The following is the text of Father Leonard Klein’s Respect Life Sunday homily.
One of the most beautiful moments of Pope Francis’ visit to the neighborhood last week was an impromptu homily delivered at the Celebration of Families on Saturday night.
“Once, a boy asked me — you know that children ask hard questions — he asked me, ‘Father, what did God do before he created the world?’ I can tell you that it was hard for me to come up with an answer. I told him what I’m saying now to you. Before creating the world, God loved, because God is love. But there was so much love that he had within himself, this love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, it was so great, so
overflowing that — I don’t know if this is very theological, but you’ll understand what I mean — it was so great that he couldn’t be egotistical. He had to come out of himself so as to have that which he could love outside of himself.
“And there, God created the world. There, God made this marvel in which we live and, since we’re a little mixed up, we are destroying it. But the most beautiful thing that God made, the Bible says, was the family. He created man and woman, and he gave them everything. He gave them the world. Grow, multiply, cultivate the earth. Make it produce; make it grow. He presented to a family all of the love that he made in this marvelous creation.
“. . . All of the love that God has in himself, all of the beauty that God has in himself, all of the truth that God has in himself, he gives to the family. And a family is truly a family when it is able to open its arms and receive all of this love.”
Though he quips at one point that he’s not sure his comment was very theological, it very much is.
He ties together great themes from Genesis . . . fundamental Trinitarian theology . . . and he includes the church’s ancient reflection on the philosophical transcendentals — beauty, goodness and truth. These are realities available to us by reason, realities that cannot be finally be denied by the cynical, the skeptical and the atheistic, realities that testify to the reality of God, of the transcendent, the one who is higher than us. Beauty, goodness and truth are real; they are not just products of our imagination or necessary myths, and these realities correspond to the existence of a loving God.
From him, from his love come beauty, goodness, and truth, life, light and the family.
It is on these realities that the church’s pro-life testimony rests. It flows not from a scolding attitude designed to kill joy and freedom. It comes from recognizing the beauty and love that have brought our lives about. Because of the beauty of God’s creation and his redemption of the world in Christ, we must bear witness that life cannot be wantonly destroyed at any point from conception to natural death. In our nation the abortion regime and, increasingly, the threat to the elderly and sick from physician-assisted suicide are the principle problems. But our confession that creation is good and beautiful is also at the bottom of the church’s great charitable work and its defense of human rights and religious freedom.
But all of this makes sense only if we see the fundamental beauty of our creation as male and female, of the conjugal union of one man and woman, which when they are baptized becomes a sacrament, and of sexual union as unifying for the couple and life-giving in its form and in its fundamental purpose.
Modern culture’s effort to separate sex from marriage from babies has done untold damage to family and culture through the sexual revolution it has enabled. The contraceptive revolution and the sexual revolution that followed in its wake have separated what God has joined together, and we are paying a high price, no matter how much we might be tempted to deny it. Like too many modern revolutions the sexual revolution is devouring its own children – figuratively and in abortion quite literally.
Because of this revolution marriage is increasingly avoided by young people, something to which the pope referred in his visit, and children are seen as burden, rather than a gift, to be aborted if inconvenient.
And the crazier forces of our culture repudiate the very notion that we are created male and female. For such people our bodies do not make sense of themselves, but rather we are called to decide our gender. Facebook offers over 50 selections. Some have actually claimed that putting male or female on a birth certificate is an act of oppression.
We are quite mad.
Today’s beautiful lessons offer sanity for us and for the world.
Genesis reminds us that it was a good God who made us male and female, that our sexual differences and the marital union are blessings.
In the letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded that God not only made us but became one of us in Jesus, and that he is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. The Savior came to us in a family, the Holy Family, and invites us into that communion as brothers and sisters.
And in the Gospel Jesus reminds us of the permanence of the marriage bond and of the value of children.
Jesus’ teaching about marriage can be a hard one for many of us, really all of us. Some have undergone divorce; none of us has escaped it among friends and family. This is painful, and it can make it hard for modern people to see the beauty of marriage and family as the Bible presents it to us today.
But sin does not undo the goodness of creation. Marital failure does not make marriage wrong; nor does it separate us from the love of Christ. The sins of one party or of both do not undo the meaning of marriage nor do they need to destroy faith and hope.
The forthcoming streamlining of the annulment procedures is designed to enable the church to minister more effectively to those who have endured divorce, and I am happy to talk with any of you about them.
For those of us who are married or contemplating marriage – it is critical that we likewise see Jesus’ words to the Pharisees as a promise and a challenge, not as some impossible dream.
The permanence of marriage is a blessing, binding us together as husbands and wives for better and for worse. By eliminating the escape hatch, the Lord’s teaching on marriage reminds us that husbands and wives are to see each other as God’s gift and the permanence of their bond as a means and motive to love and support one another . . . and, last but not least, as a grace-filled Sacrament enabling us to get to heaven.
Certainly, no marriage comes without a cross; neither does any life in any circumstances. But in bearing the cross we find our way to glory and resurrection, love grows and the Sacrament bears its fruit.
At my own daughter’s wedding 16 years ago, I quipped in the homily that people fear to marry because something might go wrong . . . then I said that that was a silly idea because something will go wrong. And then I said “God willing you will have children, and them something definitely will go wrong.”
But Jesus also reminds us in this wonderful Gospel account of the blessing of children. Jesus cherishes and blesses the little ones; that is why we cannot countenance abortion or other assaults on the innocent. That is why we call for mercy even for the guilty. We do so because in human life and in the human family with all its failings we have come to see the beauty, goodness and truth of life and of God.
Facing the rise of atheism and materialism and nihilism in 19th century Russia and Europe – and it’s worse now – Fyodor Dostoevsky famously said, “Beauty will save the world.” It won’t be argument alone, though the church must make its points about human life, human rights, the body and marriage. It won’t be moral goodness by itself, though we must always seek the good.
On this Respect Life Sunday remember that we must show the world is beauty by living it – by living out the truth and by pursuing the good.
Pope Francis does not always speak with the clarity of a Pope Benedict. He does not embody the vision of human dignity and salvation as Pope St. John Paul II did. His has been described as a papacy of gesture: in the embrace of the deformed, in the conspicuous simplicity of his life, in the meetings with Kim Davis and the Little Sisters of the Poor, in the visits to Catholic Charities and to a Harlem school. From such gestures emerges a vision of the beauty God offers us in Christ.
We should go and do likewise.
In addition to being director of Pro-Life Activities, Father Klein is administrator of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary and St. Patrick Churches in Wilmington.