Homily of Rev. Hezuk Shroff
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today the Church celebrates the memorial of the Martyrs Andrew Dung-Lac and his companions. This feast day celebrates all those Vietnamese Catholics who were martyred in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I think that it is rather providential that our monthly Pro-Life Mass falls this month on the feast day of these martyrs, for what we are doing in the Pro-Life movement today is in itself a type of spiritual martyrdom, in the original sense of the word.
What exactly is a martyr? The word “martyr” means “witness”. The martyrs are those who bore witness to Christ, the supreme witness that man can give to God: the witness of allowing one’s own blood to be shed, giving up one’s own life in order to remain faithful to the Lord. The witness of the martyrs is a heroic witness. Martyrdom is a heroic type of fidelity. Saint Paul tells us that Our Lord Jesus Christ was faithful: faithful to the very end, faithful unto death on the Cross. Our Lord could have made his life “easier” in a certain way, by either denying the truth of who he was, or even remaining silent in regard to that truth. He was crucified because he chose to bear witness to that truth, the truth of his identity as the Son of God, and instead of telling his persecutors what they wanted to hear (and thus probably sparing himself the ignominy of the Cross), Our Lord told them what they needed to hear.
In the Pro-Life movement, we need to have the courage to do the same. Telling people what they want to hear, watering down the message of the Catholic Faith and the inviolable dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God …. watering that down in order to please the world is a compromise that we and the Catholic Church can never make. The world needs to hear the truth, and true charity means that we have the obligation to bring that truth to the world -- whatever the cost may be.
The holy Vietnamese martyrs, whose feast day we celebrate today, attest to Christ’s lordship over their whole lives by freely giving up for him the most fundamental gift that God had given them: the gift of life itself. They faithfully bore witness to the truth that is found in the words of Our Lord to his disciples, “No greater love is there than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and the holy Vietnamese martyrs did just that: they laid down their lives for their greatest Friend: their Lord and their Saviour, Jesus Christ! They laid down their life also for their own people, so that the sacrifice of their blood being shed in union with Christ’s own Precious Blood, may bring about the graces needed for the conversion for their people.
The readings at today’s Mass are proper to the feast of the holy Vietnamese martyrs. But in a certain way, these readings correspond fortuitously to our Pro-Life theme at this Mass. The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, tells us that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. It tells us that no torment will every touch them, and that in the eyes of the world, they are destroyed, but in reality they are at peace. Their hope is filled with immortality, though in the sight of the world, they were somehow punished. Their lives were offered up to God and accepted by him as a sacrificial burnt offering.
Who can read these words, in the context of this Pro-Life Mass, without thinking of the unborn? To the eyes of many, they are useless; they have no “rights” until they have come forth fully from the womb. Until they are fully born, to many, they are just a part of their mother’s body, and so their mother can dispose of them as she chooses, much like she would dispose of a wart, or a cancerous group of cells -- as if to be pregnant were some sort of a contagious disease. How can today’s so-called “sophisticated” world look at the unborn in this way? When science has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a foetus is indeed a living, human being, the forces that be insist that it is nothing but a group of cells, with no rights in the eyes of the law, and no rights from a moral perspective either. If they are only a part of the mother’s body, then surely the mother can do with them as she wills.
Such ideas defy human logic, human reason, human compassion. In the name of freedom, our society says that a mother can choose to kill her own child. Is this what “freedom” truly is? Is freedom the right to choose evil? Is freedom the right to kill? Am I more free when I choose to murder, to steal, to do what is morally unacceptable? If so, then there would be no one more free in our Western society than the murderer, the rapist, the thief. Does the power to do evil make man free? That is the fundamental question that must be answered.
The modern notion of freedom equates freedom with licence. Licence is about me being able to do what I want, how I want, whenever I want -- regardless of the consequences. But is that what authentic freedom is? Is that what makes a man truly free?
The Church’s answer is a categorical “No!” How does the Church, then, see freedom? The Church views freedom in the same way in which Our Lord sees it. In St. John’s Gospel, ch. 8., Our Lord is speaking to those who believe in him. When asked how to be a true disciple of his, Jesus replies, “If you continue in my word, then you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32) “The truth shall make you free.” Ever since those words were uttered, Jesus has made it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt what authentic freedom really is. Freedom and truth are inseparable. One is only authentically free when one is living in accordance with the truth. That is Christ’s definition of freedom; and so too it has become the Church’s. The Catholic Church emphatically states that freedom and truth can never be separated. To live in a way that is not in conformity with the truth is not to be “free from the truth”, but to be “a slave to untruth”. In fact, that is exactly what Our Lord says to his disciples. “Whoever sins,” he says, “is a slave of sin.” (Jn 8:34-36). And so we see very clearly that there can be no such thing as the “freedom to sin” or the “freedom to do evil”. Sin and evil, by their very nature, turn us away from God. They are anti-God, and because all freedom comes from God and from his truth, whenever we sin or do evil, we do the exact opposite of becoming free: we become slaves.
The Church is unconditionally and unabashedly pro-life. How can she be anything else? All life comes from God: that is a central truth of our Faith. If God therefore is the author of all human life, then he alone has absolute power over life. The great temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden was the temptation to “be like God”: to usurp the power and authority that God alone possesses. Satan, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve with the false notion of freedom that reigns in today’s world. He tempted Eve with the ultimate temptation: “You shall be like God.” In other words, “you will be the one to determine what is good and evil. You will be the norm of truth.” Isn’t this what many in today’s society wish for? Do not many today seek to be the norm of all truth? “If I believe something, then it is true. Don’t tell me that I don’t have the right to do this or that: if I believe it is good for me, then it is good -- regardless of what you say.”
This attitude is what leads to the desire, in our modern Western culture, to re-define anything and everything according to our own “convenient truths.” We want to re-define marriage, to re-define life, to re-define even what it means to be human. And in doing so, we become less human. That is the great irony of it all. Ultimately, when man rejects God and the truths given to him by God, he does not become more of a man, but less. We see this very clearly in the movement that calls itself “Pro-Choice.” In reality, as we all know, it is not a movement that is pro-choice, but one that is pro-abortion, that is: pro-the-choice-to-kill. The pro-death or anti-life movement is founded on this false notion that somehow we are more free when we can choose evil. But in choosing evil, not only do we lose our freedom: we also lose our humanity. Man was created for God. He was thus created for the Good and for Truth. He was created for the Supreme Good, the Supreme Truth, and it is only insofar as he pursues that Good and follows that Truth that he will become truly free, and truly human. The Pro-Life movement, therefore, is a movement that is Pro-Truth, Pro-Goodness, and ultimately, Pro-God. One cannot be for God and against Life, just like one cannot be for God and against Truth. This is why the Pro-Life movement is not just an action of Social Justice. It is much deeper than that. It is a fight for all that is good, noble, just and true -- because it is a fight for the primacy of God. Life and Truth always lead us to God, for he is their very Author and Source. How many people, for example, begin in the Pro-Life movement, who are Pro-Life but not necessarily Catholic, and who end up through their service to Life by ultimately finding God and finding Christ in his Catholic Church? This is not a sheer coincidence. It is the Truth of God active and alive in their hearts.
Last week, I went to a showing of a beautiful movie on the life of St. Augustine, and in that movie, the great bishop Ambrose confronts the early Augustine (before his conversion). And what he says to Augustine resonates in his heart, and eventually leads to the conversion of that great saint. In the movie, Augustine is speaking about truth and man’s search for the truth. He speaks about it in philosophical and abstract terms. “Man was made to search for the truth,” Augustine says. Saint Ambrose listens to him charitably, and then simply says these words: “Man does not search for the Truth; man allows the Truth to find him.” These words were one of the highlights of the film. How true they are! Yes, we do seek the truth, but ultimately it is the Truth that seeks us. Why? Because the Truth is not an abstract concept; the Truth is not a thought, an intellectual reasoning: the Truth is a Person, and that Person is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity! This is why truth always leads us to Christ, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!” To be pro-Christ means therefore to be pro-Truth and pro-Life!
In today’s world, we have the obligation to bring the message of that Truth to all those who have ears to hear. We must always do so with great Charity, of course, but we must never allow a false charity to lead us to watering down the Truth. And neither should we allow fear to turn us away from proclaiming the Truth. Remember Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. They will hand you over to councils; they will flog you in their synagogues; you will be dragged to bear witness before governors and kings because of me. But when they hand you over, do not worry about what you will say or how you should speak, for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father in Heaven speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child [and today, we should add: And a mother, the unborn infant she carries in her womb]. You will be hated by all because of my name. But do not fear, for the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.
In other words, brothers and sisters, Our Lord is telling us that we have the obligation to proclaim the Truth -- charitably, but with boldness -- and that we should never fear the consequences, for it is God himself who will be our strength, and God himself who will be speaking and converting human hearts through our words. God is Truth, and God is Love. That is the heart of the message of the Catholic Church. And that is also the core of the Pro-Life message. We are Pro-Life because we are pro-Truth and pro-Love, and ultimately, because we are pro-God!
May God bless each and every one of you as you continue bearing witness to the Truth about the dignity of all human life, from the moment of natural conception to natural death. May the holy Vietnamese martyrs give you the courage to bear witness to the inherent sacredness of human life, even in the face of adversity and suffering. And may Our Blessed Mother intercede for you and for your ministry, may she lead you and guide you as you work unceasingly for the cause of Life. Our Lady will reward you greatly for what you do (you can be sure of it), for she is the Mother of the Pro-Life movement. Eve, whose name means “Mother of all the Living” sadly brought sin and death into this world. But Mary is the New Eve, the true Mother of all the Living. She brought Life into the world, by conceiving and giving birth to the Son of God. May God bless you all through the intercession of His Blessed Mother. And may the Holy Angels and Saints strengthen you in your resolve to be authentic witnesses to the very end, witnesses to the Gospel of Life, witnesses to the Gospel of the One who said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Hezuk Shroff is the Associate Pastor: of Divine Infant Parish
6658 Bilberry Drive
Orleans ON K1C 2S9