Jesus speaks of the Galileans whom Pilate had executed. He speaks of those killed when the tower of Siloam collapsed… It is almost as if the gospel today throws Jesus and his disciples in some sort of time wrap and here he is, seated before us, reading from this morning’s newspaper. Hundreds die in Madrid terrorist attack! Explosions kill dozens in Iraq! Humanitarian disaster threatens Haiti’s poor!
We can be tempted to ask ourselves: what did these people do to deserve this? Jesus warns us not to see these events as somehow the wrath of an angry God. Evil came into the world not by God’s willing it; but through the devil and sin. Evil is not caused by God’s will but by man’s willfulness. Jesus says in the gospel: Don’t think that those Galileans were the biggest sinners around. Don’t think that those who died in the tower were guiltier than any one else.
We cannot excuse the evil in this world by saying that those affected by it somehow deserved it. Today – and, indeed, from the beginning of our exile from Eden, we experience this world as a “valley of tears.” Of course, many times, we do suffer because of our bad choices. The scriptures do say: the wages of sin is death. Nevertheless, innocents suffer and die because of the evil loose in our world. We could safely say that, much of the suffering of this world is inflicted on innocents. And truth be told, even though our newspapers are never lacking in bad news to report about murders, killings, violence and hate, most of the innocents who die in our world die in anonymity and silence, unreported and except for their mothers’ sometimes belated remorse, un-mourned. The screams of these innocents are silent screams: I speak of the silent holocaust of millions of children killed in procured abortions – some 40 million in this country alone since the ill-fated Roe v. Wade decision of our Supreme Court unleashed legalized abortion across our nation. The abortion regime in our nation is but one of the many manifestations of the misterium iniquitatis, the mystery of iniquity in our contemporary world.
But Jesus does not allow us to blame God for the evil of the world. Rather than distancing himself from his creation which by choosing to do evil has brought suffering and death into the world, God draws nearer to it. He is as he tells Moses: I am who am. God declares that he is faithful to a stiff-necked and faithless humanity. And, in Christ, the Word became Flesh. God became man: rather than distancing himself from people and their tragedies, he draws close to them.
In this month of March, even as we remember our Lord’s passion and death, we remember his incarnation, his drawing close to us in a most marvelous way. The Word became Flesh and made his dwelling among us. On March 25, nine months before Christmas, we remember the Angel’s words to Mary, at the Annunciation. Jesus’ yes to the Father on Calvary was preceded by Mary’s own yes in her humble home in Nazareth.
Those “yeses” overcome the evil of the world. Those “yeses” reverse the “no’s” voiced by our first parents, Adam and Eve, which unleashed the power of evil, the power of death into our world. Jesus while remaining truly God shares in our human condition – in all things, but sin. And though sinless, he became as sin so as to deliver us from sin. During this holy season of Lent when we meditate on the Way of our Redemption, the Way of the Cross: we express this great mystery as we proclaim: We adore you, O Christ; and we praise you: because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
The mystery of evil is overcome in the mystery of the Cross. We may seek answers to the question about why bad things happen to good people. Jesus does not say us he will not answer us – but, it would seem that in most cases our specific questions will not be answered on this side of heaven. Last Monday, I went to Jacksonville to a wake of a two year boy: my first cousin’s grandson who died in a tragic accident. There is no simple answer that will give us a satisfactory explanation for why bad things happen to good people. But, one day, the day when we see God face to face, the day when he himself will dry our tears, on that day, we will know. Jesus does not give us an answer today to why the innocent suffer but he – innocent Lamb that he is – takes upon himself the suffering of all the world. We believe this because by faith we know that on the cross Christ has already overcome evil. Even though, we continue to fight our own skirmishes with the devil, the war has been won. Christ is victorious and through the Easter Sacraments we do share in his victory.
Yet, in today’s second reading, St. Paul speaks some sobering words and then he concludes saying: “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Yesterday, I read these words while waiting in the airport in San Francisco to return home to Orlando. I was there to give a talk at the Jesuit University there, the University of San Francisco. And as I read those words, I glanced over to the guy sitting next to me and he was reading a book on the great earthquake of 1917 that almost completely destroyed San Francisco. I must tell you: I did wonder whether or not I was standing secure. I said to myself: I hope that they retrofitted this building to make it earthquake proof for the ground is still not that stable there – because San Francisco is built over the San Andreas Fault.
Well, at this mid point in our Lenten Observance, the Scriptures today wish to remind us that our lives are also built over the fault lines left in our nature by the sin of Adam and Eve. We must take care – and, of course, this is the whole purpose of Lent – to examine the structural foundations of our lives less we receive the grace of God in vain. Perhaps, we too need some retrofitting? Lent is a time for us to renew our conversion – and what a better way to do so than to avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Penance. Indeed, if we pick up on the image of the barren fig tree, what is Lent but another opportunity through acts of penance, through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, with the help of our patient and merciful God’s grace, to coax ourselves into fruitfulness.
Even as we strive to grow in personal holiness so that we may worthily celebrate the Easter Mysteries, we must also remind ourselves that to grow in holiness does not isolate us from the world in which we live. As Christians we are called to be yeast in the world – a leaven that transforms the world through our active engagement with it in the Apostolate.
And today, I wish to commend all of you who are involved in the Respect Life Apostolate of our local Church here in the Diocese of Orlando. Together with Bishop Dorsey, I thank you for what you do for Life, for all you do to promote respect for life from the first moment of conception until natural death.
Your work in the Respect Life Apostolate is more important than ever – The contraceptive mentality has eroded the foundations of our contemporary American family– by weakening marriage and destroying the mutual trust between men and women which is the necessary cement that holds together any committed relationship. Legalized abortion has coarsened our regard for human life in all its stages – as utilitarian criteria are more increasingly used to grant “value” or to decree no “value” to human beings, the slippery slope that pro-life leaders warned against in 1973 has arrived. Euthanasia, so-called therapeutic embryonic stem cell research, cloning are showing that Roe v. Wade reveals itself as the fault line of our culture which threatens the future of our democracy with a moral earthquake. Our culture needs some retrofitting as well. Roe v. Wade must be reversed.
Sometimes, your work to build a culture of life can seem very frustrating – it might seem that your efforts bear no fruit. Today as we survey our American landscape, our American culture, with its silence holocaust of some 40 million babies killed in their mothers’ wombs, might very well seem like that barren fig tree of today’s gospel.
Do not give up – trust God, trust Jesus who is like the gardener of today’s parable: he does not give up on the fig tree. His love, his kindness, is patience is without limit. And while, out of shear frustration, you might be tempted to take an axe to the fig tree, imitate God in his love, his kindness, his patience.
As Christians, Jesus warns us not to be “of the world”; but, at the same time, he does not want us to be “against the world”. As Christians, we must be “for the world”.
- Being for the world means: helping our brothers and sisters to also reexamine the structural foundations of their lives by inviting them to conversion of mind and heart.
- Being for the world means: witnessing to the value of every human life created in God’s image and likeness from the first moment of conception to natural death.
- Being for the world means not shirking our duties as citizens to make our proposal to our fellow citizens about the dignity of each human being and to work tirelessly to pass laws that will protect life, and promote life.
Today, our culture needs to be “retrofitted” less further moral earthquakes cause its complete collapse – for unless they are grounded in the truth about the human person, our social institutions – from the most basic, marriage and family, to the complex modern state – will lack enduring stability.
Today, the increased confusion over the meaning and purpose of sexual relations as witnessed by the rush to approve homosexual marriage, the rising number of divorces, the fear of permanent commitment in our youth which keeps them from giving of themselves either in the vocation to married life or the vocation of service to the Church through priesthood or consecrated life, and any other number of other social indicators in our society show the fragility of our culture’s commitment to the dignity of each human person.
Today’s gospel does not tell us that God’s patience is limited – no God is as the psalmist says in today’s responsorial psalm. His mercy is everlasting. But the gospel parable tells us not that God’s patience is exhausted but that our opportunities are limited, that our time to yield fruit will come to an end.
- In this election year, we must seize the opportunity and organize, organize, organize so that we make our votes count so that legislation that promotes life gets passed and pro-abortion politicians are defeated and turned out of office.
- In our outreach to mothers’ who have had abortions we must seize the opportunities to reconcile them to God, and to allow them to speak so that they may give their witness to what abortion has done to them.
- We must seize every opportunity to encourage a woman or a young girl who finds herself pregnant so that she does not choose to end the life of her unborn child.
- We must take advantage of every chance, every opportunity to overcome evil with good.
Often times in the Church, we have not heeded St. Paul’s admonition that he gives us in today’s second reading. And we often thought in the face of troubles in our Church or in our society that given time things would straighten themselves out in the end. Sometimes, it happens that way – if you leave a problem alone it straightens itself out. But, our culture will not fix itself. The culture of death has advanced too far for us to remain complacent.
Christians cannot allow themselves to be complacent. Complacency in the face of evil has brought us scandal in the Church and has weakened our witness, our ability to be “for the world”.
Today, as we continue on our Lenten journey, we pray that Mary who said yes to life will intercede for us that we too may always say yes to life. And in the Eucharist, we participate in Jesus’ “yes” to his Father that in re-presented in this memorial of his sacrificial death and may our sharing in His Body and Blood strengthen us to always say “yes” to life in all in forms, and all its stages from the very first moment of conception to natural death.
March 14, 2004
Respect Life Sunday in the Diocese of Orlando
Mass at Mary Queen of the Universe Shrine