Sunday, January 27, 2013


   Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln 
issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
It declared that, on January 1, 1863,
“all persons held as slaves…
shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
But as we mark this historic anniversary, 
we must also remember:
things didn’t change instantly for every slave.
The nation was still in the midst of its Civil War.
Most black men, women, and children 
living in the Confederacy
had no idea there’d been any such proclamation;
they’d remain in chains for some time to come.
President Lincoln’s words were powerful, 
and they held great promise,
but they awaited fulfillment.
Some would say his words 
remain unfulfilled even today.

Our Scripture readings this Sunday
have a lot to say about the power of words.

In the gospel,
we find Jesus himself reading from the scroll of Isaiah:
words announcing good news for the poor and liberty for captives,
sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed.
They were words that had brought hope to generations of Jews,
enduring one hardship after another;
they were words aching to be realized.
Jesus follows that reading with what is likely
the shortest—and most compelling—homily in all of Christian history:
“Today this Scripture passage in fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Sorry—I won’t be quite that short this Sunday!)

It may only be one line, but is says it all!
Jesus is making the bold and history-altering claim
that he is God’s eternal Word in Person:
not handed on from a storyteller’s memory;
not carved in stone or written on a page;
but spelled out for us in human flesh and blood.
As the Lord’s anointed, Christ hasn’t come
merely to talk of freedom or to fight for freedom;
he is Freedom itself.
Here’s an emancipation proclamation
which actually has the power to accomplish all that it promises!

In these six weeks following
the brutal shootings in Newtown, Connecticut,
we have heard many stirring words from our President.
I have been particularly struck 
by words he spoke at a prayer vigil
only two days after all those young lives were needlessly lost.
President Obama said:
This is our first task—caring for our children…
If we don't get that right, 
we don't get anything right. 
That's how, as a society, we will be judged. 
And by that measure,
can we truly say, as a nation,
that we are meeting our obligations? 
(December 16, 2012)

Those are strong words!  And true words!
But they’re words which, nonetheless, ring hollow for me
as last Tuesday the United States 
marked 40 years of legal abortion
in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
They’re words robbed of their force
because they’re not backed up by the whole truth,
and not followed up by comprehensive, meaningful action.

Nearly 20 years ago, Mother Teresa of Calcutta
was invited to address political and religious leaders
at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C..
Her courageous words that day caught many by surprise.
She said:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today 
is abortion,
because it is a war against the child,
a direct killing of the innocent child…
And if we accept that a mother 
can kill even her own child,
how can we tell other people 
not to kill one another?…
Any country that accepts abortion
is not teaching its people to love,
but to use any violence to get what they want.
This is why the greatest destroyer 
of love and peace is abortion.
Many people are very, very concerned
with the children of India, 
with the children of Africa
where quite a few die of hunger, and so on.
Many people are also concerned 
about all the violence
in this great country of the United States.
These concerns are very good.
But often these same people are not concerned
with the millions who are being killed
by the deliberate decision of their own mothers.
And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today—
abortion which brings people to such blindness.  (February 5, 1994)

Indeed, how we care for our children—
all of our children, who are the least of our brothers and sisters—
is the measure by which we shall be judged.
For we are all bound together by one web of life
as members of the human family.
And as Christians, united by the Spirit we have received in Baptism,
we are more: we are members of one Body in Christ.
What happens to one—even the child hidden and silent in the womb—
impacts all the rest.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once insightfully observed:
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
I can never be what I ought to be
until you are what you ought to be.
And you can never be what you ought to be
until I am what I ought to be…
And by believing this, by living out this fact,
we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.  (1965)
Your freedom and my freedom are tied up together!
And so it falls to you and me
to stand up and speak up as witnesses
to the Good News proclaimed by Jesus Christ,
that his words of power, his words of liberation,
might accomplish their goal:
touching and transforming the lives
of Jew and Greek, slave and free—born and yet to be born.

Again—I can’t help but hear words of President Obama
in response to the Newtown shootings
in a wider pro-life context.  
He has asked:
Are we really prepared to say
that we're powerless in the face of such carnage,
that the politics are too hard?
Are we prepared to say that such violence
visited on our children year after year after year
is somehow the price of our freedom?  (December 16, 2012)
Faced with nearly 55 million children aborted since Roe v. Wade,
it would appear that more and more Americans
are now answering, “No!”
At Friday’s annual March for Life,
hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C.—
many of them people of faith, and (as the media is beginning to notice)
the majority of them young people,
including seven teenagers from right here in our parishes.
Why so many youth protesting a decision made back in 1973?
Because those of us who are 40 and under
can’t help but take this issue very personally.
We could have been legally aborted;
we could have been just another “choice.”
Must one more generation grow up in this shadow of death?

As Catholics, we are not—strictly speaking—a people of “the word.”
Indeed, we show great reverence for the Bible.
But our faith is drawn not only from the sacred Scriptures,
but from the living Tradition of the Church
which first collected and now interprets them.
And our worship is centered not on the preaching of a sermon,
but on the celebration of a Sacrament,
which makes Christ really and truly present among us.
We’re about promises fulfilled!
We’re about truth embodied—truth taking flesh!
We’re about words in action!
As it is within the four walls of our churches,
so ought it be for us Catholics out in the public square.
It is for this that Christ lived and died and rose again:
that we—all of us—might be today, henceforth, and forever free.

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