“Come, Follow Me” in a Life-Challenged World | Homily for Respect Life Sunday

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21 January 2018
St. Mary Immaculate Parish – Plainfield, IL
Jon 3: 1-5, 10; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

Tomorrow, January 22, marks the 45th anniversary
of the historic Supreme Court case, Roe vs. Wade,
that legalized abortion in this country.

This, of course, is a deeply divisive issue.
While it is often highly politicized,
for the Christian, abortion is not political –
not ultimately, anyway.

It is also helpful to remember, I think,
that abortion is not the only “life” issue on the table.
To be pro-life, means to be pro-life
for life; that is, to stand up for the rights
of every human person, regardless of their origin
or status, or age, or religion.

Being pro-life means
to remember that a government shutdown threatens healthcare
for hundreds of thousands of otherwise uninsured children who benefit from the CHIP program;
it means to remember the approximately 800,000 DREAMers among us
whose livelihood is threatened by the future of DACA.
It means to remember that in 2015, 431 people were euthanized without their consent.

Being pro-life means being
pro-man, pro-woman, pro-person;
pro-dignity, pro-charity, pro-unity;
pro-mercy, pro-forgiveness, pro-healing.

In a word, being pro-life means being pro-Christ.

The Gospel today seems to have little to do with the topic of respecting life.
It is Mark’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry,
and a reminder for us of the two tasks that stand before every person,
both at the beginning of their journey of discipleship and, indeed, at every moment
of their ongoing conversion, and conformation to Christ:
“repent and believe” and “come, follow me.”

These are the basics of Christian discipleship.
Repent, in Greek, literally means “turn around.”
Turn around from where you are going; from straying away from the one who calls you,
and, instead, follow him in a new direction, toward life and joy.

Too often, our discipleship – our life lived according to the fact of Jesus Christ –
is reduced to a kind of social work, as if the greatest good
the Church has to offer the world is social justice.
Thus, our ministry in the world is reduced
to simply “being a good person” and “helping the needy”,
to “promoting justice for all” and “standing up for what we believe”,
to “conversion of the culture” and “acts of charity”…
none of which are inherently bad in themselves.

But the danger is that all of our life with Christ becomes
“built on the values that Christ brought us.
Thus, all our efforts at…operative, charity, cultural, social, and political activity
have certainly had as their aim that of mobilizing ourselves and things
in accord with the ideals,
the starting points which Christ has made known to us.
But at the beginning…it was not so.” (L. Giussani, The Work of the Movement)

Do you consider yourself to be a disciple?
If so, do you remember the beginning of your journey as a disciple?
Do you have some recollection of the moment in your history
when you knew the fact of Christ?
When you heard his voice, when you made the decision to turn around,
to believe in him, and to follow him?
Do you have some sense of his reality?

For those of you who come here week after week,
or for those who are here for the very first time
and might be very impressive Christians
but not necessarily intentional disciples,
never fear: it’s okay; but today is the day.
Jesus: I love you, I trust you, I need you, I’m sorry, I want to follow you.

For those of you who know what I’m talking about
when I speak of the purity of the beginning of your journey,
when you became so convinced of the reality of Jesus
that you, in some sense, left everything to follow him –
how was it for you at the beginning?

When I finally gave in to the call to become a priest on Christmas Eve in 2010,
it wasn’t because I was convinced by words in a book about Jesus,
or by the desire to serve the poor or to hear confessions or to baptize or celebrate Mass;
it wasn’t values that convinced me, but a person who called me.
I fell victim to a certain “enthusiasm for a Presence”,
for me, “the persuasive motive was the fact of Christ”
and it is knowing him – and only in knowing him – that gives life and meaning and creativity to my ministry and life as a Christian disciple and witness.

When we remove the person and fact of Jesus Christ,
the one who, being the Life, is the ultimate “pro-lifer”,
we remove the true efficacy of our efforts.
“Christ is the reason for existence, Christ is the cause of our creativity.”
When we do not know Christ, “gladness does not appear on our faces”
and thus no one believes our promises of joy.

I don’t know anything about the politics of DACA,
or the implications of ending the CHIP program,
or the ins-and-outs of assisted suicide,
or the great nuances and complication of immigration reform,

But I do know that each one of these issues
affects the life of someone real, of my neighbor or coworker
or the guy at the next table at Krema coffee.

Deacon Ryan cannot influence immigration legislation,
he can’t build or knock down border walls,
he can’t fly out tomorrow and lobby the Supreme Court;

But he can love.

What does it mean to be pro-life but to be pro-neighbor?
To recognize that their legal status, their stage of gestation, their disease,
or addiction, or sexuality, or difference of opinion
does not reduce their humanity.
Standing in front of me, at all times, is a fellow human,
a fellow son or daughter of God,
and in those moments that occur in real time
the one option
which, for the Christian disciple,
is always, without exception, without negotiation,
the one option that is always off the table,
always unavailable,
is abandonment;
discrimination; judgment; pushing away.

Yes, we believe what we believe about the way a Christian life ought to be lived.
And we better be living it to the best of our ability.
But if we become indifferent to the reality of the struggle for other people,
and we do not stand up for them,
particularly for those who have no voice at all,
who will stand up for us?

To stand up, to rise up, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary,
who was himself a poor, refugee, making his way in a strange land,
to go out to every nation and to teach them all that has been commanded by Christ,
and passed down by his Church,
to do it today, and tomorrow, and forever,
this is discipleship.
This is pro-life.

Brothers and sisters,
heed the call of repentance this morning,
and turn around.
Return to the beginning,
to the purity of Christ;
remember whose you are.

And when you are faced with a difficult decision,
when the complicated, nuanced, very human ways of life
are standing right in front of you,
may you hear the voice of Jesus
speaking to you in love:
“Follow me.”