USCCB Mass for the Beginning of Respect Life Month

Most Reverend Martin D. Holley, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington
Member of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My dear brothers and sister in Christ, during this monthdedicated to praying the Rosary, we know that many of our Catholics from across the United States will be making pilgrimages, and as we prepare to begin the Year of Faith, along with the anticipation of this weekend, in which we celebrate Respect Life Sunday; today, Thursday, October 4 2012, on this Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, we come to pray and thank God for the gift of life and the gift of His love.

We do so in the context of reflecting on the Word of God proclaimed in our Gospel. Our Gospel presents to us some questions that are purposed for our own personal reflection and for people in general throughout our society.

The questions are: What is our vision of the Lord's harvest? What does Jesus mean when He says His disciples must be lambs in the midst of wolves? What is the significance of Jesus appointing seventy-two disciples to the ministry of the word? What is the Kingdom of God? Where do we find it?

I most certainly am not proposing that I will be able to answer all of these questions in the seven minutes that I have to deliver this homily. But, needless to say, it is important that they be considered.

In his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Truth in Love), Pope Benedict XVI states: "Not only does the situation of poverty still provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion."

"In economically-developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very wide-spread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress."

"Some non-governmental organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries: and, in some cases, not even informing the women concerned."

"Moreover, there is reason to suspect that developmental aid is sometimes linked to specific health care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures."

"Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia, as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favor of its juridical recognition."

In the midst of all these challenges to Life, His Holiness provides us with a prophetic voice that says: "For the Church, there is no distinction between defending human life and promoting the dignity of the human person."

We are reminded that, as a gift from God, every human life is sacred, from conception until natural death. The life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition.

The right of life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights that leads Catholics to actively work for a world of greater respect for human life and greater commitment to justice and peace.

Human beings are the only creatures whom God has made in His own image. We are unique in all creation: a unity of soul and body, we are both mortal and immortal. We have the capacity to reason, a conscience, and free will, which enable us to choose what we believe and what actions we will take.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited us on his pastoral visit in 2008, he emphasized that "the Church and all its members are called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life. The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the New Evangelization."

"For true life – our salvation – can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God's gracious gift."

"Christian truths – that every human is created in God's image and loved and redeemed by God; these truths can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world, including the most defenseless of all human beings: the unborn child in the mother's womb."

So, let me quickly respond with some reflections on our original questions. Jesus frequently used the image of a harvest to convey the coming of God's reign on earth. The harvest is the fruition of labor and growth, beginning with the sowing of the seeds, then the growing period, and finally fruit for the harvest.

The key here is that the word of God is sown only in the hearts of receptive men and women who submit to God and honor Him in their Lord and King, Jesus Christ.

Lambs in the midst of wolves refers to the second coming of Christ, when all will be united under the Lordship of Jesus after He has put down His enemies and established the reign of God over the heavens and the earth.

In the meantime, the disciples are to expect resistance and persecution from those who oppose the gospel. Jesus came as our sacrificial lamb to atone for the sin of the world. We, too, must be willing to sacrifice our lives in humble service of the Lord.

What is the Kingdom of God? Jesus said: "The Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment." To the scribe who understood these words, Jesus told him that he was not far from the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is recognizing that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and thus are called to respect each other and the dignity of every human being.

Jesus ends His instructions with a warning: if people reject God's invitation and refuse his word, then they bring condemnation on themselves.

When God gives us his word, there comes with it the great responsibility to respond. Indifference will not do. We are either for or against God in how we respond to his word.

May our response be like that of St. Francis of Assisi when he said: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is discord, harmony; Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light, and Where there is sadness, joy.

"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in forgetting self that we find ourselves; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."