Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 7, 2018
Respect Life Mass

“Every life – cherished – chosen – sent” by God to build a better world.

The theme for Respect Life Sunday and this sacred season calls us to focus our prayers upon our commitment as followers of Jesus to treasure and preserve human life from the moment of conception to natural death. As a Church, we have and should continue to work tirelessly to create a culture that moves beyond a cavalier attitude that has sadly resulted in far too many lives being lost through abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and capital punishment.

The blessed work that we have been about for many years, however, has clearly not been enough. Tragically, while the Church has worked tirelessly to promote an end to abortion and to preserve life in all of its stages, some among us – particularly church leaders who have proclaimed from pulpits the vital need to respect life – have stolen it from the most vulnerable in our midst. The sad reality of our lives as Catholics, impacted by the report of the 40th statewide Grand Jury investigating sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, reminds us that we have much more work to do if our voices are ever to be regarded as credible in this vital conversation.

Pope Francis has asserted that each person has a reason to hope because each person “has a place in God’s heart from all eternity.” Because of this unique relationship of the human person to the Creator, every life demands absolute protection from conception to natural end, including all moments in between. As such, respect for the dignity of every human being must be upheld – even when such a posture places us in opposition to popular values, political expediency, and the tide of today’s evolving cultural norms.

Yet, most fundamentally, the dignity of every human being must also be upheld by those of us who proclaim that message most boldly – particularly the leaders of our Church. It is simply not acceptable for us to work to preserve life in the womb and then disregard its value once a child is born. If there is not an integrity to what we preach and how we live, the lives of the most vulnerable in our midst will always be in jeopardy.

Today’s gospel passage for this 27th Sunday of the Church Year, on the surface, 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. There was little appreciation for love and commitment in marriage in the patriarchal society in which Jesus lived. Divorce, sadly, was tragically common, not unlike the world in which we live today. Yet, in the midst of this context, Jesus cites the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman – today’s first reading – to emphasize that husband and wife are equal partners in the covenant of marriage. Indeed, Jesus’ vision of marriage with its restored sense of unity and mutuality reflects God’s very covenant relationship with Israel, established upon God’s total, complete, and selfless love and respect.

Jesus’ novel and demanding notion of marriage situates the sacrament at the very of core of discipleship. Those who are called to the sacrament of marriage are likewise called to embrace a selfless spirit of love, acting out a sense of compassion and justice, rather than merely fulfilling legalisms and detached rituals. … For the disciples of Jesus – and that includes each of us, married or single – we are called to nothing less but the same appreciation and respect for the wonders of creation and its crowning gift of human life.

And so we come to appreciate from the Word of God – yet again – the timeless challenge given to all who seek to be disciples of the Lord. Embrace the spirit of selfless love manifested so powerfully by Jesus throughout his life, ministry and death on the cross – and in the process, discover meaning, purpose, peace and life.

Jesus concludes today’s gospel by outlining the path of discipleship that leads us to life and eternity – a path that is both disarmingly simple even as it is profound.

He invites each one of us to accept the Kingdom of God as little children. … In so doing, Jesus calls us to a new understanding of our lives in relationship to one another, to our world, and to God. … Jesus calls us to recognize, like a child, our powerlessness to control and direct our lives. God is the one who directs our place in the world – not we ourselves, no matter how sophisticated and knowledgeable we may think ourselves to be. … Jesus calls us to acknowledge our dependence upon God for all that we have and all that we are. God has given us our incredible lives in the first place. They, in turn, are not ours to determine or to direct. That is God’s responsibility and promise. … Finally, Jesus calls us to be open to receive – again and again – God’s presence and love: gifts that come to us in the most ordinary and often unlikely of ways – gifts that can only be received when we are wise enough to first treasure the gift of life that God has given.

Obviously, many of us fail to understand the responsibility given to us by God to love so selflessly and to pattern our lives on the life of Jesus. That should come as no surprise, however, because for the authentic disciple, the gospel has never been an easy message to embrace. … It always calls us to be more than we think we are capable of being. … It demands honesty and openness to the Spirit of God. … It is so often linked to the cross that emerges from a life rooted in values that, by their very nature, are often in conflict with worldly ways. … That the world in which we find ourselves today endorses a cavalier and precarious understanding of the dignity of human life is nothing new. The Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.

The good news of this gathering, however – the good news of Jesus – is that the voice of faithful, selfless disciples of the Lord continues to be heard and their message continues to be proclaimed. May we give thanks this day, that in the midst of a broken and imperfect world and Church, life is still treasured by many as the gift of God that it is.

This moment in the life of our Church has brought us to a new and broader understanding of the sanctity of human life. Pope Francis has often reminded us that every person – from the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, to the criminal who is least supportive of our values “has an inviolable right to life” and “is a masterpiece of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” To that list belongs victims – survivors – of sexual abuse and all who are exploited and deprived of their God-given dignity.

As we celebrate Respect Life Sunday, may we reaffirm our commitment to the sanctity of life – even in the simplest of ways – and by our example, our forgiveness, and our loving service, work to lead others to the truth that “every life cherished, chosen and sent” by God.