All of Scripture Proclaims the Infinite Value of Every Human Being - 9/17/17
I am Father Leonard Klein, among other things the Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese. I am the guest homilist here at St. Helena’s today because you are hosting in Masci Hall a program for pro-life leaders and activists in our diocese, a program that also raises money for 40 Days for Life and for Rachel’s Vineyard. 40 Days prays outside of Planned Parenthood in Wilmington in the hope of changing the minds of those coming there for abortions and of those who work there. It is a nationwide program that has spread to other nations as well. Many babies have been saved, and so have many abortion workers. Rachel’s Vineyard provides counseling and hope for those who have undergone abortion, to help them find the mercy and forgiveness that come from God alone.
This will not, however, be a Respect Life Month homily a few weeks early – Respect Life Month being October, the month of the Rosary, the praying of which is so central to the Pro-Life cause. I will preach mostly about today’s readings because in truth all of church teaching is connected. All of Scripture proclaims the infinite value of every human being, for Christ came to redeem the entire world. This is the context for the much-misunderstood remark of Pope Francis early in his papacy, ‘we don’t have to talk of such things all the time.’ He was not minimizing the importance of the life issues, as many in the press and public imagined and hoped; his record on the life issues is impeccable and at times quite fierce. In Buenos Aires, he famously called on the Catholic faithful to resist abortion even if they kill you. His point in that frequently misinterpreted comment was simply that the Gospel itself, rightly preached, understood, and believed is the force behind the Catholic belief in the value of every human life from conception to natural death.
We don’t have to talk about life issues all the time because they are always there at heart of the proclamation of the triune God’s love and mercy.
And I would be remiss if I did not remind you that the assault on natural death in the form of Physician-Assisted Suicide is likewise a serious threat. We have beat it back twice in the Delaware legislature but they will try again. The culture of death is militant and tenacious.
But again, my point is that Catholic faith and moral teaching are a seamless whole. Catholicism is not a miscellany, a collection of different practices and teachings from which we are free to choose. It is coherent, whole and entire. All of our moral teaching arises from the truth proclaimed in the Scriptures, the truth taught by Christ, and the truth that is Christ.
Today the truth that we encounter is the truth about the forgiveness of sins and the necessity of mutual forgiveness in the Church. Jesus’ parable of the unjust servant reminds us that the offenses done to us by others are a pittance compared to our offenses against God. A more precise translation would help. The steward owes his master ten thousand talents. The sum is enormous; the amount is like the national debt. He could never actually pay it back. Jesus loves to exaggerate to make a point. The servant he in turn abuses owes a hundred denarii – a denarius was roughly enough to feed a family for a day. It’s not a nickel, but it is an imaginable sum. It’s payable.
That’s the point. We are incapable of imagining the debt we owe the Father, the impact of our sin and unbelief on God himself. It just doesn’t seem that bad to us. At least not most of the time. On occasion, the conscience is stricken but usually we just coast along. However, let someone hurt, cross or offend us and we tally the debt scrupulously. We know what others owe us; we are too often indifferent to what we owe God.
And so to knit us sinners together more closely in the Church and to enable us to understand the enormity of the debt he will pay on the cross, Jesus tells this parable. How often shall I forgive my brother, my sister? – as often as God forgives you a far greater debt.
We need to forgive each other because to be Christians, to represent and proclaim God faithfully to the world, we need to live in unity and mutual love and affection. We need to do so to avoid God’s judgment. In recognizing how important we are to each other and to God we recognize the value of every human life.
What Jesus teaches through the means of a story Paul teaches in direct language.
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
[EF: Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ]
[EF: healing of the son of the widow of Nain is a sign that God has visited his people]
We do not live for ourselves. We cannot be saved alone; we count on the communion of saints, the prayers of the saints and one another’s prayers. Catholics have gotten a little squishy about purgatory in recent decades. That’s not good. Few of us die without still needing a lot of work. And we are still united with those who have died and are not yet ready for the vision of God. We are united with the faithful departed as well as with each other here. We do not live or die for ourselves.
We sustain each other along the way. We share the one bread and the one cup, the one Lord, one faith and one Baptism. We are bound to one another because in that sacramental life we are united with Christ. The description of the Church as a pilgrim people has become popular as a description of the Church, and it is accurate. We move together through the desert and dangers of the world toward the promised Kingdom, as Israel journeyed through the desert en route to the land God had promised to Abraham. In the Gospels, for the last few weeks, Jesus has been preparing the disciples for that journey, for the time when he will not be with them in the same way. We have heard him give Peter the keys to the Kingdom. We have heard him talk of personal reconciliation and promise that where two or three of us are gathered he will be there.
The common humanity we share as creatures are reinforced and sanctified by the common faith and the gift of Baptism. A proper understanding of the bond created by Baptism and faith and by our unity with the pope and bishops thus undergirds the entirety of Catholic moral teaching.
We confess in the Creed that the Church is Catholic, and we often describe that as a synonym for universal in the sense that it is worldwide. That is true but it’s only part of the definition. The Church is also Catholic through time. We are united to those who have gone before us, the whole Body of Christ through time which bequeaths to us the great treasury of teaching, worship and devotion. But the Church is also Catholic – the word Catholic comes from two Greek words meaning ‘according to the whole’ – it is also Catholic in the sense that the faith is one thing. All of doctrine and all of morality holds together because the one God in his mercy has forgiven our sins and called us to follow Christ faithfully.
Therefore, as I said earlier, the Gospel itself, rightly preached, understood, and believed is the force behind the Catholic belief in the value of every human life from conception to natural death. Likewise, it is the power behind the call to mutual forgiveness and service, to charity and works of mercy, to prayer and devotion – to everything that makes us Catholic in all its beauty and truth.