Homily for January 22, 2012: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

[Click here for readings.]

I have office hours the first Saturday of every month, to meet with families and schedule baptisms. It’s fairly routine, mostly collecting paperwork and filling out forms.  But a few years ago, there was one meeting that I will never forget. It was anything but routine.

A young mother arrived at the office, filled out the forms and, after she’d finished, I looked it over and noticed that she’d left a couple spaces blank.

“You forgot something, “ I said. “You didn’t fill in the father’s name and religion.”

There was a long pause.  She said quietly: “I don’t know who the father is.”

And then she explained:

“I was raped.”

I didn’t quite know what to say. I stammered an apology, and we talked for a few minutes. And at the end, as she got up to leave, I shook her hand and thanked her. I told that that I thought what she was doing was very courageous.

“Well,” she said, “It’s life. You do what you have to do.”

I saw her a few weeks later, at the baptism.  Seeing her — holding that baby in her arms, sharing that moment with family and friends — one thing was clear: that child will never lack for love.  Whatever may have brought that young life into being, that child was welcomed.  That child is loved.

This weekend, in particular, that mother and her child are both on my mind and in my prayers.  They remind me of something we need to remember:

We are people of life.

We value it.  We believe in resurrection.  In healing.  In hope.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus once said.

We are people who follow the way, and seek the truth.

We are people of life.

And this Sunday, we pause to declare that to the world. We put on purple vestments and offer special prayers to note a sad milestone: it was 39 years ago today that the Supreme Court legalized abortion.   We may not be wearing the sackcloth of the people of Nineveh, from the first reading.   But this is a sign of sorrow, and mourning.  It’s the same color we wear during Lent, a time of prayer and repentance.

You’ll hear a lot of people – including a lot of prominent Catholics – tell you that they are “personally opposed” to abortion, but they think it should still be legal. It might be useful to look at what that kind of thinking has given us, and what it means.

It means that today, 22% of pregnancies – one in five – end in abortion.

It means that 47% of the women who have had abortions – nearly half – have had more than one.   Three quarters say they had abortions because a child would interfere with their job or education.

It means that, on average, there are 3,500 abortions every day in this country.

That sounds abstract.  So let me make it real. That’s approximately the same number of people who attended Mass here Christmas Day.

Looked at another way:  statistically, by the time you leave Mass this morning, another 145 innocent lives will be lost.

Years ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin spoke of the “seamless garment” of life issues, and how they are all connected.  Some people dismiss that today and insist that all life issues are not created equal.  That’s true, to a point.

But a culture that devalues life, that doesn’t respect life, won’t just draw the line at abortion. It goes further than that.

That culture creates an environment that cheers capital punishment. It’s a culture that legalizes assisted suicide.  It supports torture and the degradation of human dignity. It enables bullying.  It objectifies and devalues the human person in pornography.

And, as we learned just this past Friday: that culture considers religious freedom, and the human conscience — a personal sense of right and wrong, of good and evil — irrelevant.  The government ruled that every major employer, including religious institutions, now have to offer free contraceptive coverage as part of their health plans – no exceptions.  That includes the “morning after” abortion pill and sterilization.

A culture that doesn’t respect life will do all this and wrap it in the warm and unthreatening blanket, the seamless garment, of “choice” and “freedom.”

This is our world today.

But it doesn’t have to be our world tomorrow.

Last week, one of the presidential candidates said in a debate – and I paraphrase – that laws can’t change a country’s values.   It’s the other way around.

Values, he said, have to change our laws.

He’s right.

Marching, protesting, campaigning, lobbying…all this can have an effect.  But it can only do so much.

The real work, the important work, the hardest work happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our homes, in our families.

It’s conversations around the dinner table and lessons in the living room.  It’s teaching our children that we are people of life.  It’s raising them to love those who are weak, to protect those who are vulnerable, to respect those who are different.

But are we even paying attention?

In the gospel we just heard, Jesus called his first apostles while they were mending their nets.  They dropped what they were doing, and followed him.

Too often, I think, we ourselves are too busy mending our own nets.  We are consumed by the mundane realities of daily life, and are too distracted to hear what is really important.  We miss Christ’s call to conversion, to repentance – the call, as we heard, to “believe in the Gospel.”

Especially now, it is nothing less than a call to be people of life.

To be people who cherish life in all its complexity and confusion…and in all its sanctity.

To be people who not only shake our heads in sorrow over the state of our world, but who bow our heads in prayer and lift up our heads in hope.

We are people of life. We are Catholic Christians.  In the second century, Christians did what the pagans wouldn’t: in the midst of a plague, they cared for those no one else would care for.  The great theologian Tertullian wrote that it moved the pagans to say: “See how these Christians love one another.”  This is our legacy and our mandate: to protect and defend and, yes, love the most vulnerable – the old, the sick, the abused, the abandoned, the forgotten, the unborn. 

That is our way.  We are people of life.

In doing that, in living out our call – and answering it, like the disciples on the seashore – we will one day help bring about the change we so ardently pray for every year on this terrible anniversary.

What that young mother told me a few years ago was more than pragmatic.  It was, in a way, prophetic.  “It’s life,” she said.  “You do what you have to do.”

This is what we have to do.  And if we do, we will change the values of our culture.

That will change the laws.

And one day, all that we hope and pray for this Sunday will be realized.

We won’t be marching in Washington.  We won’t be preaching on this from the pulpit.  We won’t be wearing purple.

And January 22nd will be just another day on the calendar.


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  1. As usual, you, Deacon Greg, have hit one out of the ballpark. But, then, I am biased in favor of presentations on this subject that do not end up being harangues.

  2. So Catholics want to be a “people of life” and yet the two men vying to represent them in the White House have virtually promised to start a new war and support the death penalty, one of them quite avidly. The other was recently heard to celebrate the extrajudicial killing of a civilian scientist in Iran.
    They aren’t the only purveyors of this hypocrisy, of course. For many years now, leadership of both parties, all of them Christian, many anti-abortion, have followed a twisted dualism which says we can kill anyone anywhere in the world with impunity, but yet somehow respect the lives of fetuses and old people. Becuase, you know, ALL life is sacred, unless we put an asterisk next to it for some reason we feel is necessary.

    As Dr. Phil might say, “How’s that workin for you?”

  3. ah, the seamless garment lie. you just 3,500 abortions per day, what in Heavens name should be more improtant to change or stop.

    “We are people of life. We are Catholic Christians.”

    LOL…..who vote Obama 54%.

  4. Oregon Catholic says:

    You make a good case for voting for Paul. At least he IS truly different.

  5. Oregon Catholic says:

    “That culture creates an environment that cheers capital punishment. It’s a culture that legalizes assisted suicide. It supports torture and the degradation of human dignity. It enables bullying. It objectifies and devalues the human person in pornography.”

    I would add same sex marriage to the list.

  6. Amen. This was, as always, a much-needed light in the darkness of my own struggling.

  7. I think, as usual, your homily raises many fine points, and is certainly up-to-the-sad-minute. The use of purple vestments, though, and your reference to them, confuses me, however. According to the Ordo, January 22 is the 3rd Sunday of the Year, “in green.” The Pastoral Note reminds of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and concludes, “See tomorrow, 23 January (USA).”
    That note again reminds of the day and observance, and provides two sets of Mass texts which may be used. The Mass “For Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Life” is celebrated in white vestments. The other option – and it is an option – is to celebrate the Mass “For the Preservation of Peace and Justice, with violet vestments.” The readings for Monday may be “of the day,” of from texts provided for either of the optional liturgies.
    While the “crowds” will, obviously be greater on Sunday than Monday, the celebration in your parish presents seems something of a conglomeration: the readings of the 3rd Sunday, not sure of the prayer texts, the observance of a Monday option, and the use of a color not prescribed for Sunday. Has the Diocese of Brooklyn sought and granted permission to supercede the celebration of Universal Church on Sunday, for what, granted, is a huge and tragic reality?
    This, perhaps, seems to be a lot… over wearing one color rather than another.
    Then again, our symbols are important.

  8. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    All I know is what I was told by our parochial vicar, who called me in the middle of the week to remind me about the special focus of this Sunday, and who suggested I make mention of it in my homily. He mentioned in passing that we would be wearing purple (or, more accurately, violet.)

    The USCCB has more at its website.

    I may arrive at the Church tonight to find it’s been changed, but that’s how it was standing on Wednesday.

    Dcn. G.

  9. Reading through Deacon Greg’s homily, it appears that all he would need to do is adjust the graf that begins with, “And this Sunday, we pause…”

    Another thing to keep in mind: the West Coast March for Life (in San Francisco, I believe), was on Saturday, so it really becomes a weekend-long commemoration.

    As for the rules, while both the Ordo and the USCCB website make it clear that the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children is observed on Monday this year, rather than on Sunday, it’s possible that Bishop DiMarzio – or even Deacon Greg’s pastor – allowed it. The rules of Ordinary Time can be somewhat flexible in this regard – just look at all the Red/White Masses celebrated on Sundays in the early fall (color of the special Mass, the prayers/orations for the votive/special occasion, but the readings remaining those of Sunday).

  10. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Thanks for the additional insight, Mike.

    Also: no matter what color vestments are worn, Sunday is the actual anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and so I do think it’s entirely appropriate to give it attention.

    Dcn. G.

  11. Deacon Norb says:

    I will not know until I go in to assist at Mass tomorrow but since my new pastor is an experienced “Death Row Chaplain,” I fully expect him to talk about that tomorrow instead of Roe vs Wade.

  12. Personal tragedy has come to our life because of abortion mills. Last year, we had major tornado’s hit in 6 states in the US. That death toll was 322 tornado-related deaths across those six states and the entire country got involved with major media coverage. If the number Deacon used above of 3,500 killed a day by abortion is correct, and I think it is closer to 4,000. it means that each and every day of the year, we kill over 10 times the total number killed in those 6 state tornado storm of innocent babies and no one seems to care. I do not know the number of blacks lynched in the war on civil rights, but I wonder if it totaled in all the years between the civil war and today, as much as we see in a few days work in the abortion mills. We as a nation are appalled to think anyone would support lynching people over the color of their skin and both black and white joined together and marched and voted to end this horror and to do so with laws on the books. It was already murder and against the law, but we added federal laws to insure that we would put an end to this horror. And yet, it took a major battle to even get the party that supports this to end its fight to stop partial birth abortion, which to any possible measure is more gruesome and painful as lynching ever was to the victim. You do not win by touting seamless garment rhetoric that gives a pass to those who continue to vote for politians who support the murder of this vast numbers of innocent victims. When the legalizing of this mass murder was put in place by the court, they did not wait to win over the people or put it to a vote or go for a constitutional amendment. Legalizing it made it OK to support it for many. That was obvious when 54% of Catholics 35 years after Roe voted to put in office the partner of the abortion mills, Obama.
    We should be voting in mass to end the existence of any politician or party that supports abortion at least as much as we would to support one that favored legalizing lynching innocent people.

    Yes, our culture is horrible, but it is what Pope Paul VI predicted it would become in Humane Vitae and many priests and bishops came out against the Pope when they should have supported him with all their energy. Your homily should have included the predictions made for it is not abortion that was the first attack on the morality of this country, but started before that with our failure to support God with birth control. If you compare the text of Deacons homily to Humane Vitae, you will see what I am talking about. So please don’t act surprised when this abortion president moves to take away religious rights. Why would he care about that when he fully supports and would love to expand the holocaust of abortion “rights”.

  13. “In the second century, Christians did what the pagans wouldn’t: in the midst of a plague, they cared for those no one else would care for. The great theologian Tertullian wrote that it moved the pagans to say: “See how these Christians love one another.” This is our legacy and our mandate: to protect and defend and, yes, love the most vulnerable – the old, the sick, the abused, the abandoned, the forgotten, the unborn.”

    The charity of the Romans is so similar to secular charity it’s astounding. In ancient times, charity was sporadic, and mostly motivated by economics. Occasionally an emperor would feel sorry for some group and give them citizenship or land, but the general consensus was, you’re on your own.

  14. pagansister says:

    The young woman you used as an example,Deacon Greg, was lucky that she had support from family and friends, and was able to complete the pregnancy caused by the violent act of rape. Not all women have that support or can imagine raising a child conceived by violence, who would be a constant reminder of the horrible violation. Yes, there are agencies that would help her, but in the end she still has to be reminded for approximately 9 months of the violation. I admire the young woman you used as an example, and I’m sure there are more like her. Personally I would rather there be no terminations, but there are some women who consider it the only solution, and for that reason, they should have the ability to find a safe and legal means to do what they consider necessary. Unfortunately there would still be terminations, just not safe or legal if the law was removed. I most certainly believe that options and help should be offered to a woman considering a termination, and hopefully that would make a woman change her mind and the pregnancy carried to term.

  15. Deacon Greg, Just wanted to make sure I add that I totally applaud your sermon because we need to hear more about the courage of women like this. Last year, my wife Greta (yes there are two of us using the same computer and sharing our 47 plus years of marriage and from this obviously have the same views on most things) spent several months at our pregnancy center east working with a young woman who had also been raped and who had actually been on the table at the abortion mill when she changed her mind. Her reason was that going in, she had seen a woman holding a sign with a dead baby shown on the sign pleading with her heart and soul that this woman would change her mind. That woman was my wife Greta. She came out of the mill and went to my wife and they are friends to this day. She had lost her husband who left her shortly after the incident, something I understand happens frequently to my male shame. Her parents refused to support her. We took her into our home, provided for her care and all her bills, and got her involved with Pregnancy Center work where she has blossomed into one of the best counselors. She has in many ways taken the place of the daughter we lost who was killed in an abortion mill before we even knew she was pregnant. Greta has blamed herself for her own daughter not telling her and retired from her CEO position of the company she founded and loved. She dedicates her life to the cause of ending the legalized murder in this country of not only the infants, but the death and horrible damage they have done to countless women. That is why we both are so passionate about given no quarter to the enemy in this battle which we believe is driven by Satan and grow angry when we see it in any way being given aid and comfort by Catholics, the religion we have loved all our lives. Just wanted to pass this along. Again, take our passionate complaints for what they are and thanks for having the courage to talk about this grave evil.

  16. Dear brother Mark and sister Greta,

    Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking in that young woman and loving her. I am currently the president of a small pro life group in a rural area. When I was 17, I aborted my own son 26 years ago and grieve, literally, to this very day. I wish to God there had been a couple like you there for me.

    Your methods of showing pictures of dead and broken babies seems to be a controversial one and I can understand why. I think, however, that unless and until people actually see what this holocaust looks like, nothing will change. Talk is cheap. I am a champion public speaker who has shared, at great cost,with our two Catholic parishes the emotional story of my aborted child. Lots of tears in the pews, but did a single person volunteer to help our tiny overworked group? Unfortunately not. Our little group will be discussing using these methods at our next meeting because we know that what we are doing now is essentially useless.

    I have been inspired by the Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform’s essay on the effectiveness of graphic images, http://www.unmaskingchoice.ca/sites/default/files/endthekilling_explained_5.pdf

    and now, even more so, by you. I am so so sorry for your losses. I understand all too well, how horrible it is to lose a child and to feel complicit in the killing. I pray for deep deep peace for your dear wife and for you.

  17. That baby might start out being a “horrible reminder” of rape, or an unwanted pregnancy, BUT when a MOM first sees that little dude or future cheerleader, a whole new BLessing is in place and LOVE. Isn’t that why the BIBLE says women are cleansed in childbirth? Automatically assuming that unwanted pregnancies result in abortions is just plain wrong.Keep them, God knitted them in the womb for a reason….an anti abortion MOM……………………..

  18. Regina Faighes says:

    This is a beautiful and deeply moving homily, Deacon Greg. Thank you for sharing this powerful pro-life message with us. God bless you. And God bless that courageous young Mom who is a living witness to the pro-life cause, to maternal love, and to Christian love, in general.
    It would not surprise me if a woman who was considering abortion was influenced to choose life after hearing and/or reading about this remarkable person.

  19. pagansister says:

    Margaret: One would hope that when the woman who was raped sees the little dude or future cheerleader, she will love him or her. That is not always the case.

  20. George Mason says:

    Does this ease your conscience in voting for the president that promotes infanticide (as well as assasinations of terrorists)?
    Don’t you see that when we consider the most innocent and helpless as expendable, it becomes easier to reason that we can kill enemies and criminals?

  21. George Mason says:

    Bringing up “Death Row” is a good point to show how important it is to ban abortion by law or have the Supreme Court overrule its previous case and declare the 14th amedment protects the right to life. It cannot be left to states, although this would still be better than having the federal government force it on states as it does now. If it were left to states, perhaps many would ban it just as they have banned capital punishment.

  22. George Mason says:

    Let me point out that your own instinct against abortion is noble and to be cultivated. Ask yourself this: will doing violence to the nascent innocent life make the rape go away? It’s a false “solution” that will only harm the woman later when she realizes she has become an aggressor like the vile rapist (who in my opinion should be made a eunuch).
    “Unfortunately there would still be terminations, just not safe or legal if the law was removed.”
    Yes, just as there are still vendetta murders despite the justice system. But, does that mean we should make vendetta murders safe and grant licenses to make them legal?

  23. George Mason says:

    Then, the best option is adoption.

  24. pagansister says:

    George, with respect, there are women that are not mentally harmed by their decision to terminate. I know 2 who have no regrets at all. The 2 I know were NOT victims of rape, but did have terminations. (not causally I must add). Yes, there are most certainly many who wish they had not had the abortion and regret it. I’m old enough to remember before the procedure was legal. I still support legal. Having never been the victim of rape, I can’t imagine experiencing that violation and to make the whole situation worse, finding out I was made pregnant by that horrible, personal, violation. IMO, continuing with a rape pregnancy would prolong the violation with all it’s horror. Just my opinion, and I do appreciate where you were coming from.

  25. pagansister says:

    That would be a great option, George M., if indeed she could see her way to continuing with the pregnancy. More above in a reply to your 25 Jan. 2:30 PM post.

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