Respect-Life Sunday

Readings: Is. 5.1-7; Ps. 80; Phil. 4.6-9; Mt. 21.33-43

Today is Respect-Life Sunday. Jesus tells us in today's gospel a parable about a landowner who repeatedly sent his servants to the vineyard to collect what was owed to him by servants who were working in the vineyard. Repeatedly, the servants beat, stoned, and killed the landlord's servant. Finally, the landlord sent his son. The servants beat and killed the son also. The parable refers obviously to God's sending of the Old Testament prophets, all sixteen of whom were killed. Finally, God sent his only Son. This Son Jesus also would be killed. Jesus quotes the Scriptures: "the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone." Jesus makes a play on words: the same word ebed in Hebrew means both son and stone. Jesus is both the son and cornerstone.

Respect-Life Sunday. Respect-life issues run the gamut of human life: from the womb to the tomb. We need to respect life from conception until old age and death. Respect-life issues include stem cell research, opposition to the death penalty, and patient's rights to receive proper nutrition and hydration. The Church teaches also about the need for just wages, a fair economy, respect for immigrants, and accessibility to proper medical care. And we need to take care of the environment which is God-given, and belongs to all peoples of the world, not just to the most wealthy and most powerful. The most fundamental right, however, is the right to life. All other rights are subsequent in time, and less important in essence. If someone has lost the right to life, all other rights are meaningless. At the same time, admittedly if someone has the right to life, and no other subsequent rights, then the quality of human life suffers.

Can somebody claim to be Catholic and pro-abortion? No. Can somebody be Catholic and vote for a pro-abortion candidate? Yes and no. According to Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Catholics may vote for a pro-abortion candidate despite his/her being pro-abortion, but not because he/she is pro-abortion. Catholics in good standing may decide that a candidate's overall platform, policies and promises are what are best for that office. But it seems clear that Catholics may not vote for a candidate because he/she is pro-abortion.

During the last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden both attempted theological justification for their pro-abortion stances. Both of these Catholic politicians were criticized solidly by archbishops from coast to coast. These Catholic politicians' defenses of abortion were rejected by Church leaders. Nancy Pelosi based her justification on St. Augustine's understanding of fifth century medicine. Other politicians base their justification on St. Thomas' understanding of 13th century medicine. When these politicians are ill, do you think they will go to a doctor whose education stopped in the 5th century, or 13th century? Or will they go to a doctor who practices cutting edge 21st century medicine? It is not fair to children in the womb that some politicians today justify their positions based on medieval medicine.

A couple of errors espoused by these two pro-abortion politicians, and millions of other misinformed people. First error: the Fathers of the Church have not been able to determine when life begins. Wrong. The first century book of the Didache reports this: "You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to die." There has been discussion as to when en-soulment began, perhaps when the baby first moves, or perhaps around 7 weeks when the genitalia of the baby begin to identify the sex of the child. But when does life begin? For the last two thousand years, the Church has taught consistently that life begins at conception.

Second error: some politicians say that the decision pertaining to abortion is a matter of faith and religion, and they don't want to impose religion on non-believers. Wrong. The decision pertaining to abortion is a matter of science. To quote Archbishop Chaput: "Modern biology knows exactly when human life begins: at the moment of conception."

Third error: the decision regarding abortion is a personal and private issue. Wrong. The child in the womb has rights. That child is the most vulnerable person among us. Many states have passed laws that charge a person with two deaths, when someone takes the life of a pregnant woman.

Fourth error: we Catholics are not supposed to be single issue voters; abortion is one issue among many issues. Yes and no. Yes, we are not supposed to be single-issue voters. But abortion is not the equal of other issues. Abortion is not just one issue among other issues. The right to life is the most fundamental issue. The Archbishop of Denver writes: "Abortion is a fundamental issue; it is not an issue like housing policy or the price of foreign oil. It always involves the intentional killing of innocent life, and it is always grievously wrong."

On Respect-Life Sunday, I invite all of us to thank God and to thank our parents, living and deceased for the lives with which we have been blessed. Let's do our part in prayer, words, and actions to know and represent the teachings of the Church in the entire breadth of its pro-life issues, from the womb to the tomb. In today's gospel, the workers in the vineyard became so accustomed to killing, that they even killed the son of the landowner. In history, these same people killed the Lord Jesus. We could never imagine ourselves doing either of these terrible deeds. Yet in our moment of history, millions of children are being killed in the womb. I invite each person to ponder how, when, and where you might stand up and speak up on behalf of the Church's two-thousand year old opposition to abortion and defense of life in the womb.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley