Pastoral Work - Homily by
Rev. Ted Nowak, OMI
Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (October 1, 2006):
I wanted to say welcome all of the pro-life people to our Sunday Liturgy, but that would be somewhat illogical, because even before this weekend, as far as I can tell, all of the seminarians and priests who regularly share in the Liturgy in this chapel have been, and continue to be, deeply committed to defending the sanctity of human life from its beginning at the mystery of conception until its natural end in this world. Instead, I will welcome with great respect and joy all of the members of the National Campus Life Network to our Sunday Liturgy. And, I want to say from the beginning how much Jesus Christ - who gives himself to us in sacrifice, in the Mystery of the Eucharist – how much he loves you. He knows your struggles, how much your dedication to Life costs you socially and emotionally. Never be deterred in your dedication to the defence of human life. There can be no nobler task on this earth, than to bear witness to the dignity of human life, because bearing witness to human life, is at one and the same time, bearing witness to the One who created all things, and made human beings the crowning glory of His great act of creation, and the goal of God’s redemptive action in Christ!
Every Sunday, the Church gathers to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Christ, his victory over death. But this particular Sunday falls on the fist day of October, which is the memorial of Saint Theresa of Lisieux, known also as St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, or more affectionately as “the little flower.” She came to be known by this simple and child-like appellation, from the autobiography she was asked to write by the superior of the Carmelite convent she entered at a very tender age. She begins her reflection by pondering a particularly thorny problem she was confronted with on her spiritual journey; the problem of God’s apparent injustice in granting some saints more gifts of grace than others.
“I wondered for a long time,” she writes, “why God has preferences, why all souls don’t receive an equal amount of graces. I was surprised when I saw Him shower His extraordinary favours on saints who had offended Him, for instance, St. Paul and St. Augustine, and whom He forced, so to speak, to accept His graces. When reading the lives of the saints, I was puzzled at seeing how Our Lord was pleased to caress certain ones from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle in their way when coming to Him, helping them with such favours that they were unable to soil the immaculate beauty of their baptismal robe.”
And in an inspired moment of mystical experience she recalls how, “Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He had created are beautiful, how the splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers.
And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to Lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at his feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.” Theresa then goes on to describe herself as on of the “little flowers” of God’s garden.
There is such profundity in her testimony, that even though she never completed any higher education, received no honorary doctorates, and died at a very young age in an obscure convent, was declared by John Paul II a Doctor of the Church: a Doctor of the Church, along with the great Jerome who spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew fluently and translated the entire bible into the vernacular; a Doctor of the Church, along with Saint Augustine whose theological works stand as perhaps the highest intellectual achievement in Christian history. Along with these intellectual giants, stands this simple French Carmelite nun – a Doctor of the Church. She is declared Doctor of the Church, because her spiritual insights and her simple, profoundly holy life of purity and self-giving love soar light-years beyond the intellectual achievements of many a noble-prise winner! Her insights and holy life have inspired generations of Christian faithful to live for God and to bear witness to Christ.
Her insights about the garden offer us important lessons, relating to the scriptural texts the church offers us this Sunday. They also offer encouragement for those dedicated to defending the dignity of human life in a culture floundering in the darkness of comfort and self-seeking.
Firstly, every flower in God’s garden, no matter how insignificant it may appear, from God’s perspective is an integral, unrepeatable, and infinitely precious piece of the whole. Each and every human life, no matter what cultural, linguistic, social or economic group it finds itself a part of, is unique and precious and must be protected and defended, especially within a culture that has become blinded to the truth of the ontological reality of human dignity.
Secondly, in our efforts to bear witness to the dignity of human life, and to God, its author, we must support all those who share this task with us. The disciples wanted to stop those who were expelling demons in Jesus’ name, because they were not part of their community. Jesus tells his disciples not to stop them, and says to them “whoever is not against us is with us.” Similarly in the first reading, when Moses was praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon those who would help him judge the people, he was pleased that God went far beyond the expectations of his closest collaborators and began pouring out the spirit on those who were not with him in the meeting tent. It is vital to form networks, coalitions, and support groups for human dignity. There are countless people of good will, of all ages, who will join you if you persevere in your efforts.
Thirdly, whenever we might get discouraged, when everything seems bleak and hopeless, it is vital to look beyond the immediate context. Like the Little Flower, don’t focus only on one flower, or on one part of the garden. The world is vast and the efforts for the protection of human life are succeeding in many places. Look at Poland, in the middle of the European continent, where a few years ago the battle for the defence of human life seemed to be lost. Poland has very strict laws prohibiting abortion and a plethora of agencies and groups supporting women in need. The President of that country is not timid in his outspoken defence of the dignity of human life, even when he meets with other world leaders and intellectuals.
Be assured that the Church is with you. Recently, when the bishops of Ontario visited the Holy Father, ad limina, he said to them: “ Today, the impediments to the spread of Christ's Kingdom are experienced most dramatically in the split between the Gospel and culture , with the exclusion of God from the public sphere. Canada has a well-earned reputation for a generous and practical commitment to justice and peace, and there is an enticing sense of vibrancy and opportunity in your multicultural cities. At the same time, however, certain values detached from their moral roots and full significance found in Christ have evolved in the most disturbing of ways. In the name of 'tolerance' your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse, and in the name of 'freedom of choice' it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children. When the Creator's divine plan is ignored the truth of human nature is lost.
False dichotomies are not unknown within the Christian community itself. They are particularly damaging when Christian civic leaders sacrifice the unity of faith and sanction the disintegration of reason and the principles of natural ethics, by yielding to ephemeral social trends and the spurious demands of opinion polls . Democracy succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle; otherwise Christian witness to the splendor of truth in the public sphere would be silenced and an autonomy from morality proclaimed.”
The Holy Father supports you. He is praying for you.
Like Saint Theresa, we must always keep in mind and imagine the whole Garden and the One who planted it! Keep looking to God, who will never let you down.
Finally, it is also very important to see everyone - especially those who oppose you, who persecute you, and who treat you badly, also as children of God, who have lost their way. Always respond to with love and respect. Because it is only by the integrity of the messenger, that the message will bear fruit.
The challenge may seem daunting, but so it must have seemed to Peter and Paul who were among the first to announce the Gospel to an empire bent on destroying it. They never gave up and were martyred. But eventually – and it did take a few hundred years – their message was received and Christian culture was born.
Father Ted Nowak, OMI
Sunday, October 1, 2006