St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Monday, January 23, 2012

Homily for 39th Anniversary of Roe Vs Wade and the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

The following is the homily delivered by Deacon Kevin Lander on January 22, 2011 for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B). It was also the 39th anniversary of Roe Vs Wade which disallowed many restrictions on abortion in the United States.

Monday, January 22, 1973. What were you doing on that day? If you are like me you probably don't remember. Then again I was only 10 years old, so I am using that my excuse. You know it's kind of strange. There are so many sad events in our lives that are etched in our hearts forever. The day Kennedy was shot, the day Martin Luther King Jr was shot, the loss of a loved one, the day the twin towers fell, maybe even the day Michael Jackson or some other celebrity died. Yet none of these compare to the millions of lives lost since that fateful day in 1973. Sadly, as we mark the 39th anniversary this weekend, it might have passed without a second thought. Today we remember that somber event that occurred on January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court voted to decriminalize abortion. One of the many changes in the new Roman Missal sets January 22nd, as a special day in dioceses throughout the United States. It is a day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children. This year, since the 22nd falls on a Sunday though, that special day is moved to Monday, the 23rd. In the 39 years since Roe v. Wade, millions and millions of babies have died in the name of a law that says it's ok, they aren't really babies yet. After all, we don't want to offend sensitivities by using the word 'baby'. It's convenient for people to use words like embryo or fetus. That way, we distance ourselves, that way it seems ok; it's just an operation; sort of like having a wart removed. That way, we can hide from the reality. We can call it whatever we want, but to imply that the development taking place in a woman's uterus is anything other than another human is simply ridiculous and insulting to anyone with any sense of morality.

If I am making you a bit uncomfortable, I apologize, but I don't think as Catholic Christians we can ignore our responsibility to defend life. Think about what we heard in the first reading today. Jonah pleads with the people of Nineveh, and "when God saw by the Ninevites actions how they turned from their evil ways, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out". Now you may be thinking, why is this crazy deacon on his high horse, I don't endorse abortion, and maybe, just maybe God should share some of that wrath on those who have had an abortion, and those who perform them. Maybe you are thinking 'yeah, that's justice...go get'em God!'. But I suggest to you that we must first look within ourselves. We must ask ourselves what is it we have done to be like Jonah, have we done enough, have we done anything, what actions have we taken to repent our country from abortions dark grip upon our society? 

I often think of a priest I once met. Very close to his parish, there was an abortion clinic. He was so overwhelmed by sorrow at the loss for all of those innocent lives, that he knew he must do something. He prayed about what to do, and when he was certain of his path, he approached to the bishop of that diocese. I want to begin Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, 24 hours/day, 7 days/week in he said. The bishop, wary of the request because of the amount of coordination it would take to ensure that the Blessed Sacrament was never left unattended, asked the priest why he wished to do this. The priest simply said, I want to close down that darn abortion clinic (darn was not the word he used). Nonetheless the bishop told him that he would have to consider the request. After some time, having heard nothing from his bishop, the pastor went again, with the same request. The bishop again asked why this was so important; and the pastor again replied that he wanted to close down that darned abortion clinic. The bishop neither answered yes or no. After some time, the pastor approached the bishop for a third time, the pastor again said he wanted to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours/day, 7 days/week to pray that the abortion clinic would close. Finally, the bishop reluctantly agreed, cautioning the pastor that it was critical that multiple people be in the chapel praying before the Blessed Sacrament at all times, day and night. And so, the pastor began continuous adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, with the stated intention of praying for the closure of the abortion clinic. Attendance was never an issue, people readily took time to go to the chapel, 24 hours/day, to pray, reflect, and just be in the presence of Jesus, begging for an end to that 'darn' clinic. Do not ever doubt the power of prayer. Do not for one second ignore its merits; its graces. My friends, within months, the abortion clinic closed its doors. 

St. Paul warns the Corinthians in today's second reading, that time is running out. Paul felt that Christ was coming again very soon, and he warned is fellow Christians to be ready. Well, 2000 years later we still wait, but are we ready? That question applies to so many aspects of our life, but today think about what you would say if Jesus were to ask you; if he were to ask me, what I have done to fight the senseless killing of innocent babies? I know we are not all called to be outspoken advocates for the sanctity of human life. I know that not everyone has a gift of being able to speak out, to challenge our legal system, or enlist others to help in doing so. But my friends, we all possess one powerful gift, to be used individually, at home, and as a parish. Prayer. lf prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament can lead to the closing of an abortion clinic, we must ask ourselves why we are not dropping to our knees right now in petition. It's that simple. 

Today, in his Gospel, Mark recounts Jesus' calling his disciples to follow him. I guarantee you that they had no idea what they were getting into. I guarantee you that they, like Jesus himself found strength, courage, and grace in prayer. They built upon the faith that Christ himself started; they died for the faith that we share today. I beg you, all of you, to begin earnest prayer to put an end to abortion. In those prayers we MUST, I repeat, we MUST also pray for those who perform abortions, and especially for those who have had an abortion, for these people often suffer inexpressible sorrow, and we tend forget about them. You see, as Catholics, it's our duty to act in this way. It's our duty to do everything we can to fight those things that attack our faith. Prayer is the one weapon we all have, and what a weapon it is. Starting today, let's let our God hear our plea, let's let our God know how much we desire to make a difference in the way this country views abortion. The lyrics from a favorite Advent song remind us that when we stand together to stand against hell, the name of this people is Emmanuel. When we stand together, when we pray together, God is with us, God will intervene, God will make a difference, God...will answer our prayers.

Kevin L Lander was ordained a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Pittsburgh on June 11, 2011. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sacraments Are Pro-Life, Pro-Eternal-Life.

Sadly the day after I started writing this post, we lost our unborn baby by miscarriage.  I've decided to publicize it as originally written anyway.  Please keep us in your prayers.  Thank you God for giving us another child, even if only for a short amount of time.
With great joy, I'm happy to announce that my wife and I are expecting another child!  This came as a complete surprise to us, and I'm so humbled that this is part of God's plan, that he would entrust me to be a father to a third child.  I can't wait for our newest addition in September.  And here I thought that we were a few months away from getting out of the last pew in church; I guess not!

When my wife and I started to tell a small number of people about our news, I was really surprised at some of the initial not-so-happy reactions that were received.  Instead of sharing in the joy and excitement, a few responded like it was bad news, wanting to console instead of congratulate.  And when my joy isn't shaken by their lack of excitement, then they feel obligated to tell me what they think I don't realize about having another child, in a parent-trying-to-discourage-their-teenager-from-having-sex sort of way.  I know it's going to be hard having three children.  I think it's really hard having two, but that isn't going to stop me from generously following God's call to raise another child with all the joy and excitement that I have.

My daughter's baptism.
As Catholics, we say that we are pro-life.  We are taught that life is precious from conception until death.  We celebrate life's anniversaries such as birthdays and marriages.  We throw big parties at graduations and other milestones.  Some even rally against abortion, the death penalty, or other pro-life causes.  Unfortunately when it comes to sacraments during Mass, our attitude isn't always the same.

In many parishes, priests no longer celebrate baptisms during Mass.  It used to be done at the last Mass on the forth Sunday of the month at my parish, until the pastor heard enough complaints about the Mass being too long.  The Easter Vigil, which is when the greatest number of people will be formally received into the Church, has become the least attended Mass in many places.  Why? Because people think Masses with baptisms, confirmations, and first communions take too long, so they don't want to be bothered with them.  What isn't realized is that Baptism and the other sacraments of initiation are really the pro-life sacraments.  They are pro-life because they make life holy and bring us to eternal life with God.  You can't get more pro-life than that.  These are rites and rituals that add to to the fullness of the Mass, not hassles that can be avoided by going to an earlier one.

Reaction to baptisms and other sacraments during Mass is incredibly similar to some of the reaction I received when people heard about our third child- they saw all the hassles, not the fullness of life.  I'm not downplaying all inconveniences or the responsibilities.  Personally, there's a lot that for us to figure out, and a lot that we've already figured out that we have to come to terms with.  We just tacked on another year of bottles/formula and another couple years of diapers.  We'll be looking for a new car- one that can accommodate three car seats yet still fit in our garage.  We're hoping that our nanny (whom we have come to depend on) will be willing to care for three small children instead of two.  Sending two kids to Catholic school may have been financially possible, but I know we can't afford to send three.  And these are just a few of the hassles that have come into my head recently.

If all we see with having multiple children are all the inconveniences, responsibilities and  sacrifices that have to be made, then we've missed the point.  If all we notice is that the Mass is inconveniently 20 minutes longer because of some kid's baptism, then we've missed the point there, too.  Both new life and new sacramental life change all of us forever, and this impacts the life of the Church in a beautiful way.

Friends from college that spent a night with us. Now they have 6 kids!

Being pro-life isn't just a stance on abortion, euthanasia, or the death penalty.  It's an attitude or an approach that we should take, both in the market place and in the worship space.  When you're truly pro-life, then you see that every individual is made in God's image and likeness, yet unique and unrepeatable in their own way.  When you're pro-life, both birth and baptism lead us to eternal life, and therefore should be looked forward to and celebrated with all the joy we have.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Read the Bulletin, Just Not During the Homily.

I love to hear a good homily.  Not just because I need to have the Scriptures unpacked and unfolded in a way that applies to what's going on in today's society, but also because I have two small children and am dying to hear something (or anything) that isn't Sesame Street, The Wiggles, and whatever else the kids are in to.  Unfortunately after the Gospel, I'm usually in the vestibule or walking in the rear aisle trying to keep one of my kids from making too much noise.  I get to hear a lot of the homily, but I can tell that I miss things, especially when something is said that makes everyone chuckle (except me).

When pacing in the back of the church, that's when I see people reading the bulletin.  I'm not talking about quick glances to check last week's offertory collection, or to see if the bake sale is this week or the next.  I'm referring to a full reading, cover to cover (if I can use that phrase for a 4-page bulletin).  It's only a handful of people doing this, but enough to where it's noticeable. 

I once spoke with a priest-friend about this and surprisingly, he said, "If people are reading the bulletin during the homily, then the problem must be my homily."  This came from a priest who is quite popular and usually first pick for weddings and funerals because his preaching style.  I didn't agree with him, but there is some truth to what he said.  We all know of priests whose preaching is not their strength.  To be very blunt, if these men weren't priests, they would probably never speak in public, and probably shouldn't.  I'm sure most of these guys know who they are, and it's probably more difficult for them to preach than it is for us to listen to them.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, an excellent homilist.
Since I'm being so honest, then I also need to state that just because the homily is less than palatable, doesn't mean that there isn't something in it that we need to hear.  The Holy Spirit can do anything, including use a hard-to-listen-to homily to move and transform us.  Part of the problem is that we approach the Sunday homilist the same way we approach TV personalities, entertainers, and comedians.   If we aren't entertained by what they have to say, then we change the channel; and that's just not how it works with God.  If it were, He would have changed the channel on us a long time ago.

Now back to reading the bulletin during the homily- at the very least, it's a little rude.  But I should give people every benefit of the doubt, since God probably would.  Maybe they were at an earlier Mass and heard the exact same homily.  Maybe with the busyness of today's society, people are really good at multitasking.  Maybe a copy of the homily can be found in the bulletin and I just didn't know about it!

One thing is for sure, the ultimate onus is on the one reading the bulletin, not the homilist, the quality of homily, or when the bulletins are distributed.  You wouldn't read the church bulletin while sitting in an NFL stadium during the game, or during your child's piano recital.  Simply put, you wouldn't do it during something that really mattered to you.

I'm sure the church bulletin is good reading.  Good enough to replace the homily?  Probably not.   But if the bulletin is starting to compete with the homily during Mass, then maybe Father better put a copy of his homily in there!

On a side note, congratulations to Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York!  It was announced on January 6 that he will become a member of the College of Cardinals next month.  A link to his blog can be found in the right column- it's good reading.

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