My good friend Peggy Hamill, the director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, asked me to preside and preach at a special Mass today. After Mass we marched to a local abortion mill where we prayed. In my homily I said the following:
Today's first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (4: 12-16) says that the "Word of God is living and effective." The Word of God is the Scriptures. It is also the proclamation of the Gospel at every Mass where Jesus is present speaking to us. But it is more. The beginning of John's Gospel says that "the Word became flesh."
Jesus is this Word that is "living and effective." He is, as Hebrews says, "able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." He knows what is in our hearts and the hearts of all people. And, reading our thoughts, He is, as the first reading says, a compassionate high priest who is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses." The Word became flesh and lived our human life. Sharing our human nature, He "has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." Jesus knows the temptations and struggles of our hearts.
After His baptism, Jesus went into the desert where He was tempted. We read about this every year on the First Sunday of Lent. Jesus was tempted as we are tempted.
In the midst of forty days of fasting, Jesus was hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. This was against the plan of God, the natural law that God has built into creation. In our world today we see a similar temptation to reject God's plan for creation and to go against the natural law, to define marriage and life in our own way rather than to accept God's definition.
Next, Jesus was tempted to throw Himself off the temple, to do something flashy to get people's attention so that He could manipulate them for His own purposes. In this way He could amass an army of followers who would be pawns for His purposes. But humans are not pawns, not objects to be manipulated and used. Our world is tempted to use the media in ways to manipulate people. We're tempted to view others--babies in the womb, the terminally ill, "the other side," our enemies--as objects to be disposed.
Thirdly, Satan tempted Jesus to fall down and worship him, to make an idol of a creature, to honor the rebel and his rebellion. And so are we tempted to make creatures and our own desires greater than God, to follow the original rebel and to make his plans for the destruction of humanity our own.
Sharing our human nature and tempted in every way that we are, Jesus understands us. He understands our battle. This is why we see Him in today's Gospel (Mark 2: 13-17) going out to sinners, to those who are self-destructing through sin. He came to them and spoke the truth with love. He came to call and to heal sinners. He continues to speak to us, to our world. He continues to reach out to sinners and to heal us and our broken world.
He comes into our world today through us. St. Augustine once said that Mary first received into her Immaculate Heart what she would later conceive in her womb--the Word. She gave flesh to the Word in this way. When we receive Jesus in Word and in Sacrament, as we do at this Mass, we too give flesh to the Word. Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified next May 1--Divine Mercy Sunday and the first day of Mary's month (there are no coincidences when it comes to God)--wrote in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":
"At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood. ... As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord." (#55)
Before we receive our Lord's Body and Blood in Holy Communion, we say "Amen." Yes, I believe. Yes, I believe I am sent now to bring You into the world.
In a little while we will go forth to bring Jesus into the world. We will bring Him present in ourselves to a place of death. Like Jesus we will pray for conversion. Like Him we will sacrifice. Of course our sacrifice--the time we spend in the cold and wind--are as nothing compared to what He suffered on the cross for the salvation of sinners. But our prayers and sacrifices, joined to His perfect sacrifice, have great power, and so we go forth with confidence.
In closing, let us be strengthened in our hope and confidence by the words of Pope John Paul II from the conclusion of his encyclical "The Gospel of Life."
"The angel's Annunciation to Mary is framed by these reassuring words: "Do not be afraid, Mary" and "with God nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:30, 37). The whole of the Virgin Mother's life is in fact pervaded by the certainty that God is near to her and that he accompanies her with his providential care. The same is true of the Church…. Mary is a living word of comfort for the Church in her struggle against death. Showing us the Son, the Church assures us that in him the forces of death have already been defeated."