(I’m posting the first draft of my homily for Respect Life Sunday. While it became a bit too long for me to preach, as I try to stay within 5-7 minutes on my homilies, I felt that the whole thing needed to be posted here.)
Vineyards were very prevalent in the Holy Land, so it’s not unexpected that both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus would use a vineyard in the readings that we just heard. Much as farmers and ranchers protect their land today with fences, the vineyards were protected from wild animals and those who would try to steal from the vineyard with fences and hedges. For God to remove his protection on the Israelite people would be like the farmer removing the fences and hedges that protect the vineyard.
Why would God remove his protection from Israel? He gave the Israelite people the Promised Land and led them in battle against far larger numbers. He even called them the Chosen People, so why allow them to be conquered? He did this so that the Israelite people would return to Him and give up worship of false gods from other nations, much like an overgrown vineyard being cleared and replanted.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus goes after the religious leaders who have rejected Him and the prophets that came before Him. He states that the vineyard, God’s chosen people, will be removed from the Jewish religious authorities and given to the care of His Church. Now, instead of the Jewish temple with the Levitical priesthood and the Sadducees and Pharisees leading the people, we have the Church to care for God’s people.
As part of her mission, the Church is called to proclaim the truths of Christ to the whole world. While much of what the Church teaches is welcomed by people both within the Church and outside of her, there are more than a few areas of Church teaching that are disagreed upon, sometimes very tenaciously. This becomes no more apparent than during election campaign season, which we are obviously well into in the United States. At times like this, the Church’s teachings often stand in direct opposition to the platforms advanced by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.
This weekend, one month before the Presidential election, we mark Respect Life Sunday. Due to the bombardment of political slogans, promises, and misinformation that occurs in most political campaigns, issues that directly affect human life are often thrown around in order to score political points and smear the opposition. With all the noise the comes with political campaigning, it is all the more crucial that we as Catholics become informed voters, electing politicians who will ensure the respect for all human life, regardless of what stage of life it is in.
This issue became all the more apparent in the last several months, when not one, but two Catholic politicians went on national TV and misrepresented Catholic teaching on when life begins. When acting as politicians, the bishops keep out of the way, but when politicians try to present themselves as learned theologians, as these two politicians did, the bishops have to respond, and respond they did. Well over 20 bishops wrote in response, including our own Bishop Warfel in the latest issue of the Harvest. These politicians presented an erroneous position on the respect for life.
So, this brings up the obvious question: what is the Church’s position on respecting life? In short, human life must be respected from conception to natural death. We believe, thanks to the incredible advances of science, that human life begins at very moment of conception. We also believe that all humans have been made in the image and likeness of God, and each human being must be respected as beloved children of God, from the smallest embryo to the poorest of the poor.
Throughout history, human dignity and respect has always been under attack. From racism and slavery to poverty and war, sins of humanity carry a terrible toll on recognizing the beauty and dignity of all humans. Some issues, however, are a direct attack on human life and must be seriously considered when voting for candidates for public office at any level, not only the Presidency and the federal Congress, but also candidates for state and local levels. Three issues in particular have become particularly urgent within the current election cycle: abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. All three of these issues view particular classes of humans as either problems to be removed or matter to be experimented with. By viewing any human as an object to be manipulated, we denigrate the dignity of all humanity.
To justify a particular candidate who might be troublesome in one of the three issues, a Catholic might say, “He’s in line with the Church on illegal immigration and poverty, even if he does support embryonic stem cell research.” While it is good that this politician supports respecting the dignity of illegal immigrants and those who are suffering from poverty, they have to have life in order for poverty or immigration to be problems that they’re facing. Without the right to life, all other rights become irrelevant.
As Catholics, we are called to uphold the respect of all life in our lives, and during this election cycle, we are called to vote for candidates who have a true respect for life. This may mean having to vote for a candidate that we may not particularly like or may be running for a party that we have not traditionally voted for. For those who are politically conservative, this may involve voting for a candidate who is on the liberal side of the political spectrum, or vice versa. We must not vote for a candidate who will not stand for the respect of life, regardless of how good their other issues may appear.
In our culture, human life is under direct attack. This November, we must elect politicians who will use the power of government to respect human life, starting with those who are most defenseless, the unborn and the elderly.