The Designs of His Heart are From Generation to Generation
“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Two days ago, on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we rejoiced at a monumental moment in the life of our country: the overturning of the dreadfully unjust Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade and the possibility for our states to act to restore the legal right to life for unborn children throughout our country. This is indeed a time for great rejoicing – the fulfillment of so many prayers, sacrifices, and hard work on the part of pro-life advocates throughout the country and the world. It is a time when we can be immensely proud to be Catholic, members of a Church that has exercised courageous and prophetic leadership in defending the rights of the unborn. We began Mass today singing a tune we usually only hear on Easter Day, because we celebrate the triumph of life over death.
We remember today “the little ones whose lives have been taken since 1973. We mourn their loss, and we entrust their souls to God, who loved them from before all ages and who will love them for all eternity. Our hearts are also with every woman and man who has suffered grievously from abortion; we pray for their healing, and we pledge our continued compassion and support.” If you have been harmed through abortion, healing and forgiveness are possible through the merciful heart of Jesus.
Friday’s decision “is also the fruit of the prayers, sacrifices, and advocacy of countless ordinary Americans from every walk of life. Over these long years, millions of [Catholics and people of good will] have worked together peacefully to educate and persuade their neighbors about the injustice of abortion, to offer care and counseling to women, and to work for alternatives to abortion, including adoption, foster care, and public policies that truly support families. We share their joy today and we are grateful to them. Their work for the cause of life reflects all that is good in our [country], and the pro-life movement deserves to be numbered among the [greatest] movements for social change and civil rights in our nation’s history.”
All of us are inspired today by the evidence that God does hear our prayers and the rights of the innocent will be vindicated. The cold winds while prayerfully encircling the county courthouse, the sleepless nights on the bus to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, the prayers and fasting and all else have not been in vain! "The plans of His heart persist from generation to generation," we sang Friday on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. 49 years. So many times I was told as a young man at the March for Life: "You are the pro-life generation. In your lifetime, you will see Roe vs. Wade reversed." I could never more than barely hope it would be true. This great victory inspires us to hope for the full accomplishment of the reign of Christ. As we sang last Sunday during the Corpus Christi procession -- "Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christ imperat." Christ conquers; Christ reigns; Christ rules.
We all know, though, that while we are right to rejoice, the battle to defend and protect every human life as a precious gift from God is far from over:
Abortion remains completely legal in many places in the United States, and thousands of pre-born lives are still threatened every day. Just as the legal apparatus upheld by Roe and Casey was gravely unjust, so too is any legal regime that protects unborn life at 15 weeks, but not 14. The only consistent position on the dignity of unborn life is that held by the Catholic Church: that from the moment of conception there exists a unique human being with all the rights of a person, protected like all innocent persons from any attempt on his or her life. We must continue to promote the legal right to life of all pre-born children from conception.
We also have the important task of healing wounds and repairing divisions in our society. In the Gospel, the apostles asked the Lord if they should call down fire upon the Samaritan city that rejected them. Just as the Lord rebuked them, so too does he rebuke any mean spirited triumphalism. We must be gracious and kind in order to witness to the life-giving truth of the Gospel of Life.
We must also be prepared to give an account of the faith that is in us. Each one of us should know why we believe in the dignity of unborn life, to be ready for that moment when someone asks you – “what do you think about the Supreme Court’s decision?” We also need to redouble our efforts to give a consistent witness to the entirety of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. If we do not live the entirety of the Gospel of Life – reserving sexual activity to marriage, remaining open to the generation of new life within marriage, and protecting the dignity of the infirm and elderly not using our freedom “as an opportunity for the flesh,” as St. Paul tells us today – it is easy for the world’s message that pro-lifers are “trying to control women’s bodies” to seem reasonable. Only within the consistent whole of the Church’s teaching on life can our joy today make sense.
If we have failed to have this consistency in our own lives, our repentance and firm commitment to live the fullness of the Gospel of Life as taught by the Church is a sacrifice of thanksgiving that we can joyfully give to the Lord today. Once set free from sin for the authentic freedom of the sons of God, we choose not to submit once again to the slavery of sin.
A consistent witness will also mean redoubling our efforts to support women experiencing unanticipated pregnancies. It means a merciful and kind outreach to them and a firm commitment to eliminating the conditions that have driven people to the tragic choice of abortion. It means working for governmental policy and social conditions that make it possible for families to thrive and a new child to be seen as a blessing rather than a burden.
While we are hopeful and joyful today, we must also be realistic. Even as we give a consistent witness to the value of human life, our commitment to helping all those in need, and being able to explain the truth of human sexuality in charity, we will still face opposition. There will be newspapers that say that, “The court has unleashed a self-righteous minority … to force their narrow perspective of morality and physical autonomy onto the rest of the population.” And we will see people holding signs or screaming much more vulgar expressions to the same end.
Christ was refused hospitality by the Samaritan village because he had “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (the Samaritans rejecting the Jews just as the Jews had rejected them). He is journeying to Jerusalem because it is there that He will offer up His life for us, there that He will become a living sacrifice for the life of the world. He exhorts the one who desires to follow Him to share His resolute steadfastness: “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Today, we as well set our hands to the plow as we re-commit ourselves to strive for the legal protection of all innocent human lives, to support all pregnant women, and to give a loving witness to the Gospel of Life. We know that we will face hardship, misunderstanding, even ridicule and scorn, but we are led into battle today by the merciful Victor King, whose Sacred Heart has triumphed over death and beats until all eternity with an inextinguishable furnace of love for all those He died to redeem.
It would be a great mistake, though, to overemphasize this danger. Friday afternoon, I was walking through downtown Goshen, and someone in a passing car began to yell at me. “Here it is,” I thought, “that moment everyone told me to look out for.” I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I tried to ignore him. Eventually it became impossible, and I heard him say, “Father Tony!” Hmmm, I thought. That could be good or bad. “I’m going to pull around to that parking lot. Can we talk?” All day long I had been getting texts from well-meaning friends telling me to be careful – worried about me, worried about the Church. “Sure?”
So I walked up to the car, and inside was a young man I began to recognize, and a young lady in the passenger seat. “We just came from the hospital. We had a miscarriage. Could you bless our son?” And I looked down, and that innocent, frightened girl was holding a plastic bag with a big orange biohazard symbol, with a small plastic jar inside, holding the remains of their child.
When we focus so much on the negative reactions we could experience, we lose the opportunity to joyfully witness to the value of unborn human life. There it was, staring me in the face. This young couple knew better than anyone that what they carried was not the “products of conception” or just a clump of tissue, but a real human person whom they loved beyond all telling. Their sorrow, shock, and pain was a raw but beautiful witness to the importance of what our country’s highest court had done that morning, and to the importance of our continued work to protect unborn human lives. Until no human life is treated as a biohazard, the battle will not be won. For that small child, and for all innocent human lives threatened by indifference, selfishness, and the false freedom of sin, we must not cease. And our doors must remain open, so that we can bring the healing love of the heart of Christ to all those who have been scarred by the culture of death.
It is no coincidence that in the mystery of God’s providence, this monumental day occurred on June 24, when the Church normally celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, who was sanctified in his mother’s womb when the pregnant cousins Mary and Elizabeth brought together the unborn author of salvation and the prophet who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the coming of the as yet unborn Savior. This year, though, that day fell on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, when we recall the outpouring of the love of the human heart of Christ. And so the unborn John the Baptist leaped for joy again, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus poured forth His mercy upon humanity.
Within the Sacred Host, His Sacred Heart, the Heart that first began to beat within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, beats still today. It beats with love for the unborn child, for those who fight to protect him, and – yes, to no less degree – for those yet to be converted to the Gospel of Life. On this day of immense joy, we recommit ourselves to protect the dignity of all innocent human life, and we ask that the love of the heart of Christ might inflame our hearts to live with joy the fullness of the Gospel of Life.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
XIII Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXXII