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By Deacon Michael Bidkerstaff, Integrated Catholic, Oct. 14, 2018
“Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)
We live in an age that is filled with signs and wonders, many of which are ominous and terrifying—our politics continues in turmoil, fears of wars and terrorism persist, our environment is being polluted in ways unseen before, our families, youth and societal institutions continue their collapse.
Some people see these and try to discern their meaning. Others seem to hardly notice at all. The writer of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews opens with verses that emphatically proclaim that God has spoken to us through His Son. We should listen:
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the ages. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His word of power…” (Hebrews 1:1-3 RSV-CE).
God’s message is wonderful, loving, transforming and true; but it is not universally received. It is a message that is timely and relevant to our lives today, as it has been in every age. Its import and urgency applies to each of us, no matter how young or old we are, whether single or married, rich or poor. We have been redeemed by our God Who became man. He has made it possible for us to accept and receive His loving invitation to Communion with Him. He has made it possible for us to attain the supernatural end for which we were created.
No message is more urgent and life-giving. Listen to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Romans and exhorts them to the new life in Christ:
“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world [age] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
Preceding this passage, Paul wrote movingly of the rejection by so many of the Jewish people of the Gospel of Christ. As with so many of the prophets sent by Almighty God to His people, Jesus and his message, were rejected by the people to whom it was first given and the consequences were disastrous for them. They were thinking, not like God does, but like men do. Paul suffers in his heart for these people… he cares deeply for them as he also cares for those who embraced the Gospel. So like the prophets before him, he tells them the truth that they need to hear and not the poisonous message of the popular culture that they might prefer.
What message do we open our minds and hearts to in our day? Do we listen to God as He speaks through the Church His Son established, or do we go our own way justifying our sin by our own distorted reasoning? St. Paul knows what we need to hear and he loves us enough to tell it to us straight, “Do not conform yourselves to this age.”
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:32-33)
Think as God does, not as man does
We need to stop kidding ourselves; we are not our own creators.
We do not know better than God how we are to live.
We do not know better than God where our true happiness lies.
Have you surrendered your life to Christ so that you can live the new life in Him?
We see a perfect example of our wrong thinking in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 16:21-27). Jesus tells his chosen apostles of the passion and death He must endure. He had just told them before that He will build His Church on the Rock of Peter. He is preparing them now for what must come. Like so many of us, Peter does not yet get it. He takes Jesus aside and tells Him, “No! I will not permit it. It will never be so.” So Jesus says to Peter the very thing that Peter could never imagine Him saying. He calls Peter “Satan” and tells him, “Get thee behind me, you think not as God does, but as men do.” Jesus, out of love for His friend, tells him what he must hear, not what he wants to hear.
To Be Catholic is to Be Counter-Cultural
Our Catholic faith and the prevailing culture of our day are opposed. Our Catholic faith teaches eternal truths that are not popular with the age. The times, they come and go, but the truth is forever unchanging. Listen to what Jesus tells us:
If you want to follow me, you must deny yourself and take up your cross.
If you want to save your life (i.e., conform yourself to the age), you will lose it.
If you are willing to give your life to me, you will find it.
What does it profit you to gain the world if you lose God?
The Psalms proclaim that the love of God is better than one’s life. Peter did not yet get it, but he would soon. When we understand this truth, we will understand why God tells us so often through scripture not to be afraid. The Prophet Jeremiah certainly came to understand though he suffered greatly. Let me tell you just a bit about Jeremiah and his mission. When God called Jeremiah he was a very young adult… He declared to him: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 RSV-CE).
God’s people had abandoned the right practice of the faith. They turned their backs to God and allowed themselves to be conformed to the age. So God sent Jeremiah to them, right in the heart of Jerusalem to call them back. Jeremiah, reluctantly accepted this call… he obeyed. God said to him, “Be not afraid, I go before you always.” So Jeremiah went, following God. But God’s people would not listen. The people of Judah found themselves in the middle of an armed struggle between the two great powers of the day, six hundred years before the time of Christ. Jeremiah warned them that this was more than a mere historical condition. It was the moral consequence of their rejection of God.
And they hated Jeremiah for what he said. And when they were carried off into the Babylonian Exile and Jerusalem lay in total waste, they eventually stoned Jeremiah to death, just like others would one day call for the crucifixion of Jesus. And just as Jerusalem was destroyed in Jeremiah’s time, Jerusalem would once again be destroyed by an army after Jesus is rejected.
Don’t worry about Jeremiah, in his martyrdom, he has found new life in Christ whom he prefigured. Worry instead for all who conform themselves to the spirit of the age. Being conformed to the age brings death and destruction. History records it, Jesus foretold it and the Church continues His prophetic and redemptive mission by preaching it.
Prophets For Our Age and Human Dignity
October is Respect Life Month. It is right and good to remember that the Church teaches and promotes the dignity of the human person. “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by God’s love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator.” (Gaudium et spes 19.1)
The simple truth addressed by that text is that our dignity as human persons derives not from the color of our skin, the nation of our origin, the level of education we have attained, the amount of wealth we have accumulated, the degree of our independence from reliance on others, the economic job we perform, our friends, our family, or any of our talents. Our dignity does not depend upon our health nor our age. Our dignity comes from the God who created us and NO ONE can take that away from us. This is the first principle of the Church’s social doctrine and this demands the absolute respect for the right to life of the individual. This dignity comes from God’s call to each of us to a communion of life with Him, a universal call to holiness.
At the heart of the Church’s insistence on respect for human life and the right to life of the human person is the dignity of the human person. Abortion, euthanasia and other direct attacks on the right to life ignore this simple truth.
In our day, God has sent us prophets—Pope Saint John Paul II, Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis. By their prophetic words and actions, they proclaim the Culture of Life to those who live in the midst of a culture of death.
Mother Teresa proclaimed to America, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.” She said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you might live as you wish.”
John Paul the Great decried the “slaughter of innocent” unborn on a worldwide scale and gave a clarion call to each of us to proclaim a “Gospel of Life.”
This is part of the prophetic message of God given to us through His Church. It is an unchanging truth, yet the culture of our age is opposed to it. Some would try to deceive you. They would say that the Church has not always taught this truth; that in the past, there was great disagreement about abortion. In this way these false prophets would try to justify their sin and mislead you.
Do not be deceived. Do not be conformed to this age. Do not think as man does. Think as God does. Abortion is always the taking of an innocent life and gravely sinful.
To Our Younger Catholics
To our teens and young adults, let me say, I know how difficult it is for you to be Catholics in this culture. Some might think me too old and far removed from what you face to understand the pressures you face. But that is not so. It was not long ago that I was your age. I came of age during the sexual and drug revolution of the 1960s. I know the pressures you face and the struggles you endure and the uncertainties you feel. And I have personally seen the path of destruction that is the consequence of unwise and unholy choices. And that is why I pray for you each day… always.
There may be times when you may think that no one understands you… but God does.
There may be times when you think that no one loves you… but God does.
There may be times when you feel close to despair and cannot see your way to the future… but God sees…
God says to you, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you… Before you were born, I anointed you… do not despair… be not afraid… do not conform yourself to the spirit of this age… I am your God… I love and cherish you… and I go before you always.”
Into the deep…
If you or someone you know is suffering after abortion, confidential non-judgmental help is available.
In the U.S., call Project Rachel’s national toll-free number: 888-456-HOPE(4673) or visit HopeAfterAbortion.org. Spanish-speakers may visit EsperanzaPosaborto.org.
Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.