Saturday, April 27, 2013

May a Month for Life (Easter 5C)

I have a question for you. Please answer out loud in one word: “Has Jesus Christ risen from the dead?”

That was the answer I hoped to hear! Thank-you.

And now a second question. No need to answer out loud: “What difference will your ‘yes’ make this week or next month?”

In other words, how does your faith in the Resurrection change things for you? Would the next seven days or the next four weeks be any different if you didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead?

The first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells about the difference Easter made for the early Church. Saints Paul and Barnabas have travelled around the Mediterranean preaching Jesus Christ. But they haven’t just preached about the facts of faith—they’ve talked about the consequences. “They strengthened the souls” of their fellow disciples and “encouraged them to continue in the faith” despite the persecution they faced from both fellow Jews and pagans.

What did they say to strengthen souls and give fresh courage to those under fire? They told them that Jesus had risen. No earthly power could match that.

Today’s second reading also speaks about the difference Easter makes. The Book of Revelation tells persecuted Christians in every age to look beyond their present trials and catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

As one Bible commentary says, “Revelation addresses serious questions about how Christians are to live in a larger, often hostile, society. … It warns us against the temptation to be silent or look the other way in the presence of evil and injustice.”  [Collegeville Bible Commentary, 1269]

In the passage we read today, the Book of Revelation gives us the courage we need not only to endure injustice but to oppose it. “Revelation is not a book aimed at scaring Christians to do good” but a book to encourage them in the face of evil, because Christ has already won the victory and a new world has begun to take shape. [ibid.]

These two readings offer a simple enough message: the kingdom of God is glorious, but we reach it only through persecution and trials.

But note: “God’s promise to make all things new doesn’t mean preservation from trials, but support in trials,” as Father John Jay Hughes has said. [Proclaiming the Good News: Homilies for the 'C' Cycle, 97]

We enjoyed a few decades during which anti-Catholicism took a bit of a break. Well-established social prejudices seemed at last to be over. Sadly, it turned out to be a mirage. The world doesn’t mind Catholics, as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves; but when they speak out, watch out!

It’s been very exciting to listen to our parishioners talk about their faith journeys at Sunday Mass. As you know, only a priest or deacon can preach the homily, so the fact that Pope John Paul permitted such lay testimonies in connection with the homily suggests how valuable they are.   [See the Instruction "On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Ministry of Priests," article 3, paragraph 2]  And perhaps they’re good practice for what we need to be doing more often at work, at school, and in our neighbourhoods.

I know that that the parishioners who have spoken take this responsibility very seriously. Last Sunday’s speaker even kept a straight face while describing his younger self as a “pro-life Communist!” There can’t be very many of those out there.

Even though I had to smile at the thought of the young Felipe Grossling as Communist, I was really inspired to know that his belief in the sanctity of life was so strong that it never left him. He had no faith at the time, so his conviction that abortion was wrong was based on reason, not religion.

Even though our Catholic faith helps us understand why life is precious, we need strong arguments that appeal to everyone—if the crimson tide of abortion is ever to be turned back in our society. Telling some folks that abortion is evil, or sinful, or a crime against God is like speaking French to a Russian.

What’s more, not all of us really understand the reasons why we defend life from conception to natural death. We hear the so-called “pro-choice” arguments every day; we might not have heard the pro-life reasons for a long time.

It’s time we faced up to the challenge of speaking the truth to the world.

I came across a story about a convert in Afghanistan who was charged with being a Christian. He was acquitted for lack of evidence. While that must have been a relief to him, it should have been embarrassing as well.

Let’s ask ourselves this morning: Would there be enough evidence to convict me on the charge of being a Christian? One way to find out is to ask when was the last time your faith was the reason you did something you were a bit afraid of doing—or even very afraid of doing.

Most of us are uneasy about standing up for life in a society that is so deeply convinced we’re wrong. But Christians have stood against the world in every age since the death of Jesus.

To do this, we need two things: more courage, and more knowledge.

We can draw courage from the Scriptures we’ve just heard, which clearly promise that God will be with us in the toughest of times.

As for knowledge, our parish is lucky that Felipe Grossling will follow the example of Paul and Barnabas and offer the encouragement and information we need in order to speak charitably and effectively in defense of life.

We’re sponsoring a half-hour talk after both morning Masses next Sunday. Mr. Grossling is no longer a communist, but he is very gifted at explaining how to talk to others about life. You’ll walk out after his short talk more confident and more eager to stand up for the unborn.

May is Pro-Life Month in our parish. We all have a duty as Christians and stewards —according to the time, talent and treasure each of us has—to bear witness to the truth about life. So there’s something next month to challenge every member of the parish from nine to ninety, beginning with the talks next Sunday, which take place right after Mass and include refreshments.

On Thursday, May 9, a group from the parish will head over to Victoria for the annual March for Life. A few days later, on Sunday May 12, I hope to see many, many parishioners standing up for the unborn at Lions Gate Hospital from two to three in the afternoon.

On Monday, May 27, the parish hopes to have a good showing at the Focus on Life Gala dinner, which supports women-centered, life-affirming media ads.

And on June 1, Birthright—the fine organization that helps expectant mothers with support of every kind—is holding a walk/run fundraiser.

Information about all of these is in this week’s bulletin. Please check your calendars—and your conscience—and decide what you’re able to do and to support.

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