Evangelium Vitae Sunday


Yesterday I preached a homily that drew heavily from Bl Pope John Paul II encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, as there was a conference organised by the Holy See on this encyclical and its relationship to the New Evangelisation. In fact my homily was my attempt at a summary of the Blessed pope's encyclical. Here it is:
Every household must be a sanctuary of life – this is God's plan – everyone, at every level of society needs to support the family in order to make this happen … EV

As we know the family, the sanctuary of life, is being further attacked even from the time of the encyclical of Bl JP II, Evangelium Vitae, in 1995. Who could have thought that all round the world, as if coordinated, the very definition of marriage is being changed? No longer the sanctuary of life, but the place for personal fulfilment and the gratification of desires.

Bl. John Paul II wrote, in consultation with all the Bishops of the Church, this teaching of the Gospel of Life – because of the urgency and the seriousness by which civilised human society is reverting to barbarism. Not only did he list all the enormously varied and tragic ways in which life is being attacked and destroyed, with legal protection and societal approval, but showed how all the forces at work were in fact a coordinated attack against man. Man – now blinded by very grave sin, and thus also blinded to the presence of God. This isn't merely people just getting things badly wrong and getting very confused; it is a concert of many, seemingly, disconnected factors coming together to attack human life and create a culture of death. Barbarism is returning – we are in the midst of it! But we also need to realise that the rise of the culture of death is directly connected with secularisation – the Church's mission is thus directly related to fighting the culture of death.

Christianity is a culture of life, for Christ came that we might have life, the fullness of life, eternal life. Death was not willed for us by God. Death entered human life through sin, and came swiftly. As the culture of death has swiftly spread its tentacles, so the capacity to discern God's living and saving presence has diminished. But alas it is only before God, it is only being conscious of God's presence and of His just judgement, that we can name our sin and recognise its full seriousness. This was the experience of King David who had “committed evil in the sight of the Lord.” Nathan the prophet, reminder of the presence of the Lord in their midst, rebuked King David, and King David exclaimed, “My offences, truly I know them; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done.” (Ps 51) With the culture of death comes a darkening of vision of God, and an incapacity to recognise the preciousness and sanctity of all human life. People in the culture of death do not even recognise sin.

The culture of death brings also despondency for those who are Christian: can good be powerful enough to triumph over evil?

At such times the People of God is called to profess, in humility and courage, its faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1). For the Gospel of Life is not commandments, nor a programme of awareness raising, nor an illusory promise of a better future. No, the Gospel of Life is the proclamation of the Person of Jesus Christ. For He declares to us all, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” What He said to St Martha in her mourning, He says to us all: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” For Christ, the Son of God, eternally receives Life from the Father, and He comes from the Father with this gift of Life to share with all men. “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

For the woman in the gospel today, whose sins we are told were many, came to the Lord of Life knowing He was the Lord of life. She acknowledged her many sins by her devotion and her tears. And the Lord of Life gave her forgiveness. She was released from the bondage to sin and death. This is the mission of the Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Apostolic ministry of the Church, the Church is called to forgive sins in the name of God. And this is a gift of restoring men and women to Life.

The Church has received the Gospel of Life as a proclamation and a source of joy and life. We have received it from Christ who received it from the Father. We have received it through the Apostles who were sent to proclaim it to the world. And so we hear daily St Paul's words:- “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

We are the People of Life because God has given us the Gospel of Life and by the Gospel of Life we have been transformed and saved. (EV 78) We have been ransomed by Christ at the price of His precious Blood. By Baptism we are made part of Him, as branches in a vine deriving nourishment and fruitfulness from the One true vine. Renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life, we have become a people for Life. And we are called to act accordingly. We have been sent. We are God's own people. Everyone has an obligation to be at the service of life. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.” (1 Jn 1:3)

We must listen to and know the Gospel of Life, and proclaim it in deed and in every word we say - that we might bring everyone to the Truth, who is Life. St James wrote, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?” And it is a pressing need at the moment. When the culture of death so forcefully opposes the culture of life, witnesses for the Gospel of Life are needed. We cannot rest on our laurels. It is no good us just saying, “Isn't it nice being Catholic” but then do nothing about proclaiming the Gospel of Life. This is our mission. We are called to be witnesses to the Gospel of Life – and as we know the word “martyr” is literally “witness”. This missionary call is a call to sacrifice oneself for the proclamation of the Gospel of Life. We must die to ourselves, that others may live to Christ. Proclaiming the Gospel of Life in our own time can at times be scary, provoke very negative reactions and can cause us suffering. But thus have the witnesses of the Church ever been – uniting their suffering with Christ's.

We must learn to stand with Our Lady at the foot of the Cross of the suffering Christ, but which is the Tree of Life. We look to Our Lady for inspiration and help. In the Book of Revelation she is a great portent in the heavens, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars. And in the apocalyptic vision she is with child. She bears Life. The Motherhood of Mary makes possible the mission of the Church. She is the “New Eve” and truly the mother of all the living (literal trans of 'Eve'). The portent of the woman clothed with the sun, is accompanied with another portent: a great red dragon, which is Satan, the personal power of evil.

Life is always at the centre of a great cosmic battle. The dragon desires to devour the child. The child is Christ of course, but also every precious human life is that child, for our Lord says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40) We are to hear what Mary heard from the Angel, “Do not be afraid Mary … with God nothing is impossible.”

O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living,

to you do we entrust the cause of life.
Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life. Amen.

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