them like that, we love and give them too little. That’s why, in order to work as hard as Martha in bringing the Gospel of Life to others, we must first imitate Mary in uniting ourselves with Christ in private prayer, in frequent reception of Jesus at Mass (even every day), in adoration, and in listening to him in the words of Sacred Scripture, so that, in entering more and more into his love for us, we can more effectively and powerfully bring him and his love to others. We are called to be missionaries with the hands and feet of Martha but the ears and heart of Mary. That’s what it means to be a mature disciple. I would urge you strongly throughout this week to tune into all the events of World Youth Day and let Pope Francis to build on all you’ve experienced here, allowing Jesus through his earthly vicar to continue to strengthen you to carry out this most important life-saving mission he’s trusted you so much to put in your heart and hands.

Christ strengthens us in the Mass to Carry Out this Mission of Life

At today’s Mass, in the modern Bethany of this Church, we, too, like Mary, have listened at Jesus’ feet while he has fed us with his Word. As he prepares to feed us even more profoundly with his flesh and blood, we ask him, through this nourishment, to give us the help he knows we need, after this boot camp, to become well-trained special forces for life, sent out not with guns and knives and missiles but with the weapons of prayer, self-sacrificial love, and mercy, to make this whole world a hospitable place for God and for all those made in his image and likeness. Abortion supporters always trumet a right to choose, but today we see how we’re supposed to choose. Mary chose the better part and Jesus has chosen us to do the same and to help the whole world to recognize that with our freedom we’re called to choose always the better part, which is to choose life and love. May St. Mary of Bethany intercede for us from heaven so that we might do just that: welcome Jesus within and in him welcome everyone else as we welcome Jesus. This is this Gospel of Life of which we are all already heralds and one day, God-willing, heroes.