My friends, we come to this 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time amid many other significant mileposts in this month of October in its first days. Thursday was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, one of our brothers in the faith who lived over 800 years ago, but has been and continues to be loved to this day by Catholics and others, the world over, due to his respect, care and actual delight in all of creation. It has been said of Francis, that probably more than any human who ever lived; he lived closest to the life of our brother, Jesus.
The first Sunday in October on the Catholic calendar is always Respect Life Sunday. Many staunch Catholics use this Sunday as their “flag Sunday,” so to speak, to uplift life within the womb and the need to defend that life and rightly so. Those who take the longer view as did Jesus and Francis realize that all life, in every form, human and animal, animate and inanimate, must be respected and it is here that the issue of life moves into a gray area—which life, when, where, how, as we deal with our very complex world.
Our baptisms, confirmations, our well-formed consciences demand that we struggle with these life issues and with God’s help, come to the best decisions. No one can do this tough work for us; we must each struggle in order to come to the best answer.
There is much in our world at present that causes us to “go deeper,” again as our sister, Hildegarde of Bingen wrote. Some of the tough work at present is as follows:
- Placing people on the Supreme Court that live by the values this country stands for, certainly among them, respect for life, all life, from beginning to end. What happened in Washington this last week calls into question whether “respecting life” was even on the agenda, especially when it comes to women. The candidate confirmed had been credibly charged with abusing women.
- Finding just and compassionate ways to treat the alien residents among us—the current situation in Arcadia, WI with recent arrests by ICE are certainly cases in point. Our board, in your name has gifted, through the Winona Sanctuary Network, those working with affected families, $250.00. We are aware of one family, a young mother with a 10-month old who our gift will aid, both with material needs and legal assistance for her husband, and there are others, we are told.
- As we consider the full range of issues included in Respect Life Sunday; we cannot forget, care for our beautiful blue planet. Wisconsin Public Television this last week aired a special report on the crisis of plastic on our planet—it is everywhere, so much in our oceans and it lasts forever! This is something we all have to be aware of and look for ways to use less and to properly care and redistribute that which is already here. San Francisco is a model in this regard. They are striving to be self-sufficient in energy through the use of solar power by 2030 with measurable increments through the years! They have fountains throughout the city to fill water bottles, centers to recharge batteries for electric cars, and recycling is top priority there. The project is called The Years Project and cities with a will to do the same could replicate their efforts.
Our readings for this Sunday speak to the idea of “relationship,” both with God, our neighbors on this planet and with the most vulnerable among us. In addition, these readings call us to our basic need as humans, for other humans—we can’t do it alone. The current situation in my family of origin with my sister-in-law, Stephanie reminds me once again of this. The first reading from Genesis says as much and more—“it is not good for the earth creature to be alone—this is why people leave their parents and become bonded to one another.”
As an aside and here, I will shift our focus a bit; we can be most grateful for The Priests for Equality text in this regard as it aids us in seeing the equality and inclusiveness of our God. In older texts, “Adam” is read as the male form of humanity and of course, created first by the male God—remember who wrote the text! But in this more inclusive text from PFE; we learn the true derivation of “a-dam”—which is, “earth creature.” Upon putting “a-dam” to sleep and dividing the creature in two, only then are male and female forms created! And when the male creature noticed what had happened, he said, “This time, this is the one!” But we must notice too that the text does not say, “this is the only one,” who will make a good mate, thus our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers can read this text and find themselves within it—“this is why people leave their parents.
We always have to look for the grandest, most important message that our good, inclusive God is trying to convey. And here, it is that the “earth creature” should not be alone—not that the man must bond with the woman. Such a small reading of this text makes our God small too. We might say, “Relationship, relationship, always, relationship!”
In conjunction then with “respecting life,” the second reading from Hebrews fits well too. Here we read that because Jesus became, “little less than the angels,” human that is; he is not ashamed of us, but indeed uplifts humanity by calling us, “brothers and sisters!” We see too in the Genesis reading the true disposition that we as humans should take toward our bodies—“the woman and man were both naked, but they were not ashamed.” I know that is not the training I received growing up concerning my body! Jesus then confirms this disposition in Hebrews through this writer declaring that Jesus is not “ashamed” either to take on human flesh.
The Gospel reading in fact takes this one step further in uplifting all of humanity, especially, the least among us. Jesus is calling the community in which he lives to reverence, to respect, in deference to today’s special Sunday, for the very least among them—the children. In Jesus’ time, as you know, children had absolutely no place, no power. But, he changed all that in telling the people that unless they became like little children, they could not be part of the kin-dom.
Bringing this to our present day, if we are too to be like little children, how different might the month-long Synod on Youth in Rome among the bishops look if in fact any youth were invited to be part of the deliberations? How different might the actions of priests and bishops be with regard to clergy sex abuse if they had taken Jesus’ words here to heart?
Respecting life is really about reverencing life in all its forms as that first Francis, 800 years ago did. Pope Francis has indicated to his world in Laudato Si his concern for our world, its environment and climate and he must continue to expand his notions in this regard to include true equality between women and men. Only when the “earth creature” is seen inclusively as “God-infused” in its feminine and male forms, while different, still equal, can we truly celebrate Respect Life Sunday within our Catholic church.
When the clergy speak the same thought as I just did; they underscore the different, not the equal, really meaning, not equal, but in fact, different, and so, less than. Their actions through time with regard to position, inclusion within the highest places of the Catholic church are proof of that. Women’s voices are missing—it’s as simple as that and because they aren’t included and considered, abuse can continue.
By extension, this abuse continues into society as well supporting the patriarchy there—the current Supreme Court fiasco is proof of that! Those who aren’t considered are ultimately, forgotten. On this Respect Life Sunday then, let us truly respect all life and live as though we believe that should be the case! Amen? Amen!