Following Christ: To Be “For Life”

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on January 13 at a Respect Life Mass celebrated at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria.

Is the scene described in today's Gospel account only a memory recorded in the Scriptures, or is it repeated, re-enacted? We see Jesus passing by Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Levi is also known as Matthew. Jesus looks at him and says, "Follow me." And Matthew gets up and follows Jesus.

This scene is repeated and re-enacted at each of our own baptisms. Jesus comes to us as we are being reborn of water and the Holy Spirit and says, "Follow me!" Baptized into Christ Jesus, we begin to belong to God.

Yes, the call of Jesus — "Follow me" — is spoken at Baptism. Jesus was calling each one of us to follow Him, to allow Him to live in us by sharing in His life of divine grace, and to be and to act in our lives as He did when He lived among us.

Allowing Jesus to live in us and consciously imitating how He lived includes being "for life." Pope John Paul II taught us so clearly when he wrote in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, "Through the waters of baptism, we have been made a part of him (cf. Rom 6: 4-5; Col 2: 12), as branches which draw nourishment and fruitfulness from the one tree (cf Jn 15: 5). Interiorly renewed by the grace of the Spirit, ‘Who is the Lord and giver of life,' we have become a people for life and we are called to act accordingly" (no. 79).

What then are the implications for us as baptized members of Christ's Church, members who are "for life" precisely because we belong to Christ?

One implication is that we are called to witness to life's inestimable dignity and worth in both speech and action. A concrete example of this two-fold witness is the March for Life, which will again take place this year on January 22. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Washington each year to march as a tangible witness to being "for life." Young people especially will be at the March, a dynamic witness to their conviction about the primacy of life from conception to natural death. Yes, our young people have the understanding, the will, the energy and the determination to turn our country around, to make this great land not a place where death dominates but where life triumphs. The faithful of Arlington will join in this tangible witness on January 22.

Another concrete example of this two-fold witness of speech and action will occur on the last Monday of this month, January 29, when we shall go Richmond and participate in Catholic Advocacy Day. Visiting our state legislators gives us the opportunity to voice our conviction about the life issues and to enlist this support for legislation that will be "for life."

Among these life issues is embryonic stem cell research. As we are aware, the Church supports adult stem cell research but opposes embryonic stem cell research. Why? Because to destroy an embryo is to take away, to kill, human life. Adult stem cell research has already shown positive signs of curing illness and disease, while embryonic stem cell research has not yet produced any such signs. Yet, the push is on within the media and in our own state and nation to advance and to fund with public monies this research which in fact destroys human life. This past week the New York Times published an editorial urging the use of these embryonic stem cells, and the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of this type of research. We must see the truth of the matter and witness accordingly — "for life!"

A second implication of today's Gospel and first reading is conversion and repentance. Not everyone in the Church has been such a staunch witness. Yet, Jesus is passing by daily, repeating His invitation to follow Him and to be "for life" as He is. It is never too late to respond to this call of our Lord! Conversion is possible and attainable. Leaving behind whatever dampened your witness, now — today — you can begin anew as did Matthew in response to Jesus' call.

A third implication of today's Scriptures is the awareness that to be "for life" demands that we be rooted in the Word of God. God's Word reveals authentic truth and real love, especially for the people entrusted to us. You and I must always seek and know that truth as it comes to us through the sacred Scriptures, the living Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium of the Church.

A fourth and final implication of today's sacred Scriptures is our attitude toward those who have in fact sinned against life. Our attitude must be no more and no less that the attitude of Christ. How do we know Christ's attitude? We heard only moments ago, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin." Again, we also heard Jesus say in our midst, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Most people who have had an abortion later deeply regret that action. We must be the heralds of hope and welcome. Yes, we must invite them to come back home, to Jesus, Who stands ready to forgive them. Indeed, having the mind and heart of Christ, we offer hope, welcome and practical help to those struggling with making a decision about abortion and other life issues and to those who have wrongly decided. They will be forgiven if they are truly contrite and seek out Christ in the person of the priest in the confessional.

The call to be "for life" is intrinsic to Christ's call to us at Baptism: "Follow me." Asking the help of our blessed Mother, let our witness for life be clear, convincing and, above all, Christ-like. After all, as baptized members of the Church, we are "the people of life and for life, and this is how we must present ourselves to everyone" (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 78).

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