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Bishop's Homily for the Mass for the Protection of Life

This gospel is not about our decisions, but putting God’s choices first.

By Bishop Larry Silva
January 21, 2021

[Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu]

It is always puzzling to many of us how issues of life and death can be so convoluted these days.  There is such unbelievable confusion with regard to these issues that good people who want to do the right thing can easily be led astray.  There are those who demonize people who are pro-life, but there are also people who demonize those who have a so-called “pro-Choice” persuasion.  It is this kind of demonization that is at the root of this most critical – indeed vital! – issue.

63 million babies have lost their lives in abortion since the United States Supreme Court ruled that a woman had a right to choose to abort her child.  Abortion is an accepted cultural practice among many.  Yet here we are socially distancing and wearing masks in order to preserve life!  We can also be selective in our moral stands about life and death issues.  “Black lives matter,” many boldly proclaim, while Black babies’ lives or gang members’ lives do not seem to matter much at all.  We shout, “Thou shall not kill,” as a commandment of God when it comes to abortion, yet we look the other way when the issue is capital punishment.  We rightly consider suicide a great tragedy, which we spend significant resources to try to prevent, yet we allow people who are suffering a terminal illness to legally put themselves to death.  What are the causes of such confusion?  Unless we reflect upon the root causes of these inconsistencies and contradictions, it is unlikely we will make much significant progress in promoting a respect for all life, in all its stages.

Our Gospel gives us a context for the first root of our respect for life and of the rootlessness of those who do not.  This is a gospel about God’s action in our midst, not about our decisions or choices, but putting God’s choices first.  We see Mary, a young woman engaged to be married and probably dreaming of a life with her beloved Joseph and the many children they would have together.  Yet God had a different plan.  Yes, he wanted Mary and Joseph joined together, but in a virginal relationship.  There was a child, but it was through God’s initiative, not theirs, that this child was conceived.  Yes, they both had to consent to playing their own parts in this saving drama, but it was God who was the playwright, unfolding the script in a way they could never have imagined on their own.  We also see Elizabeth, who also had her own aspirations of children with her dear husband Zechariah, but she was barren until she passed the age of childbearing.  Yet it was God who made it possible for them to have a child in their old age.  Mary’s beautiful canticle is of praise to God.  She acknowledges that she, too, will be called blessed, but only because her “soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

Our current problem is what I often refer to as “ego-theism,” the prevailing belief that “I” am god, and therefore “I” make all the ultimate decisions about truth, life and death.  With this attitude, it is hard to persuade someone of the falsehood of his or her argument in favor of abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia or capital punishment.  We need to recognize that not everyone worships the true and living God.  Some may even consider the true God competition, who is to be silenced, if not eliminated.  So if we are to make any progress, we must assert that we are not gods ourselves but that we do not need to be, because we were wonderfully made by God, and if we are true to the true God, he will bless us with the “breadth and length and height and depth” of love, so that God can “accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.”  Our prayer and worship are essential foundations to promoting a true respect for all life.

Then there is the issue of conflicting values.  Of course, if we are faithful to God, there is a consistency rather than conflict, even when things may seem complex.  So, for example, many who support the legal right to abortion do so because they truly believe they are championing the cause of women, who – let us admit – have often been the victims of unjust discrimination and violence.  Supporting the dignity and equality of women is a good value to have.  But once it means breaking through the so-called glass ceiling with the body of one’s own baby, a line has been crossed in which the dignity of one person is bought by sacrificing another person, who, after all, cannot complain or protest very much.  Or there is the value of standards of care.  I think we can all agree that a woman who seeks an abortion from a back-alley butcher is endangering her own health and welfare.  So we move abortion to a clean, medical environment.  Either way, there is a dead baby, even though the mother may be safer in the sanitized environment.  We therefore begin to legalize abortion thinking that we are being compassionate toward women so that they do not seek dangerous back-alley or home remedies.  But either way, there is a dead baby, and no mother could possibly be unaffected by losing her own baby.  I once heard someone defend public funding of abortions, arguing that without it only the rich would be able to get abortions.  So there is the good value of equality that is twisted to allow everyone equal access to evil.  And if there can be dead-beat dads, who can just walk away from the children they helped conceive , doesn’t equality demand that moms should also be able to walk away from those children, for the sake of equality?

This is the perennial modus operandi of Satan, who lures us into doing such evil things, not by attracting us to evil but by deceiving us that it is something good.  It is precisely this major temptation that causes well-intentioned people to perform unspeakable acts of violence against life.  If we are grounded in God, however, we will be able to better discern good from evil and will be less likely to call good evil or evil good.  So conflicting values is one way that we are led astray in these issues of life and death.

A third issue, I believe, is a loss of a sense of the value of suffering.  If the two women we see in today’s gospel knew that one of those babies in the womb would be beheaded and the other crucified, would they have wanted these terrible fates for their children?  Of course not!  Yet because they knew that they were wonderfully made by God and their children were as well, they nurtured and cared for them, teaching them to always be faithful to God and to accept God’s will in their lives, even if it seemed harsh.  Mary, after all, could have been stoned to death for having a child with someone other than her husband, yet she accepted that risk – with all is embarrassments and sufferings – so that she could be the lowly servant of the Lord.  Elizabeth, too, as an old woman, was accepting the possibility of great sufferings as well.  We know that even for a young woman the latter months of pregnancy can be quite challenging, so how much more must they have been for an old woman?  Young people have the energy to raise little children, who themselves are so demanding, so how would an old couple be able to keep up?  Isn’t this why Mary spent three months with Elizabeth at the end of Elizabeth’s pregnancy?  I am sure Mary was not sitting around the house eating bon-bons, but helping with the chores to made Elizabeth’s burdens and sufferings more bearable.

In many ways I believe our culture turns away from the first sign of suffering.  When there is a burden, we think we have a right to have it taken away from us.  Or we throw out the burden, not realizing there may just be a great treasure hidden within it.  This is why our faith in Jesus Christ is so important, and our being instruments of sharing that faith with others.  He knew how to suffer, to be criticized, persecuted, accepting all as God’s will.  And in the end, after what seemed to be the most spectacular defeat, he overcame death, so that he could be for us the Bread of Life.  Yes, a woman who carries her child to term may have to suffer much in pregnancy, childbirth and in raising that child.  A family whose loved one has been cruelly murdered suffers a great deal and may think their suffering will end when the murderer is murdered.  A terminally ill patient may suffer much pain and anxiety and see his or her family suffer as well and feel a need to end it all.  Yet if we learn from the Son of God and the Son of Mary, we will be better able to accompany others in their suffering, to accept sufferings ourselves, and to ultimately rejoice in God, because in him we ourselves and all, the youngest and most vulnerable to the oldest and the most powerful, will realize how wonderfully we are made.  Then, no matter what sufferings there may be, our souls will proclaim the greatness of the Lord.