October brings various life issues to forefront
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
All life from natural conception to natural death is always a precious gift of God. This is so easy to forget in a society like our own.
The fruit of our common sinfulness is the culture of death (Gen 3:22, Rom 6:23). In refusing to love Christ, we can worship only the self. This is always the way in which sin destroys. Sin, the choice not to love or obey God in this one thing, easily becomes the refusal to love or obey God at all. Therefore the sinner turns in on himself, and begins to glorify his own will, his own desires. The more we sin, the harder and more bitter our hearts become, until our hearts, poisoned by pain, can only desire to share with others this same suffering. The catalogue of social horrors – abortion, contraception, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, promiscuity, pornography, rapacious greed, easy divorce, drug abuse, alcoholism, violent crime, dehumanizing relationships, domestic violence – all these are the consequences of our sins, the bloody sacrifices demanded by the insatiable god, “Self.”
Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no escape from sin. Even at its best, the culture of death has only ever been able to control the effects of sin by the threat of ruthless retribution. This is why today we see people cheering for the use of the death penalty, and indifferent to the suffering of the old, the sick, and the child in the womb. This violence seems a necessary price to pay, to keep still greater violence in check.
But Christian culture does not think or act this way. Our Lord tells us, “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows. Never will I offer their offerings of blood; never will I take their name upon my lips” (Ps 16:4). The death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ defeats the power of sin. The mercy of our Lord’s infinite love pours out into the world, in the blood and water which flowed from His pierced side. This mercy, the power to forgive sins and heal wounded hearts, the power that makes charity greater than suffering, is the grace which Christ gives to His Church. God uses the Church to make His grace available to the entire world.
RESPECT LIFE MONTH
Our mission as the baptized, as those who belong only to Christ and no longer to the idol of self-gratification, is to make this mercy count in the world. Christ’s Resurrection makes a difference. We have to live so as to show what that difference is. Indeed, Christ wants to use each of us as His hands and voice in the world, to bring others – our family, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers – to embrace Him at the foot of the Cross. This is why we celebrate Respect Life Month each October. We need to be reminded and recalled to this great mission, and strengthened again in our commitment to carry it out.
We need renewal in our commitment to love. No person is expendable. Every single person, especially the weakest and most vulnerable – the old and sick whose lives seem not worth living, the child in the womb whose arrival is embarrassing or feared – is loved by God, and therefore must be loved by us. Our lives must show forth this Christ-like and Christian love, constantly and consistently.
We also need to be reminded that the Church is not a political institution. The “agenda” of the Church in our nation’s public life, especially in reference to fundamental moral issues, is not a party platform. We can’t vote on it, we can’t pick and choose among its “planks,” and we can’t change it to suit different circumstances. We can’t respect the lives of some, while ignoring assaults on the lives of others. The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ, one and eternal, and we receive it as the gift of grace. We can only either accept it fully to serve Christ, or reject it fully to serve self.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, said this again in his recent trip to Germany: “In the concrete history of the Church, however, a contrary tendency is also manifested, namely that the Church becomes self-satisfied, settles down in this world, becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. Not infrequently, she gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness towards God, her vocation to opening up the world towards the other. In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God.” (Sept 25, Address to Catholics Engaged in the Life of the Church and Society, Freiberg im Breisgau).
This is also the reason why the Church insists on the legal protection of religious freedom. “Freedom to worship” is not an adequate protection, because worship is only part of the gift of faith. Social action rooted in both natural law and Christ’s moral teachings is part and parcel of faith in Him, and these cannot be divided from acts of worship by mere human law. Believers must be free to act on their religious convictions, always in keeping with the natural law, lest our society become tyrannical. I thank Archbishop Dolan, Archbishop of New York, for his September 20 letter to President Obama, challenging his administration’s many and continuing actions which violate natural law and religious freedom. The Church will never condone or submit to such laws.
The mission of the Church is to save souls. Our engagement in the world is a means to that end. It is a necessary means, to be sure, because we cannot show the compelling power of Christ’s love by failing to love our neighbor. But this means of engagement will only be as fruitful as our embrace of the Cross. In the same address, Pope Benedict also said, “Her (i.e., the Church’s) raison d’être consists in being a tool of redemption, in letting herself be saturated by God’s word and in bringing the world into loving unity with God.” The culture of life is only as convincing to our neighbor as we, by rejecting sin and living in the sacraments of Christ, allow Him to live in us.
For this, we are “always in need of renewal.” But the most beautiful thing about Christ’s mercy is that it is always new when we ask for it. God longs for us to turn back to Him, so that He can fill us with His mercy and grace.
As we begin Respect Life Month, and as we today, September 29, celebrate the great feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. I ask and challenge all of us to renew our total commitment to the Cross, rejecting once again every self-gratification and glamour of evil, so that the mercy of our Lord will overflow in our hearts into the lives of our neighbors. Let the bloody sacrifices of the culture of death meet their own death in the living mercy of God, alive within us. Whenever this dedication seems hard, we can follow the paths of the Archangels. Saint Raphael, who guided and protected Tobit, likewise guides and protects the pilgrim Church seeking her Bridegroom. Saint Michael, the prince of the Heavenly host, shares with us his impassioned strength and clear vision to recognize evil. Saint Gabriel, who brought the Word of God to Mary at the Annunciation, teaches us to open our hearts also to Christ the Word.
May the grace, peace, and consolations of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts every day! Please continue to pray for me, that I may worthily lead you as your shepherd in Christ. Please pray for all our priests, deacons, and religious, and most especially for each other, just as I pray for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
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