About the "Right to Choose"

(Homily 15th Sunday, B)

Boy, can I identify with Amos: "I am no prophet nor a prophet's son." (Amos 7:14 RSV) Like him I would prefer doing things I am qualified for such as reading books, fishing and playing with my niece's children. But then the Lord said to him, "Go, prophecy to my people Israel." (v.15)

What's more, Jesus today sends out his disciples with a message of repentance (Mk. 6:12). Before we can drive out demons and heal the sick (v.13) we must tell people to turn their lives around. The word repentance applies not just to behavior, but to our thinking. Metanoia literally means, "change your mind." It can also mean, "take a new direction."

Everyone has heard about plane accidents which claim hundreds of lives. The airplane begins descending and the pilot does not realize it - until it is too late. Something like that could happen to us individually or even as a society. We might be headed for a crash and not recognize it. That's why Jesus instructed his disciples to preach repentance. Change your mind. Take a new direction. Pull out of the free fall - before you destroy yourself and others.

This Sunday I want to point out one crucial area where our society is in a free fall: our acceptance of the catch phrase, a woman's right to choose. Now, at this point some of you might turn me off because you think I am speaking against certain politicians or even against women. I can only ask you to give me a hearing because this issue transcends politics and "gender." It strikes at the heart of who we are and where we are going.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles recently wrote a column about "a woman's right to choose." What he said was, "please finish the sentence." We cannot talk about an abstract right to choose. Choice always has an object.

Let me illustrate. Suppose I go to a party and run into an old friend. She tells me about the many things she has done: where she went to school, who she married, where they decided to live, how many children they had, etc. I congratulate her because I respect all the different choices she has made. She may even tell me about a few times she blew it. I sympathize, tell her not to feel so bad, maybe share some way I messed things up. These are all choices, good or bad.

But at the same time I notice she is making another choice - to drink a second and third martini. For sure I accept her "right" to get a little high. However, I soon face a dilemma. The party is over and she heads for her car, keys in hand. If I am a true friend, I cannot say, "Oh, I respect her right to choose." Choose what? To permanently injure herself? To kill another human being? Some friend if I let her do that.

I hope the example makes clear I am not telling anyone to be a "busybody." Most of us, myself included, have enough trouble getting our own lives together. Jesus does not want us to start running other people's. He requires us rather to examine where we need to repent and do it. However, there comes a point when we must get involved - when we see someone about to seriously damage themselves or another human being.

Last week I joined a group in their weekly prayer vigil before Planned Parenthood of Seattle. During the two hours we saw many people, mainly young women, enter and leave. We were prepared to offer any help so they would make a choice for life, but none took a pamphlet or even looked at us. I thought of those who had come to me in confession with such anguish because they had chosen death.

The problem with "a woman's right to choose" is not just that some make a decision they later deeply regret. For them there is hope because regret can lead to repentance, forgiveness and healing. The deeper problem with the "right to choose" is that it masks a philosophy of despair. It has its roots in Nietzsche's talk about going "beyond good and evil." What he meant was that the ultimate reality is Will and what makes something good is the fact one strongly desires it. On the surface it sounds great, but it results in the destruction of ones very humanity. And the person who embraces the "right to choose" philosophy can never repent. They have committed the unforgivable sin because they can never acknowledge a need for forgiveness. As the Greeks said, "If water sticks in your throat, with what will you quench your thirst?"

We might be even more reluctant than Amos, but still we must question this "right to choose" talk. And not just because it facilitates abortion. What's ultimately at stake is a whole way of thinking which has entered our culture and - let's be honest - has affected each of us. It is most often expressed in positive terms of tolerance, diversity, non-judgmentalism. You do your thing and I'll do my thing. You have your truth; I have mine.

Fortunately human beings cannot go long without a passion for some value beyond themselves. Consider the reaction here in Seattle when the park service announced it was going to eliminate some three thousand geese dirtying our public areas. So many people jumped to their defense that the officials backed off the earlier plan to offer free goose dinners. I understand a memorial service is being planned if the animals are indeed slain...

Of course this is exactly what we need to discuss - the value of a goose and the value of an unborn child. It's time to stop muddling things with vague talk about "right to choose." Choose what? Please finish the sentence. Only then can we grapple with the meaning of our choices - and hear Jesus' call to take responsibility for our decisions, to repent of those which lead to death and to embrace the hope only He can offer.


From Archives (15th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Building on Strength Week 2: Teaching Authority of Church
2012: The Source
2009: Repent and Pray
2006: No Money in Their Belts
2003: No Money in Their Belts (same title, different homily)
2000: About the "Right to Choose"

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Cardinal Mahoney: On a Woman's "Right to Choose" - Please Finish the Sentence

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