‘How long, O Lord. I cry for help but you do not listen. I cry out to you. Violence, but you do not intervene.’ Those words from the prophet Habakkuk resonate with us as we look at the chaotic world in which we must live. They are pleading words offered in anxiety even in fear by someone seemingly overwhelmed. In the Gospel reading the disciples cry out, ‘increase our faith’. In anguish perhaps, declaring we can’t live as you want us to with what little faith we have right now. Help us.
We can be fearful; we are tempted to anguish about so much. We fear growing older, contending with sickness, facing inadequate financial resources, being lonely, enshrouded in the uncertainty of the unknown future. We anguish for those who walk the streets anticipating car bombs or violent gangs or religious persecution. We wonder about a culture so focused on self and today that it leads to people being treated as commodities and an environmentally mortgaged tomorrow. ‘How long, O Lord’. ‘Increase our faith’.
On this Respect Life Sunday, we acknowledge that the teaching of the Church which is the teaching of Christ is clear: life begins at conception, every person is gifted by God with that life, each person regardless of differences is loved by God and therefore is to be respected and treated with dignity by us all equally so gifted.
A scandal of our day is the im-personalization that has taken place and the casualness with which we treat one another. Babies are classified as wanted or unwanted based on timing, gender or condition; human embryos are seen as profitable material for experimentation or the waste dump; those who through aging, illness or accident have lost part of their physical or mental prowess are viewed as economic drains or without social value. The movement to create classes of people, some more worthy than others based on intelligence or sex or age or health or race dehumanizes us all, for some day each of us can be deemed less worthy and therefore expendable.
What did the disciples mean when they pleaded for an increase in faith? Perhaps it was greater trust that God’s hand was moving through these challenges of life. The theme for Respect Life Sunday this year is ‘Christ: Our Hope in every season.’ Lord increase our faith that he is.
A widow’s father had just died. Her last child had just moved away from home. She was down, lonely, filled with doubt about the future. To her annoyance a talkative neighbor came by with baked goods. ‘O,’ she thought, ‘look at that fattening food.’ The neighbor sat down and took off her shoes. ‘I just hate new shoes,’ she said. ‘There’s always a tight spot or two or a place that rubs. I had a pair of shoes once that took a year of pain to break in. Just my cross to bear, I guess’. ‘Well thanks for stopping’, interrupted the widow coolly. The neighbor put her shoes back on with a groan and said, ‘all it takes is allowing for time to mold the shoes around my feet, not some models feet, my feet.’ The widow later wrote, ‘somehow I went through the rest of the day more lighthearted. It occurred to me that perhaps I, much like a new pair of shoes, needed time to let the changes mold into my life. It is bit by bit that shoes and changes can be ours.’ It is often bit by bit that we grow to trust in God’s presence, God’s will and God’s way. It is often bit by bit, person by person, that respect for life grows. As Saint Mother Teresa said so often, we are called not to be successful, we are called to be faithful. Christ is our hope in every season of life.
Perhaps the disciples also sought a greater ability to integrate and live out the teachings of Christ. In the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel Jesus had said to them if someone sins against you seven times and says I am sorry seven times, forgive him. That’s tough. Living the Gospel is tough. Respecting life in our secular culture is tough. Yet it is what we are called to in order to be faithful.
New bishops are called to Rome for what is humorously referred to as ‘baby bishops’ school.’ When I attended, there were over 100 bishops from some 30 countries. One new bishop told me as we were riding on the bus that his diocese is sometimes called the killing fields because regularly persons are killed in front of the Cathedral as an exercise of power and a form of intimidation. He preached the gospel of life there unsure of his own future. I thought to myself that the challenges that come my way are modest indeed. Do I have the depth of his faith to live out the Gospel of life? He told me that whenever he can he goes to Assisi, the home of St. Francis whose most familiar words are the prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. That bishop seeks to be an instrument of Christ’s peace, and so should we. When we respect life in all its dimensions, we are instruments of God’s peace.
Dorothy Day was a Catholic social activist who after a conversion experience began an outreach ministry to the poor. One day she overheard someone calling her a saint for doing all she was doing. She became agitated and said, ‘don’t say that. Don’t make it too easy for yourself. Don’t escape this way. I know why you are saying she is a saint. You say it to convince yourself that you are different from me, that I am different from you. I am not a saint. I am like you. You could easily do what I do. You don’t need any more than you have; get kicking, please’.
Let us get kicking in prayer, in witness and in action to respect life in its totality.
There may be times when we are overwhelmed with the thorns of our human condition and the wounds of the secular culture. That ought not to mean that we give up, but rather with courage we stand up for what is right and true as Jesus rose up on the cross for our salvation. Someone said we grumble because God puts prickly thorns with roses; wouldn’t it be better to thank God that he puts fragrant and colorful roses with the thorns.
Christ can be our hope in every season, if we allow Him to be.