Fr Peter West – Homily at Holy Family, February 17, 2008

Priests for Life is dedicated to preaching about the sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.  We teach, as the Church teaches, that each human being is made in the image and likeness of God.  Each human being is unique, precious and unrepeatable.

We hold to a consistent ethic of life, and so, for example, we are opposed to the use of the death penalty.  We believe there are more humane ways of protecting society and punishing criminals without resorting to executing people. But, we place our emphasis on the issues of abortion and euthanasia, because these have become the pre-eminent threats to human life and dignity in our time.

Pope John Paul II has said "The Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the human person and the Gospel of Life are a single and indivisible Gospel."  So then to be unconditionally pro-life is something that all of us are called to believe and proclaim to others. It is not something optional or added on to the Gospel, but rather it is at the heart of the Gospel message.

I would like to reflect on our Gospel today on the Transfiguration in the light of this teaching about the sanctity of human life. St. Bede the Venerable says that Jesus is transfigured to strengthen his disciples for the suffering they would have to endure in the future.  St. Ephrem says that Jesus also wanted to show that he is not powerless to prevent what is happening to him, but rather he is truly God and is laying down his life voluntarily.  Many in our society think that suffering is the greatest evil and do everything to avoid it, but it is through the cross that Jesus redeemed the world. 

St. Leo the Great said that besides strengthening his disciples and removing the scandal of the cross, Jesus also is revealing to his disciples the glory that they and all the faithful, as the body of Christ, will share some day.  By his transfiguration Jesus manifests his glory and reveals to us our destiny.  We were created by God to share with him eternal glory.  Human life is sacred because we were created by God. We remain in a special relationship with God throughout our life and we are directed to God as our final end.

In the book of Jeremiah God says to Jeremiah "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1, 5) Psalm 8 says “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:3-5)

Karl Marx, Auguste Comte and other atheists over the centuries have claimed that since Christians were so concerned about going to heaven, they didn’t care about establishing justice on this earth.  The charge is unfair, because we believe that it is only through ordering the things of this world according to the plan of God that we can hope to share heavenly glory.

In the Second Vatican Council document on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) the Church taught ”the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.”

This is especially true as we confront what Pope John Paul II called a ‘culture of death’.  On his last visit to the United States in 1999 in St. Louis, he spoke about a “conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered "unuseful" – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection.”

Since the unjust Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 there have been over 48 million abortions.  In fact, today in the United States one out of every five pregnancies ends in abortion.  A lack of respect for life in its' beginning stages has also led to a lack of respect for life in its' end stages. Today we here more calls for euthanasia or ‘mercy killing’.  What Pope John Paul II called ‘a false mercy’. In 1997, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide.   This has put the poor, minorities, frail, depressed, those who lack insurance and those who could be branded as an economic liability most at risk.   While Oregon will pay to help a person to commit suicide they won’t pay for adequate pain management, living assistance or some life saving treatments. 

Sometimes we might feel that we're powerless to overcome the culture of death, but I don't believe that's true. All of us can do something.  In your bulletins today you will find a pamphlet from Priests for Life entitled You Can Save Someone’s Life Today.   It will give you practical suggestions that you can use to put an end to the tragedy of abortion in our nation.  We know we have to do more than simply say that abortion is wrong.  We have to help women.  So at the top of the page we list five different pregnancy resource hotline numbers where women can call and get the help that they need before and after they give birth for as long as they need it.  These resource centers provide food, clothing, shelter, medical help, legal help, whatever they might need in order to bring their baby to term.   There is also information on adoption, a loving alternative to abortion. By sharing this information with a woman in need, you truly can help to save a life.  There’s an old Jewish proverb that says if you save one life, it’s as if you saved the entire world.

We also promote post-abortion healing and reconciliation. We don’t condemn people.  We want to extend a helping hand.  We promote Project Rachel - the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church and Rachel's Vineyard retreats in order to help both men and women who have been involved in abortions to find healing and peace.

The Church also teaches us that voting is not only our right, it is our duty and we have a duty to use our vote to advance the cause of  life, especially the cause of God's children who are unborn disabled or are otherwise vulnerable. Some people have asked me recently “But father, there are other issues, what about the war in Iraq?”  The American Bishops have addressed this topic in their recent document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” released in November of 2007, the Bishops write “We support a ‘responsible transition’ that ends the war in a way that recognizes the continuing threat of fanatical extremism and global terror, minimizes the loss of life, and addresses the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the refugee crisis in the region, and the need to protect human rights, especially religious freedom.”   As we can see, the Bishops position is not consistent with a precipitous withdrawl of troops from Iraq.

The Church clearly puts direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, in a separate category than other issues. While abortion is not the only issue, it can be a disqualifying issue.  In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” the American Bishops state “A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.  Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”  I encourage you to read the document in its entirety.

The transfiguration reminds us of the unique dignity of each and every human being.  Just before he left the United States in 1987, in a speech at Detroit Airport, Pope John Paul II said something I think is prophetic about human dignity and America when he said:

“Every human person-no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society-is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival--yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

All of us have a role to play in protecting the lives of the defenseless, being a voice for the voiceless and building a culture of life. Gaudium et Spes speaks to us of the fruits of our efforts: 

“For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: "a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace." On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.”