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Following is the homily delivered by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross Oct. 7, Respect Life Sunday.
In the Gospel today, we heard the fervent prayer of the Apostles: “Increase our faith.” We too came together today to ask our God to increase our faith. There are many pitfalls in life. The light of faith helps us to find the right path. Reason also helps us to find that path. Faith and reason help us to discover the truth. They do not contradict one another.
We gather here to celebrate the truth that human life is precious and worthy of our protection and nurture. We do not judge or condemn those who disagree, but we warn them that they are on a path that leads to chaos and self-destruction.
In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” the prisoners chained in a cave for a lifetime, come to think that the shadows on the wall are real objects. When a prisoner escapes into the sun, sees reality and returns, the other prisoners think he is crazy and become angry with him.
Those of us who have seen the rays of the sun and understand that human life is precious and must be protected must share that knowledge with our brothers and sisters in the cave, even if they do not want to hear us. People’s moral sense has been dulled to the point that some have come to accept abortion as a social good.
Our firm conviction is that life is an inalienable right of each brother and sister made in the image and likeness of God. Faith and reason both illumine this truth. When faith is weak or absent, when reason is clouded by emotion, passion or selfishness, we lose our way.
Like the Apostles, we pray, “Increase our faith.” We live in a culture that is hostile to the values of the Gospel. Our culture has become so highly individualistic, as a people we are addicted to entertainment, and submerged in materialism. Money has become a god to many people.
We live and breathe in this culture of unbelief. How can we increase our faith?
First of all, we should ask ourselves what faith is. It is not just a superficial optimism; it is not just a collection of dogmas. Faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Without faith, we lead a rudderless existence drifting in chaos.
There is a strong relationship between faith and prayer. Prayer keeps the flame of faith alive in our hearts. The witness of our fellow believers is also an important factor, beginning with the lives of the saints who are our heroes and heroines in the Christian life. Our friendship with other believers is a fellowship that strengthens our faith and our shared ideals.
Living a life of faith is also living a life of service. Jesus came as the suffering servant. As his disciples, we too are called to serve. We should not congratulate ourselves for simply doing our duty; rather we should be grateful that God gave us the grace and inspiration to do something good and noble, to serve alongside Jesus who came to serve, to wash the feet of his disciples, to give us an example. It is a trust in him that will enable us to pattern our lives on his teachings, to find meaning in his promises, and to live as his friend and disciple.
I often have a story that I learned of many years ago about a family with a sad history. The daughter was ashamed of her mother’s appearance because her Mom’s hands were terribly disfigured. After the mother died, the daughter learned that her Mom had rescued her from a fire and burned her hands severely in that act of heroism to save her baby.
The woman felt so ashamed and regretted the years when she ignored her mother’s love and sacrifice. It is even more tragic that Jesus gave up his life for me, and I take it for granted or react with indifference to God’s love for me.
Our faith allows us to discover God’s love. Then faith is the pearl of great price for which we should be willing to sell all to acquire that gem. Discovering God’s love we discover who we are, made in his image and likeness, we learn why we are in this world and what we need to do with our lives.
What are we up against?
January 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States removed every legal protection from human beings prior to birth. The effects have been devastating:
v The deaths of millions of children in their mother’s womb;
v Countless women traumatized so deeply by abortion that they spend years struggling to find peace, healing and reconciliation;
v Men grieve because they could not choose to protect a child they helped bring into existence;
v Our society is increasingly coarsened by toleration and acceptance of acts that purposely destroy human life.
These attacks on human life are carried out in the family and with the active involvement of those in the healing professions -- who have traditionally protected the weak and vulnerable. Often, the abortion is done at the urging of the father who rather than protecting his child, believes that his only obligation is to pay for the abortion. And now Amnesty International has come out supporting abortion. It is sick.
True commitment to women’s rights puts us in solidarity with women and their unborn children. It does not pit one against the other but calls us to advocate on behalf of both.
As believers, disciples of Jesus and followers of the Lord in his Church, we need to work to promote the Gospel of Life. It takes courage in the midst of so many adherents to the Culture of Death, to say yes to life.
Abortion is violence against women and children. As people of faith we cannot be indifferent to their plight. Our efforts to end abortion go hand in hand with efforts to help women in a difficult pregnancy and to reach out to those whose lives have been shattered by abortion. All of this is part of our mission as Jesus’ disciples to build a civilization of love. Our task is to change laws, but mostly to change hearts. We must love and pray for those who disagree with us and work tirelessly to help them see the precious gift of life and to want to nurture and protect it.
With the Apostles, we pray, “Lord, increase our faith, make us those mustard seeds, small and insignificant but able to change the landscape, bring light into the cave, make our country safer for women and children. Amen.”