Fr. Leonard Klein on Sanctity of Life
Our little girl, however, has made a life-defining decision by herself. I couldn't be more proud of her. But I cannot deny that what she said to my wife and I stopped us briefly in our slightly smug, religiously disinterested, bleeding-heart liberal tracks.
What courage had it taken for her to tell us what she wanted? It was clear that our brave, sweet daughter had thought about her faith long and hard. Looking back, we realised we had regularly discussed our differing beliefs. Our daughter brought us Genesis. We gave her the . . . Big Bang. She brought us the Nativity and peace and goodwill at Christmas. We gave her family, friends and good food. She brought us the crucifixion. We gave her the Easter Bunny. She brought us heaven, god and an afterlife. We gave her 21st-century life and a brief future as worm fodder.
The little girl’s conversion didn’t come from nowhere. Her parents were living in France and had enrolled her in a French Catholic school because of its good academic reputation. There she had regular biblical and catechetical instruction. But the story is still a reminder of the power of the Gospel, of the simple story of Jesus.
An eight year old girl could see that there had to be more to than the comforts of 21st-century life and a brief future as worm fodder.
The Light shines in the darkness, as we are reminded again and again at this time of year. Christ has come to be the light of the nations and that light will shine. Sometimes the light is needed to make it clear that there is great darkness.
Winter Ordinary Time is still very much the season after Epiphany, even though we no longer call these “Sundays after Epiphany.” The Gospels focus on crucial episodes from Christ’s early ministry, ones that reveal him, manifest him. They are little epiphanies.
In the English masses we see John the Baptist pointing out Jesus Christ. Today’s Gospel in the Latin Mass is the story of Christ’s first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. But John uses the term “sign.” This episode, which is one of the key parts of the liturgical observance of Epiphany, is a sign, a revelation of Jesus as Son of God and Savior.
God can make himself known – this is a simple, basic assumption of the Christian faith. There is revelation; God makes himself known to us.
We are not condemned merely to figure out on our own who God is and what he intends. We do not stumble about in darkness.
We can of course by the right use of our reason know that God exists and perceive some of the truth about him. This is a firm Catholic teaching. Reason, rightly used, can perceive God in the mystery of being, in the fact that there is something rather than nothing, in the wonder that we exist. Reason can perceive the reality of God in beauty and in truth and in our thirst for truth. It is capable of perceiving the difference between good and evil.
But we are not just fumbling in the darkness toward God. He has come to us. He gives us a signs. And John the Baptist points to the ultimate sign, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
There he is; look at him; see him; watch him – this is what John says to us. Here is “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” There is sin and it needs taking away, and in the work of Jesus the world finds its hope, its future and its joy.
Karl Barth, the greatest Protestant theologian of the last century, repeatedly referred to an altarpiece painted in the early 1500’s by Matthias Grunewald. In it John the Baptist stands pointing to the crucified Jesus ,“the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
His point was that John the Baptist is always the model for the Church and for each of us. Our lives and our conversation are to point to Jesus Christ.
There is in our culture great pressure to privatize religion, to make it just a matter of personal feelings. There is pressure on us to pull our arms in and not point to Christ, lest anyone’s opinions be offended and we breach the sacred walls of political correctness. There is great pressure to keep religion inside ourselves or at least inside the church walls. But we cannot do so.
Christ’s Epiphany is a public event and makes a universal claim on the world: He comes to take away the sins of the world and must be proclaimed to a world that desperately needs him.
For we see a world choking on the results of its own sin because of its failure to perceive where its true good lies.
We need to point that out some of the time, to point to the darkness so that the need for the Lamb of God might be comprehended. Sometimes we in the Church are the only ones who dare to see and describe the truth.
This is the Sunday before the anniversary of the scientifically, logically and legally disastrous Roe v. Wade decision that struck down the abortion laws of all fifty states and has led to over fifty million legally sanctioned killings in the United States. Then and now we are told that unlimited contraception and abortion were going to help fix poverty, stabilize the family, put an end to child abuse because now every child would be a wanted child, and hold down the rate of out of wedlock births. None of this has happened. Instead the rate of out of wedlock births has sextupled since then, and the poverty rate stands pretty much where it was when Lyndon Johnson announced the war on poverty fifty years ago. The breakdown of the family is now the primary driver of poverty. But few dare to connect the dots.
We must shine the light on such stubborn truths, but that’s only the prelude to our real mission, which is to point to Jesus Christ, as John the Baptist did, to bring the light of Christ to bear on human catastrophe and longing.
That’s what somebody did for that little English girl. As her father wrote: she brought us heaven, god and an afterlife. We gave her 21st-century life and a brief future as worm fodder.
We do not long to be worm fodder and the material comforts of our era are insufficient. God places into the human heart the desire for much more than that. There is little question that the world longs for more than that – so much of its folly comes from the effort to find more.
But somebody stretched out an arm and showed her the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, and she saw and believed.
Perhaps, then, the sin that we most need to confess, that needs most to be taken away from us, is our laziness and lukewarmness about the Gospel, for that is laziness and lukewarmness toward the need of our neighbors.
When we face our need for forgiveness, we will then be enabled to go forth and to shine with the light of Christ and to point to him . . . to endeavor to wean our neighbors from tepid, polluted water and lead them to the joyous wine of the Kingdom of God and the marriage supper of the Lamb.