The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at Mass on the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time and Respect Life Sunday and the Annual Mass for Peoples with Disabilities at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington.
In our first reading today, we are introduced to the prophet Habakkuk, who during his time in Israel witnessed the people turning against God and against each other. As we heard in the first reading, Habakkuk was not only frustrated with the Israelites, he was also angry with God, and he had the audacity to shout to the heavens, “How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen!” He wanted God to intervene against the violent, the greedy and the godless. He wanted God to change the world around him.
How many of us, looking at the state of the world around us, are tempted to shout along with Habakkuk, “How long, O Lord?” How long will terrorism end innocent lives? How long will violence cause wanton destruction in our cities, which results not in greater racial justice but in increased violence and lack of unity? How long will our culture ignore God, or worse yet, turn from Him. How long, O Lord! We are tempted to despair!
Our Lord answers our prayers, just as He did those of Habakkuk. “The one who is just, because of his faith, will live.” Yes, God promises that those who keep faith in God will have life in this world and the next. We are called to be men and women of faith. It is our faith that will bring us life here and hereafter. Why faith? Because faith is our personal act of trust, our “yes” of surrender to God, who is always merciful and faithful to His promise of salvation, if only our hearts are open to give that “yes” and cling to His Presence!
However, the promise of life is not the same as the promise of change. We see a world around us that needs conversion. So how do we change the culture that surrounds us? How do we turn the world back to God?
First, we start by changing the heart of one person: ourselves. The virtue of faith, the personal “yes” of trust, is a remedy for suffering, for turmoil, for doubt. Yes, hardships will occur, and we may be tempted to think God is punishing us, but faith provides the understanding that God is God and we are not. Faith allows us to see that everything in our lives — joy and sorrow, healing and pain, victory and defeat — happens because God allows it as a means of our sanctification in this life and our joy with Him in the next. When we see everything through the eyes of faith, we recognize that our loving God is guiding us to heaven even when the road is rocky, or dark, or downright frightening. Our Lord is with us all the way, always speaking to our hearts, “Be not afraid.” With faith, we can respond, “My God, I trust in You! I cling to You, holding Your Hand!”
Of course, we understand that the decision to respond with faith is not one we make today and never have to choose again. No, it is a decision we make every day, again and again, especially when we are struggling, because just as God is always beside us in our struggles, so is the evil one, and the evil one wants to lead us not to peace and joy, but to despair. The evil one wants to turn us from God when times get tough. Yet as men and women of faith, we know where our victory lies and to Whom our faith belongs, and so we choose to believe in the goodness and mercy of God over and over again, growing stronger every time we do. If we fall, we get back up, turn to Our Lord, and say once again, “You are my God. I trust in You. I cling to You, holding Your hand!”
With this kind of lively faith, we will be changed, for such a faith brings the peace that exists in turmoil, the joy that defies the struggle, and the hope that never dies, even in the darkest of times. With this faith, our lives will be a sign of contradiction to the world that cannot understand such joy. People will be drawn to live as we do, to believe as we do, to love as we do. Thus, a little faith has a great effect. In the Gospel proclaimed in our hearing today, Jesus tells His Apostles and now us that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to command a tree to uproot itself and plant itself in the ocean. That powerful, life-changing faith is what we seek, and what the world needs. May we imitate the prayers of the disciples in this same Gospel, who asked Our Lord, “Increase our faith.”
Today, throughout the United States we celebrate Respect Life Sunday. In 1972, the Roe v. Wade decision opened the doors to the deaths of millions upon millions of innocent children. Pope Saint John Paul the Great coined the phrase the “culture of death” to describe the mindset that led to that decision and the years that have followed, the mindset that cannot see the value of every human life and may choose to put an end to life when there is a danger that it will bring about suffering or, even inconvenience. It is not just children in the womb who are affected, for several states today have legalized assisted suicide, where those going through great physical and emotional struggles may choose to end their own lives not as an act of faith, but of despair.
Many of us are blessed to never have been placed in the situations that would lead us to contemplate ending an innocent life in the womb. For that we give thanks to God. We also know that there are some who have had to face these unimaginable struggles, and some of them live with the regret of their choices. For those with such heavy hearts, I urge you to pray for the faith that allows you to know the mercy of God. This year, the theme of our Respect Life Month is “Moved by Mercy,” as it falls within the Year of Mercy. The mercy of God is unquenchable, all powerful, and unending. There is NOTHING that God cannot and will not forgive to those who turn to Him. The evil one, who seeks to take advantage of our struggles, does not want us to believe this. But Jesus tells us this is true. God’s mercy endures forever. If you are seeking healing after the pain of abortion, or you know of someone who is, please reach out to our Project Rachel office at 888-456-HOPE.
During this Respect Life Month, we are reminded of the value of every human life, a value that comes not from who we are, but from who Our Loving God is. Each of us are created in His image. Each of us are endowed with an eternal soul. And each of us, no matter who we are and what we can do is loved by Our God, who is merciful.
This Mass is also our annual Mass for Peoples with Disabilities, which is always an honor for me to celebrate. Several of our ministers at this Mass are men and women who we could say have disabilities, and who we can also say are uniquely abled. It is their innocence and joy that bring out the best in us, and allow us to see just how much God loves not just them, but all of us. The culture that surrounds us tells parents to abort their child in the womb when they learn that that child is disabled. Recent studies have shown that the percentage of parents who have chosen not to give birth to their children diagnosed with Down Syndrome can be as high as 90 percent. What a tragedy! Yes, parents are told, “It will be too difficult for you, it will cause much inconvenience. Think of your careers, your freedom.”
But among us at this Mass are the parents who said “no.” They prized the gift of life. We pray in gratitude for each of them and for their parents and families. During this Respect Life Sunday and beyond, we also pray for those parents who are pregnant with children with disabilities. So that they will not be tempted and even coerced not to bring their children into this world for the sake of the suffering and hardship which they might endure. May the minds and hearts of these parents be enlightened and enlarged by God’s grace, that they may know the charity and joy God has in store for them.
Yes, Saint Paul in today’s second reading was so right: “So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord … but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” — Yes, the strength of faith because the just person lives by faith.