If you were put on the spot to summarize the entire Bible – all 76 books and countless theological points – in one sentence, how would you choose to do so?
I’d like to propose that one way though maybe not the best and certainly not the only way, but one way, might be simply: ‘God loves us’. I think that might work pretty well – for from the beginning of the story of creation to the end of the tribulations of Revelation, the consistent message from God is that He loves us.
We need this message repeated, as it often is in Scripture. Sometimes it’s awareness of our own sin and shame that keeps us from believing this truth. Other times it is the lack of love we feel from others. It might be that we feel distant from the Lord. In all cases, we need to be reminded that God loves us.
Tomorrow we will celebrate the national holiday in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. A pastor himself, Dr. King took this basic message and modified it slightly: ‘God loves us, too!’. And especially in his time, as in many times before and since, we needed to hear that message. As we are wont to do, we had divided ourselves into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The Lord’s message had been limited ‘God loves us……but not them’.
We rightly celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day as a reminder that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, that His love is unconditional, crossing every boundary regardless of race, color, creed or orientation. God loves us – and us – and us – and us! A rallying cry raised by various groups in need of that same recognition.
Racism is not entirely gone from our world, but we are much more likely to recognize and refute it now. But there is a group of people who still need to be spoken for. The problem is that they can not speak for themselves – in fact they are incapable of speaking at all: they are the unborn children of the world.
As with so many other efforts to oppress a people, there are a plethora of minimizing terms used to describe our unborn children: ‘fetus’, ‘zygote’ or ‘embryo’. They’re accurate scientifically or medically, but have become the tool to convince generations of parents that their babies are nothing more than a clump of cells – to be kept or disposed of at their discretion.
As followers of Christ, we believe that human life begins at conception. Did you catch the affirmation of this belief in our first reading at Mass today? Of Isaiah it is written ‘Now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb [emphasis added]’ (Isaiah 49:5). The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to this most clearly, in #2270:
Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
What holds us back from proclaiming this truth? I suspect it isn’t a lack of believe in the dignity of our fellow man. We’ve all been in situations where someone near us needed affirmation. We’re good at reminding people that they are worthwhile, loved and valuable to us and others.
The problem isn’t that we have trouble with telling people ‘God loves us’ – it’s dealing with the conflict when someone else says ‘No He doesn’t’. What do you do with that? And that conflict isn’t harmless – the race riots of King’s time speak to the explosiveness of these conflicting ideas. Today we don’t necessarily have riots over the issue of life – but it’s nonetheless explosive: who among us wants to lose our friends, alienate our family members, be punished or fired at work and otherwise be expelled from the circles of people to whom we are close?
Who want to be this guy?
Let me answer that by asking a question I posed to my congregations at Masses this weekend: How many of you here are members of the puppy kicking club?
I’m happy to report that at four Masses, no members were present (or at least, admitted it). I suspect that you too are not a puppy kicker.
And who would be? It’s a no good thing, kicking puppies. And as ridiculous as that sounds, you might recall that a few years ago there was a football player in the news, fined and benched from playing because of his involvement in dog fighting. These dogs are raised to be aggressive and attack each other – to the point of maiming or killing the each other – for the ‘sport’ of spectators.
I remember reading articles written by rightly infuriated folks. How angry they were that anyone would be so cruel and callous to these animals! I was among the appalled. A couple of days later, some Catholic commentators raised the point of how sad it was that we were so quick to defend these dogs….and so slow to stand up for our own children.
So what are we to do? The first is to simply speak out! We needn’t hold signs on a street corner (though that too, may be effective). We need to start by engaging in that dialogue. Who of us hasn’t been part of a conversation about babies, overheard a conversation at a family gathering or even been asked about when life begins? What excellent opportunities to drop even little tidbits of the Truth: affirming the parenthood of an expecting mother or father, expressing our believe in life at conception – our proclamation plants the seeds that God will use for conversion.
Here in America, we have another opportunity that has been created and protected for each of us. We have the right and responsibility of voting for those leaders who would represent us locally and nationally. Here too we are given the chance to witness to the Gospel, to ensure that life is protected. Our votes can make a difference.
Archbishop Chaput wrote a book titled Render Unto Caesar, where he offers a concise summary of how we may enter into fruitful discernment around voting:
One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false ‘right’ to abortion. We sin if we support pro-choice candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so—that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a ‘proportionate’ reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions—as we someday will.
Whenever I read this snippet, it cuts at me. I know that like so many of us, I have not always done what I ought to stand up for life, whether in voting or in proclaiming the Gospel. And in a way, while I fear the judgment of God – the thought of facing those children affected by my failure to stand up for them – that cuts very deeply indeed!
There is another reality that we need to address as well. Undoubtedly, whether in reading this here or sitting anonymously in our pews, there are those who have been touched by abortion all around us. Perhaps it was in an abortion procured on themselves, or for a spouse, perhaps in the loss of a sibling or knowing a family member, friend or co-worker who has been directly or indirectly involved in abortion. To them, we have a great responsibility to proclaim the Gospel:
God loves you.
God’s love has no limits, no conditions and no boundaries. There is no sin, no mistake made that He is not willing to wipe away through the mercy won by His Son’s sacrifice. If you are reading this, wondering if this applies to you – know that it does! Talk to your local priest – dare to ask for absolution in the sacrament of confession – and share in the knowledge that God loves you, Has always loved you and always will.
What an amazing gift we have in the message of God! One little sentence: God’s loves us. May we have the humility to accept this truth for ourselves. May we have the courage to proclaim it to those who don’t yet know it. We can make a difference for our unborn brothers and sisters – so that every single person knows that they are made in the image and likeness of God, and loved equally by Him.