BEARING WITNESS TO CHRIST, THE SURE FOUNDATION OF OUR LIFE
Homily for Mass on the Occasion of the Walk for Life West Coast
Feast of St. Francis de Sales
June 24, 2015; St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco, CA
Some months ago a report was published on the results of a survey of Catholics, at different levels of belief and practice of the faith, on current issues. One question asked was what the person’s most important priority was when it came to deciding how to vote. Naturally – as the results of the survey were reported – an overwhelming majority of diocesan respect life directors said, “to outlaw abortion.”
Now, I don’t know what these respect life directors actually, literally said; I just know that it got reported that way. But let’s be clear: our vision, the ultimate reason we are here, is not simply to make abortion illegal. Yes, the law is a teacher, many people determine what is right and wrong based on what is legal or illegal, and so it would be an immense help to us in achieving our vision if abortion were outlawed. That, though, would simply be a means to an end. In fact, if all we accomplished were to make abortion illegal and nothing more, we would still be far, far from our vision.
Our True Vision
Our goal is not a legal one, nor is it a political one. Our goal is a spiritual one: to build a culture of life, to live in a society in which it is unthinkable that a woman would want to take recourse to abortion – or, as it tragically happens far more often than not, is given no support to make any other decision than seek an abortion. How often those of us who have given ourselves to building a culture of life – whether in Church ministry, in Christian counselling, in post-abortion healing, or in other ways – how often we have heard a woman say, “I didn’t want to go through with it, but I felt like I had no choice.” That is the hypocrisy of the “pro-choice” ideology: its promoters care about giving women only one choice, and one choice is no choice (that is, in order for there to be a choice, there have to be at least two options to choose from).
So let us be clear: our vision is pro-life and pro-woman; the two go together, for only to the woman has God given the awesome gift of being able to conceive a new human life inside her body, a new human being with an immortal soul, and to support and nurture that life through birth and beyond. Woman is all about life. The ever-growing pro-life movement among the younger generation is proof that this truth will just not go away, as demonstrated by the fact that, once again, our celebration of the annual Walk for Life West Coast this year is dominated by huge numbers of young people.
YOU ARE THE PRO-LIFE GENERATION. You understand: one-third of your generation is not here, because they were victims of “choice.” But what, really, does it mean to be “pro-life”? It means, first of all, to respect that awesome gift of generativity, especially as God has entrusted that gift to women; but for men and women alike, to respect that awesome gift in your behavior, your attitudes, your language, your manner of dress – in a myriad of ways, little and big.
Bearing Witness to Christ
Ultimately, though, to be pro-life means to witness to Jesus Christ: he is the one who first gave us life in creating us, and has given us new and eternal life by his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead on the third day. In the homily he gave at Mass the day after his election to the Chair of Peter, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of witnessing to Jesus Christ. He said:
To witness … We can walk when we want to, we can build many things, but if we do not witness to Jesus Christ then it doesn’t matter. We might become a philanthropic NGO but we wouldn’t be the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we don’t go forward we stop … we go backwards. When we don’t build on rock, what happens? The same thing that happens to children when they build sandcastles at the beach. They wind up falling down because they have no solidity.
Build your lives on Jesus Christ: he is the only sure, rock foundation who will support you in all your ways. Know him well, for then you will know his “inscrutable riches” and “manifold wisdom” of which St. Paul speaks in his Letter to the Ephesians which we just heard proclaimed. St. Paul says that in Christ we have “boldness of speech.” This “boldness of speech” carries with it the sense of a certain public quality, of something coming before the public or of being known publicly. And that is what we are about today: a very public manifestation on behalf of the sanctity of human life. What we do today gives us renewed energy to continue the work of building a culture of life, in all of its various aspects. And so we bear witness to Christ.
The very large number of us gathered today, yes, gives us a sense of strength and security. But that boldness of speech that Christ gives us in order to bear witness to him is meant to be brought into every situation, especially when our public stance can make us vulnerable to stigmatization or other forms of social alienation. But this is where our witness to Christ is most powerful. Yes, there are very many ways we are called to bear him witness in less dramatic but perhaps even more important ways:
- Your friend just finds out she’s expecting a child and is afraid to tell her parents; she’s scared and wants a quick and easy way out. You embrace her, stand by her, help her break the news, help her to make a happy, healthy, life-giving choice, one she will never regret: you have borne witness to Christ.
- The topic comes up in discussion in your class; everyone is for “choice” and you stand all alone. You dismantle their arguments by explaining that it is not about choice but about protecting human life and showing real love to the mothers struggling in crisis situations so that they can make a happy You speak the truth in love: you have borne witness to Christ.
- In a group of your peers, you’re pressured to violate that gift of generativity that God gave you, to use it as just a plaything, as if it were something trivial to use at your whim, rather than respect it with the sacredness for which God designed it, the physical expression of an unconditional gift of yourself to the other and to any children you together bring into the world. You stay strong in your principles, preserve your integrity, and do what you know is right despite ridicule and rejection: you have borne witness to Christ.
This bold confidence that St. Paul speaks about is only possible for those who know Jesus Christ. Such is the one who knows Christ’s “inscrutable riches” and “manifold wisdom,” who receives this precious gift with a willing and eager heart, because such a one knows that this is truly Good News.
To you, our dear young people, I want to say that this is possible for you, yes, here and now, in your concrete circumstances of life. Today at this Mass we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, the sixteenth century bishop and spiritual master. St. Francis taught that sanctification is the call, and the possibility, for everyone, in every walk of life. Everyone can practice true devotion, but always in keeping with their proper vocation and state of life. So, my young people, that includes you, here and now.
Know Jesus Christ: be consistent in your prayer, in your practice of the faith, in your respect for God’s awesome gift of generativity and His whole plan of how it is meant to be a blessing for us, not an inconvenient consequence to be avoided. Yes, that is difficult: it involves sacrifice, self-discipline, and sometimes the loss of popularity. But you will never become a wise person by simply going along with the flow, you will never attain the depths of the inscrutable riches of Christ by conforming to a secular orthodoxy inimical to God’s plan for our happiness, you will never be that wise person whose mouth “murmurs wisdom.” No, people who do that will never attain anything more than mediocrity in life.
Christ calls you to excellence: here and now, in your youth. And you are capable of it, because he makes you capable. You, today, are the ones he calls his friends in the gospel, you are the ones he sends, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will remain, fruit that is a culture which affirms human dignity in every stage and condition of life. And Christ gives you plenty of opportunities for excellence nowadays, precisely because the forces of the dominant culture today speak and act so strongly against this vision of life.
So know Jesus, love him and cling to him. Build your lives on him, your one sure, firm foundation, so that you may speak his wisdom in the face of hostility and intolerance, you may speak the truth in love while enduring hatred and harassment for doing so. That is what turns the spiritually feeble into saints, and saints you are called to be, here and now. He will give you the words you need, the strength you need, to bear him witness, to excel in wisdom and holiness, and to leave the legacy of a pro-life generation for all of the generations to come after you. If you do, those younger generations will look up to you and, I am convinced, give your generation the name you will deserve: “The New Greatest Generation.”