The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2019 – Cycle C
Jeremiah 17: 5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15: 12, 16 – 20; Luke 6: 17, 20 – 26.
Have you ever considered how the beliefs of a small group of fishermen, manual labourers and women living in a backwater part of the Roman Empire would ever be noticed and within 300 years decreed the imperial religion by Emperor Theodosius? Would any of us take note of any distinct group of 40, 50, maybe 60 people in any cosmopolitan city today? Who pays attention?
What was so different about Christians? In contrast to the Greco – Roman world, Christians brought the sick and the dying into the midst of their community and cared for them. There gatherings broke down the class barriers between the poor and the rich, slave and free, women and men; all were equal. Those who had an abundance of material goods shared with those who were less fortunate. Now understand this was not a perfect community by any means. We just need to read the letters of Paul to the Corinthian Church which was very fractured.
Yet, without any infrastructure that we are familiar with: parishes, chanceries, universities, hospitals, outreach, food pantries, cathedrals, international charitable agencies, diplomatic corps, a culture of art and music, people took note of Christians. What caught their attention? What caught their attention was the manner in which they lived their lives. A manner which challenged the empire and eventually conquered it. Is that still true today?
Theodosius did Christianity no favours. Because there always arises a problem for Christianity when the altar of the church is positioned too close to the throne of political power. Regretfully when this happens history has borne out that the Church loses sight of her purpose. Like the fruit in the garden, power is always pleasing to the eye and desirable since Eve and Adam.
Why the history lesson?
For almost 50 years as a nation we have been struggling over the issue of abortion. It is one of the most barbed of issues. Various people, philosophies and religious traditions disagree on the beginnings of human life or the end for that matter. Science and medicine keep revealing more about human development. The issue has been couched in the language of personal rights. It is expressed as primarily involving only one gender, women, while being used as a cudgel against the other gender, irresponsible men.
Every anniversary of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, Catholics and many other Christians and people of faith and good will protest in Washington in the March for Life. For many people this is an appropriate manner in which to give voice to their religious faith and beliefs about human life and bring their values into the public square.
The issue is such a firebrand that it can make or break a political candidacy. A candidate’s position on abortion has become a litmus test for many of the electorate from the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justices to other elected offices.
Now in New York State with the signing into law of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, 22 January 2019, we not only have a law that extends abortion but now there are calls for the excommunication from the Catholic community of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
And there is no resolution in sight.
I myself have grown weary over the misdirecting language, the photographs and the name calling of sincere people on either side of the issue. The demonizing must stop. This is not Christian behaviour. And has anything really been accomplished? Rather than accusations, should not the women and men, fathers and mothers, the children and families be at the center of our conversation?
Is trying to change the law of the land the most persuasive of ways for Christians to dialogue with people about our “good news” of human life, sexuality and human dignity? Law, like facts, do not change people’s minds. As each of us have lived through in our lives, experience, often personal experience is what causes us to rethink an issue, change our minds and then our actions.
So while respecting my fellow coreligionists who use the method of public protest and the legislative process to address the issue of abortion, is there another route that is open to us alongside the present path? As Jesus taught, might we reclaim being yeast in the dough?
In the early centuries people took note of our Christian ancestors by the manner in which they lived their lives. That has always been the hallmark of Gospel living. Jesus said to us: “You are the light of the world… your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”. [See Matthew 5:14 – 16]
As the early community brought the sick and the dying into their midst, would we, every parish and diocese, be willing to make the sacrifice to assist in making the responsibilities of motherhood, fatherhood and parenting less daunting? Would we be willing to put our money, hard cash, where we say our beliefs are in the honour and dignity of every human being to be welcomed and cared for? In essence, create an atmosphere in which people would feel safe to bring a child into this world knowing someone would walk with them.
Consider how eloquent and persuasive ‘example’ is rather than ‘imposition’ from on high. Jesus picking up a woman caught in the act of adultery and sending her home. Saint Teresa of Kolkata bathing and holding one dying person at a time into eternity. Saint Francis of Assisi embracing and kissing an ostracized leper as a brother. Saint Martin of Tours cutting and sharing his cloak with a poor beggar. Christianity, Catholicism, at this time in our history, needs humility and eloquence to be persuasive.
Isn’t that what Pope Francis is trying to convey in making the analogy of a field hospital with the church? He is attacked for it, to be sure, since it is easier to shout down another person than walk with them in dialogue. It is easier to claim self – righteous judgment then offer help.
Our Catholic tradition has come to be clear about human life, its beginnings and its endings, its eternal meanings and values.
How much money and /or time on a regular basis would you be willing to give to support mothers, fathers and their children so that the abortion of a human being would not even be a consideration? What kind of example would this give to people outside of the Catholic Church about how seriously we take the issue of human life?