Saving the Unborn
As a young priest I was arrested twice defending the faith and attempting to save the lives of the unborn. It was a strange experience to have police officers lift me up and carry me into a detention area against my will for passive resistance. It was odd to be on probation for six months for being a Christian witness. Later on, when the police began to get brutal, I had to make a choice to stop parish ministry and go to jail or to continue my parish duties. I chose the latter because it would have been too disruptive to the parish. I mention this because I have always had a special affinity to Jeremiah and have always been haunted by the phrase at the end of the second reading, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood”. What I found enriching by this experience was a deeper understanding of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Pope John Paul II spoke about partaking in the mysteries of Christ with a special emphasis on the Rosary. Suffering is a mystery within itself particularly for the Christian. For a Christian, we have come to recognize, that through Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection, our bad experiences can be turned over into a blessing by allowing us to share in these experiences of Christ. We often call this uniting our sufferings to the Cross of Christ. It is not obvious to us why God gives us these bad experiences, but the more we get them, the more is our opportunity to share in Christ’s love for us and for those around us. I am sure that Jeremiah was stymied by his being thrown into the well and left to die because he simply was telling the people what God wanted them to hear. But already he was sharing in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ without even knowing it.
We have to face the facts. Jesus’ message is constantly rejected by those who belong to this world. This is what he means in the Gospel when families become divided over following the ways of Christ. How many of us have experienced a grown child abandoning our faith by refusing to go to Mass on Sunday? How many of us have experienced divorce and remarriage outside of the Church? These are real sufferings which have implications that go far beyond our families and have severe consequences later on. The challenge is to live with them as Christ lived with them. His Disciples did a lot of stupid things. Poor Peter made so many blunders. He, the first Pope, committed huge sins especially during the panic surrounding the Passion of Christ. But, through the mercy and graces of God, Peter became a Saint. In his compulsive youth, he was more worldly than he was holy. But through many sufferings, or should I say humiliations, he learned how to unite them to Christ’s Passion and transform these suffering and sins into opportunities to reform and become more Christ-like.
Many holy people that I have met have asked me to pray for them, but not in the usual fashion. One famous Jesuit priest asked me to pray that he get more humiliations. This was a strange request from an international scholar! We may not be called to such spiritual heights, but we should begin to evaluate our own problems. Are we unemployed? Are we in serious debt? Are we being treated unfairly? Are we ill? For years the Sacrament of the Sick used to be called Extreme Unction because it was only given to the dying. Perhaps this is because the Church has always recognized that our last passion can become our greatest opportunity to unite with Jesus’ ultimate act of Love – dying for us so that we can be saved from our sins. Our instincts, just like Jesus’ instincts, were repulsed by this, but He had a mission to accomplish. But through faith we too can overcome our revulsions to sufferings and death not only save ourselves, but also to be a force in saving others. Yes, Jesus made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven, but Paul reminds us of the necessity for making up for what is lacking in the death of Christ. In justice we have to “pay back” for our sins. In the mean time, while we go through our trials, how do we put up with the divisions that Jesus talks about in this Gospel passage? He shows us an example of forgiveness and mercy. Many times Jesus had harsh words for sinners, but he opened his arms on the Cross to forgive them all, but did they have the humility to ask for forgiveness? Do we have the courage to seek His forgiveness? Do we have the courage to stand up for what is right, but at the same time to leave people in some kind of example of hope as they reject God? The fire that Jesus talks about is a special fire. It sears the sinner to bring him back to God, but it also sears the bystander to be compassionate and hopeful not only for the sinner, but also for ourselves. At the time of my arrests, I felt the officers were “good Germans.” But with the passing of time, I really should have asked God to help them see what they should have seen.