Respect Life Mass – October 3, 2021
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This year, as we traditionally celebrate this Respect Life Sunday, we’re invited to focus upon Saint Joseph and his place within the Holy Family. As the great defender of the life of our Savior, Jesus, and of Mary his mother, we implore his intercession on our behalf as we seek to live as disciples of Jesus.
Just as significant as his intercessory power, however, Saint Joseph teaches us by the example of his life how to live our lives as authentic Christians. In the gospels, Saint Joseph is described as a man of deep faith, who, despite his uncertainty about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, is willing to set aside his own judgements and instead place his trust unwaveringly in the power of God. For Saint Joseph, God was in control and that was all that mattered.
During the course of the past year and a half, our world has battled the coronavirus that, in so many respects, has consumed our lives. Yet, for all of the different perspectives that have been brought to bear upon this pandemic, one thing is clear. Despite our creativity, our ingenuity and our resolve to care for our world and to determine our future according to our own plan, we are not in control! That power, as Saint Joseph reminds us, belongs to God.
Sadly, however, we haven’t yet learned this valuable lesson as we continually fail to fully appreciate the treasure that we have been given through the gift of life. It’s rather paradoxical that in reflecting upon all of the efforts being engaged to confront a virus that has the potential to destroy life, we’re often conflicted in our perspective upon this unique and singular gift of God. In the midst of the current health crisis, we continually set aside convenience and personal comfort and go to great lengths to protect our children, our families and our neighbors. And so we should! Yet, at the same time many of us fail to acknowledge or care that the very foundational building blocks of a just world for all forms of human life are being undermined at an alarming rate.
Threats to human life increasingly abound in our world today, most notably the taking of innocent life through scourge of abortion. In our very own country, while the United States Supreme Court has provided us with some degree of hope by agreeing to hear a major challenge to abortion rights, just over a week ago, the United States House of Representatives voted to pass what many have described as the most radical abortion on demand bill that our nation has ever seen.
Yet, threats to human life at its earliest stages are hardly the only concerns facing our world today. We’re also confronted with proposals and policies that favor assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide and human cloning. These too are dire threats to our belief in the dignity and value of the human person – as are the death penalty, human trafficking, unjust immigration laws and the dire consequences of war.
Sadly, while many of us as Catholics and people of good will are deeply committed to the protection of life in its earliest moments at conception – and so we should be – we can often be somewhat arbitrary in our assessment of other lives and their value and worth. Unfortunately, brothers and sisters, such an approach towards the sanctity of human life has consequences. We’ve experienced the slippery slope that ensued following the legalization of abortion almost 50 years ago. When we rationalize why the taking of one life should be allowed, every life is in jeopardy.
Today’s gospel passage for this 27th Sunday of the Church Year may seem like a rather unlikely message for our consideration on a Sunday devoted to prayer for respect for human life. By scratching its surface, however, like all that Jesus proclaims, today’s gospel is a powerful reminder of what WE need to do and to be as authentic disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus.
In today’s message from Saint Mark, Jesus offers a radical teaching on marriage and divorce. His vision of marriage with its restored sense of unity and mutuality reflects God’s very covenant relationship with Israel, rooted in his selfless love and respect for that aspect of creation made in his image and likeness – the human person.
Jesus’ notion of marriage goes on to situate the sacrament at the very of core of discipleship. Those who are called to the sacrament of marriage – and, indeed, all who are called to discipleship through baptism – are called to accept the Kingdom of God as little children and to embrace a selfless spirit of love, trust and deep faith, responding to the many complexities of life with a sense of compassion and justice.
Several months ago, in reflecting upon the growing lack of respect for our global environment, Pope Francis linked his concerns for our common home to an ever-diminishing sense of respect for the gift of human life. “Everything is connected. It is the same indifference, the same selfishness, the same greed, the same pride, the same claim to be the master and despot of the world that lead human beings, on the one hand, to destroy species and plunder natural resources, and on the other, to exploit misery, to abuse the work of women and children, to overturn the laws of the family cell, to no longer respect the right to human life from conception to natural end.”
Brothers and sisters, as Pope Francis has noted so well, we are all “connected” and we are all a part of one and the same human family.
Though well beyond our ability to determine or control, life – from the moment of conception to natural end – is a gift to treasure and respect. We do so, however, not through our self-righteous criticisms of those whose beliefs may appear to be different than our own. We treasure and respect life when we are courageous enough to proudly proclaim our values to the world in which we live and to vote according to the beliefs that we hold within our hearts. But we most effectively witness to life when we first begin to tear down walls that separate us one from another. And we treasure and respect life best when we’re humble enough to embrace the Gospel message of Jesus and to treat the lives that come into our own with reverence and dignity as children of one and the same God.
Saint Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!