Homily: Thursday, Week II, Ordinary Time

Author: Father Frank Pavone

Homily: Thursday, Week II, Ordinary Time

Fr. Frank Pavone      Listen to Fr. Pavone's Homily

18 January 2007
7:00 am televised Mass

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

You have an Advocate in the Heavens. Greater than any intercessor. Greater than any saint.  You have God Himself. Advocating. Interceding for you. Every need you have. Every prayer you utter even in the deepest silence of your heart that you never even speak is heard louder than the loudest sound in the heart of your Intercessor in Heaven, Jesus the Christ, God Himself. He is our great High Priest. A priest is a bridge between God and humanity.  We know that Jesus died once for all.  He doesn’t die again. He doesn’t die repeatedly over and over. He died once.  He died once because once was enough. A sacrifice beyond all measure. To reconcile us to the Father. But, the offering He made when He went to the cross; the decision that He made to offer His body and shed His blood and not escape from those who were about to crucify Him, is a decision that does not change.  The willingness — the deliberate intention of the Lord Jesus Christ to be that High Priest for you and to make that sacrifice for you is an intention that remains even to this day.

So in the great letter to the Hebrews that we continue read in the first reading says, “He lives forever to make intercession for you.” Yes, His sacrifice was complete on Calvary, but it continues in intercessory priesthood in heaven.  That is why we can have the Mass. Some of our Christian friends in other denominations — some within the Catholic Church, misunderstand what the Mass really is. It is not another sacrifice. Aside from that of Jesus, there can be no other sacrifice that saves the world but that of Jesus. The point is not that He dies again or that there is anything that needs to be added to that one perfect sacrifice. No, the point is that because Jesus continues to make intercession for us, we can connect with that today.  That it is as really and truly present to us here on this altar as if we were standing beneath the cross on the first Good Friday together with Mary and John.  And so, we have reason for confidence.  We said in the opening prayer,  “Father show us the way to peace in the world.” A prayer that should always be in our hearts. And that it is in our hearts more than ever in times of war — as we are in now. Father show us the way to peace in the world.

And the first reading answers that prayer. There’s one way to peace in the world.  Jesus Christ our High Priest is our peace. Peace is not simply when bombs stop being dropped or guns cease their fire. Or troops are withdrawn. Neither is peace identical with troops being deployed. It is beyond all that. Peace comes when we are reconciled with Almighty God. And when through that reconciliation, we respect the human rights and dignity — the inherent human rights and dignity, of every person. That is when peace comes. Peace is not lost when the first gun is fired or the first bomb is dropped or the first tank rolls in. That is not when peace is lost. Peace is lost whenever an injustice is committed against a human being.  That is when peace is lost.  It can happen in the quiet silence of an apparently peaceful city.  But if human lives in any way are being oppressed or downtrodden, peace has already been lost.  Lets not have a superficial understanding of what peace is or what the way to peace might be. 

What we are doing here in the Mass coincides perfectly with three observances I would like to reflect with you on within the context of what I have been saying.  Every year they come together at precisely the same time.  I’m speaking about the week of prayer for Christian Unity, which begins today and goes on through the 25th of January.  Every week, Christians in so many different denominations pray for a different kind of peace that will be manifest in the unity of all the followers of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.  So, the week of prayer for Christian Unity comes each year on this day.

Also coming — we just celebrated a national holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and reflected because of his legacy and his message — again on the inherent dignity of each human being; how he struggled for his people and taught them how to struggle for the equal rights of everybody. And then of course in just a few days, the anniversary of the most tragic decision ever made by any human authority — the Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing child killing in the United States.  The killing of children throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Healthy babies of healthy mothers in the seventh, eight, and ninth month of pregnancy are being killed today — legally. And this is the tragedy — the ongoing tragedy to which people of conscience, of every denomination, and even those of no religious faith but who understand that it is wrong to tear a baby apart; people of conscience from east to west and everywhere in between in this great nation founded on the principle that all are created equal, and that our right to life comes from God and not government will rise up again and will march. They will march in Washington on Monday and in San Francisco on Saturday. They will march in cities, towns and villages clear across this land. And so many of you listening now will in fact take part in some of those marches. All of these observances come together in a marvelous way. Let’s reflect a little bit on how.

When Martin Luther King led the great rally in Washington and gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, you know what he said? He said, “We, the Negro, have come to Washington to claim a promissory note that was given to us by the United States of America.  We were promised that this nation recognized our rights as coming from God. And we instead have received a note that says “insufficient funds.” He said,  “We refuse to believe that. We refuse to believe that the great vaults of America don’t have sufficient funds; that our people can’t enjoy the freedom and equal respect and dignity that any other citizen enjoys. He was right. There are not insufficient funds.  Maybe there’s an insufficient willingness to distribute them. The funds, first of all, recognizing the inherent dignity of every human being. In their long struggle against slavery and evils of segregation, the African American people of this nation have risen up.

And one of the manifestations of their determined march towards equality and marches in which they would hold signs on their bodies that said one simple sentence: “I am a man.” That was being denied. I am a man. I may have a different skin color from you. But I am like you. And you are like me. We come from the same God. We have the same equal dignity. That was Dr. Marin Luther King’s message which he emphasized over and over again. It was not about dominance of the black man over the white man. His message was about the equality of every man and woman and child. Not about the dominance of any one group over another. It is simply about equality.

I was just the other day in Atlanta with the King family because as many of you know, Alveda King — one of Dr. King’s nieces, is on my fulltime staff and she works now in the pro-life movement. She spoke there in the midst of the various observances in Atlanta and she said we have struggled for the equal rights of our people and now we must struggle for the equal rights of the children in the womb.  She said, “How can the dream survive — this dream about the equality of everyone based on their inherent human dignity — how can the dream survive if we murder the children?” It can’t. It’s an utter contradiction. She will be marching in Washington in a few days. I’ll be privileged to march with her arm in arm. And the first time I did that, I asked her, I said, “Alveda, does this remind you of the civil rights marches?” and she turned to me and said, “Fr. Frank, this is the civil rights march. This is the civil rights movement of our day.”

This is the oppression and this is the slavery when children are being torn apart and people want to look the other way. You know what the problem is friends? It’s not that people are looking at this and saying that it is okay. It’s that they’re not looking at it at all. Turning the other way saying, “Oh yeah, it’s terrible. It’s wrong.” But then they go on to other things. But we can’t go on to other things until we fix this one. And we’ve got to fix it now. That is that same thing that Dr. King said and did in regard to the evil of segregation. And in the midst of what is a marvelous merging of these ideals — people acknowledging that Dr. King had a message that goes right to the heart of America and to the heart of the Gospel. What was the civil rights movement? Where did it get its engine? Where did it get its passion? From the churches.  People gathered in the churches. We’re not talking about political movement here. We’re talking about a Gospel movement. And the same is true for the pro-life movement. This is a Gospel movement. This is a movement based on exactly the same ideals—exactly the same understanding of our Declaration of Independence, that urges people to rise up against segregation. Brothers and Sisters, how can we miss the fact that we are talking about the same thing? And so people will march and in the midst of this we have the week of prayer for Christian unity.

The greatest statement that ever came from the Magesterium of the Church about abortion and the right to life is the Evangelium Vitae— “ The Gospel of Life”, the encyclical letter issued by Pope John Paul II in March of 1995. It was only two months later in May of 1995, that the same Holy Father issued another major encyclical and the topic was on Christian unity. As you know I had the privilege to work for Pope John Paul in the Vatican at the Pontifical Council For The Family but I never had the opportunity to ask him this question. But I don’t think that it was any coincidence that those two great documents on those two great themes were issued practically simultaneously. Because He says in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint on Christian unity that ecumenism — Christian unity, is not just about the dialogue where we talk to our Brothers and Sisters in other denominations and examine how much we have in common. It’s not just about that kind of intellectual activity. It is about joining hands even though we still acknowledge the differences that separate us and those differences are serious, but acknowledging nonetheless we can join hands in certain social causes to advance the inherent dignity of humans.

So, in the civil rights movement, Catholics and Protestants marched together under Dr. King’s leadership and worked together to change the laws. We have been arrested together for peaceful activity and prayed together in jail. So Brothers and Sisters, through this great nation Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals and people who call themselves followers of Christ or whatever else they want to call themselves have likewise marched for the unborn and continue to do so — run pregnancy crisis centers, conducting abortion healing ministries together and lobbying the legislature.

I see them all the time. Coast to coast. Brothers and Sisters, I can tell you confidently that there is no better fulfillment of the call of our Holy Father or our late Holy Father John Paul II for Christians to come together in collaborative ways to work for justice that is being lived out day by day in the pro-life movement.

On the morning of January the 22nd before we march, I will lead the interdenominational prayer service in the United States Senate. You’re all welcome if you’re coming to Washington to join us that morning where over 20 different denominations will be represented. It would include clergy from those denominations. We will stand arm in arm and hand in hand. And we will proclaim again that no human being can enslave another — whether it is in the shackles of slavery or in an abortion clinic. Brothers and Sisters. Ecumenism. Christian unity. Don’t misunderstand what this is. This is not “Oh, let’s all join hands and make believe we’re the same.” We are not. There are very serious differences.  Some people will say to me, “ Fr. Frank, you are Catholic. Don’t you believe that the Catholic Church is the one true faith?”

Of course I do. But I also know that I am not the one true faith. I also know that one of my Protestant Brothers and Sisters will often have a better grasp of some aspect of that one true faith than I do. I can learn from him or her. I can be inspired by him or her. Yes, I believe that the Catholic faith is the one true faith. But I also believe that if someone who comes to me and says I have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I believe, I worship Jesus as Lord, and I believe His Word then I have to acknowledge the grace of the Holy Spirit working in that person and see that person as a brother or sister in Christ and that means what? That means interacting with that person and acknowledging that truth and celebrating together and worshiping together and trying to come closer together and giving witness for the cause of justice in the world.

It isn’t just an option nor an extra thing added on to what I do. It is at the heart of being Catholic and that we be ecumenical.  The church is irrevocably dedicated to the cause of Christian unity. This is not some extracurricular activity. Jesus prayed that all may be one and He continues to pray that today as He intercedes for us forever as our great High Priest. And so, these marvelous truths in these days are all coming together and are all summed up in one simple way. Jesus, our High Priest, intercede for us. Save us, O Lord. And grant that we may treat each other as equals. Shun all violence and all prejudice — whether against a Negro or an unborn child, and bring us the fullness of life.  Amen.