5th Sunday of Easter – Homily (Fr. Smith)

The Sunday Mass readings after Easter challenge us prove that we know that new life is given to us through Jesus’ resurrection. This newness should be seen not only in our personal lives and within the confines of our Church but in the world around us. The recent nationwide discussion on abortion has shown how little effect the resurrection has had, although not perhaps for the reason we might think. 

Jesus has given us the commandment to love one another. This sounds warm and comforting until we read the next sentence;” As I have loved you, you should love one another”. This makes this a new commandment. He is telling his disciples this in the upper room at the last supper. He has just washed his disciples’ feet, a sign of unimaginable humility. As we read last week with the good shepherd, he has told us that putting the needs of others ahead of our own is so important that it may require giving up our lives. This he, God himself, will do after he leaves the room and goes to his death. The new commandment is to love like Jesus, to assume sacrifice and suffering for the good of others. 

This love alone fulfills the commandment and reveals a person or community as Christian 

America is very much lacking this love. I saw this not so much from the reactions of pundits and politicians to the leaked draft of a possible decision on Roe v Wade but from the rection of Amazon.  

Amazon almost immediately issued a statement that it would assist any Amazon employee in obtaining an abortion. That same week, however, an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, after extraordinary lobby efforts by the company, voted against joining a union, and most tellingly the management of the warehouse that did accept a union was fired. This is not woke capitalism but a typical example of standard neo liberal capitalism. As we saw so clearly in the pandemic, workers essential to maintaining our lifestyle need to be paid as little as possible and be easily replaceable.   A compliant working class requires minimal wages and certainly not health care or parental leave. In Pope Francis’ chilling word: they are throwaways.  

This has been my experience with women seeking abortion. Most already had children and were working. Often, they also cared for someone who was old or chronically ill. They lived life on the edge already and this would push them off it. That was before Covid. With increased inflation, astronomical rents, and increased food costs much less a lack of heath care life will be even more difficult and will force more women to consider abortion against the very core of their being.  Where is the choice with so much desperation?  

Most of our country call themselves Christian but do we know what that means? Jesus did not call sacrificial love for each other a suggestion but a commandment. What have we done so that our fellow citizens will be able to avoid a desperate choice because of the misfortune of being born poor or being without skills that are valued and rewarded? 

Catholic Social Teaching is truly clear on this point. Since the end of the 19th century all the popes have stated that there is a basic human right to a job with a wage that allows a worker and his or her family to live in a charming but nonetheless telling phrase from Pope Leo 13 “reasonable and frugal comfort” Rerum Novarum 34 

Pope St John Paul 2 elaborated on this and stated that this must include at the very least: pensions, unemployment insurance affordable healthcare, vacation time and a safe workplace (Laborum Exercens) 

This is as much our faith as the Trinity or the Real Presence. 

 But it will not improve stockholder value and it is unlikely that it will get much political support.  Individual charity is not enough to provide this, and it will require organization and determination as well as the recognition that all of us will need to pay for it. Will the love revealed in the resurrection move us to make this sacrifice and to encourage others to do the same? Is the belief that we can do something real for the hopeless naïve and quixotic?  

Difficult yes, impossible far from it and people my age have seen it. 

I recently read a book about the early life of the late great civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis. It was subtitled “the power of hope.” (Jon Meacham “His Truth is Marching on John Lewis and the Power of Hope). He was born in such poverty and oppression that it would have seemed wildly hopeful that he could have done more than put food on his table. Yet from childhood he felt a call to confront the forces that would deny him his God given dignity.  His courage and self-sacrifice were legendary as was his commitment to Christian witness and nonviolence. We are all beneficiaries of his extravagant belief in the practical power of resurrection.  

One of the great blessings of my life was encountering and serving people who were part of the nonviolence movement of the 1960s. They were not 7 feet tall with supernatural eloquence but people like me but with greater faith and deeper courage. They accomplished something which I am sure in their position I would have thought impossible. Still lacking their faith, I find myself believing that providing the necessities to all in our own country, however desirable, is unlikely. John Lewis, Martin Luther King, and many others known, and unknown   understood the new commandment and loved as Jesus did. They faced bullets, cattle prods, dogs, and water cannons and changed our world. Our task, although not easy, requires only financial sacrifice and the courage to acknowledge the uncomfortable. 

The love of Jesus is more than what we call upon when we are feeling lost or lonely and urges us to make a true change in people’s lives.  Abortion is a complicated issue without a one size fits all solution but with the prospect of lives of dignity no one need die of desperation.