The Third Sunday After the Epiphany
Zechariah 8:1-8, 20-23, Psalm 118, Romans 12:6-16, St. Mark 1:1-11
God Is Not Shocked
You’ve heard what Josef Stalin said: One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. How’s this for a statistic? Today is the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrific Roe v. Wade decision and the death toll approaches 60 million.
I am haunted by the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
“For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, `Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush.
“’Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment. They shall be cast down,’ says the LORD. “I will surely consume them,’ says the LORD . . .
“Why do we sit still? Assemble yourselves, and let us enter the fortified cities, and let us be silent there. For the LORD our God has put us to silence and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD. We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and there was trouble!” (Jeremiah 8:11-15)
I believe you’re aware that our bishops have mandated that every parish priest preach a sermon on the sanctity of life each year on a Sunday as near as possible to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I could not be more eager to comply.
Like Israel before us, we are sinning . . . sinning willfully and wantonly before the Lord. We are an apostate nation, glorying in our transgressions and reveling in the righteousness we have conferred upon ourselves. Like the peace of Israel in Jeremiah’s time, it is a fiction.
Less than two years ago, the earth shook. The Center for Medical Progress released a stream of videos exposing the cynical practices of America’s leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. One after another they revealed officials of this satanic cult crowing over their successes in trafficking in the body parts of unborn children: “A lot of people want liver.”
In one of the videos, Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood, explained, “Yesterday was the first day she said people wanted lung.” These words spilled out casually over lunch with actors posing as representatives of the Fetal Tissue Procurement Company.
They were discussing the business of harvesting body parts after an abortion. During a late-term abortion, she went on, Planned Parenthood’s doctors take care to make sure, while killing an unborn child, to keep parts intact. And no wonder. It helps local Planned Parenthood affiliates “do a little better than break even.”
The videos showed one horror after another, not just lunchtime chats about harvesting body parts but actual procedures showing more gore than most of us could stomach. If you could not summon the fortitude to watch them all, I cannot condemn you. Nor could I.
But they showed what they showed, and the earth shook. And then it stopped. And now it scarcely seems that it moved at all. What happened?
Foe one thing, the enemy mobilized. The enemy had long since mobilized, of course. In 2013, Barack Obama became the first American president to address Planned Parenthood. “I love you!” one audience member sang out.
“I love you back!” the president responded. President Obama ended his ode to the organization with, “God bless Planned Parenthood.”
How many have considered how monstrous that statement is? To call down the Lord’s blessing on what He has condemned is to invite – no, to beg for — the wrath of God. Jeremiah again:
“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
But do you suppose our president thought through his words from a theological point of view? I don’t, either. He grabbed a catchy phrase and unfurled it like a banner to plant his approval on an organization he endorses. He calls it good.
To Isaiah this time: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil . . .” (5:20).
So, yes, the enemy mobilized long ago. But when he sees a threat he redoubles his efforts. His minions patrol the corridors of power and haunt the lairs of the media. His job is often surprisingly easy.
From my own many years in the media I know how simple it can be to discredit a story. The offended party cries “out of context,” never mentioning what the correct context is, and those inclined to give him a sympathetic hearing rush to his side.
Another approach is to assail the sources for the story, diverting attention from the validity of the information to its origin. Oh, it’s just the usual talking points. But is it true? Well, let’s not get bogged down in that.
In the case of the body-parts videos the catch phrase was “heavily edited.” Now, unless we’re talking cute baby babbles or puppy-dog frolicking shot with a cell phone, all video is edited, most of it heavily. Ever seen out-takes? That’s the stuff that was edited out.
So here is a ploy for avoiding the real issue about these videos. Were they falsified? Did they misrepresent what was said or done? We’re not told. We don’t even hear those charges. It’s enough to scream, “heavily edited.” Many are satisfied; the hubbub subsides.
And again we have peace . . . a counterfeit peace.
Other measures are put in play. Abortion, we’re now told, serves the good of the aborted. A website in the United Kingdom reported:
“In one study, unwanted children were found less likely to have had a secure family life. As adults they were more likely to engage in criminal behavior, be on welfare, and receive psychiatric services. Another found that children who were unintended by their mothers had lower self-esteem than their intended peers 23 years later.”
The humane thing, then, is to abort them and to save them from the suffering they will inevitably endure in life. The way to enhance life is to extinguish life. Roll that idea around for a bit.
While you’re at it, factor in that Planned Parenthood has called its harvesting of organs from unborn children a “humanitarian undertaking.” If we travel very far down this path we will find ourselves asking, what does it mean to be human?
But this is too easy. Why should the enemy waste his time with secularists when he can call the church to do his bidding?
In 2015, some of her ordained people gathered at an abortion mill in Cleveland . . . for the purpose of blessing it.
“I’m here today standing alongside my fellow clergymen and clergywomen to say: thank God for abortion providers,” said Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which supports abortion rights and what it calls “abortion care.”
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, blessed the abortion clinic, saying, “Bless this building. May its walls stand strong against the onslaught of shame thrown at it. May it be a beacon of hope for those who need its services.”
The blessing event outside the Preterm abortion clinic was arranged by Rev. Laura Young, a United Methodist minister who is executive director of RCRC’s Ohio chapter.
She calls herself a “progressive theological thinker and a feminist,” and says her goals include urging more clergy members to advocate for organizations that provide abortions and contraception.
At the abortion clinic, clergy members held up signs that read, “Pro-Faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice.”
Chrisse France, executive director of the clinic, said, “At a time when abortion care providers are under attack, we are so thankful to be surrounded by the faith community as they share their powerful voices in saying no to the shame and stigma.”
I would like to dismiss them, to say that these corrupted voices in fact have no power . . . but I don’t believe that to be true. Among uninformed secularists, among shallow, unformed church members, a gloss of clerical blessing may indeed carry the last bit of impetus to convince a woman to undergo an abortion.
They speak for God, don’t they? They wear collars and sport fine titles and utter lofty-sounding pronouncements. They have pored over the Scriptures and thought deeply on them and arrived at honest conclusions.
Have they? Paul wrote to Timothy: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Those with itching ears will bear the burden of their guilt. The fables they clutch will pave their path to hell. What of their teachers?
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers,” James wrote, “knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1).
God will not be mocked. The day of reckoning is coming. This is how we, the faithful remnant, contend with the great evil afoot in our land. We hold fast this hope.
And God is not shocked. We may be, we must be . . . but God is not shocked. Abortion is not complicated. G. K. Chesterton said moral issues are always terribly complex — for someone without principles. Abortion is not complicated.
Nor is it new. It is no less horrible for its long and sordid history but it is as old as birth.
In the last third of the first century the author of the Epistle of St. Barnabas wrote: “You shall not kill the child by obtaining an abortion. Nor, again, shall you destroy him after he is born.”
We have these witnesses from the late fourth century:
“A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder. And any fine distinction as to its being completely formed or unformed is not admissible amongst us.” — St. Basil the Great
“The rich women, to avoid dividing the inheritance among many, kill their own fetus in the womb and with murderous juices extinguish in the genital chamber their children.” — St. Ambrose
And that leading light of the Reformation, John Calvin, wrote in the 16th century:
“The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being . . . If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”
Finally, from the 20th century, this pearl of unvarnished truth from Mother Teresa: “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.”
She also said, “Abortion is profoundly anti-women. Three-quarters of its victims are women: half the babies and all the mothers.” Abortion is a fact of life . . . and death.
God is not shocked. Nor is He impotent. He uses even these horrific deaths to bring about new life . . . new life in Christ.
Beatrice Feador shared her story while standing in front of a sign reading “I Regret My Abortion” at a 40 Days for Life rally.
“When I was eighteen,” she began, “I started college and I got pregnant. My boyfriend said: ‘You have to get rid of that.’ I was shocked; I thought we would get married. And everybody was telling me that having a baby in college would keep me from graduating.
“So I went to a clinic and with great difficulty I swallowed a big pill and went back to my dorm room and took another pill. So I had a chemical abortion.
“Aborting my baby didn’t help me to graduate. It’s been 15 years and to this day, I don’t have a degree. But after the procedure, I started to experience severe depression and anxiety disorder. Seven years later, I got pregnant again. The father was a drug addict, he was twice my age and he was abusive.
“And I was scared for my baby. And the only solution I could think of to protect my baby was abortion. So I went to a clinic and in great anxiety I was put to sleep. And when I woke up with visible signs of the procedure on my body, I burst into tears and I was inconsolable. I sank deeper and deeper into depression and suicidal thoughts.
“A couple of years later, I met my husband and he brought Jesus into my life. Thank you, Lord! But I was still hurting. In Bible study class, there was a lesson about forgiveness. I thought that surely my sins were too big to be forgiven. At the time I was pregnant with my son Anthony and I was crying every day, feeling unworthy of being a mother.
“Then, when I was eight months pregnant, I contacted a religious counselor and I started my healing process. And I have learned to say the words, ‘God loves me and I love myself, God forgives me and I forgive myself.’
“Abortion not only kills our children but it also kills our ability to live a normal life. Women still die from abortion procedures, they get infections and are not able to conceive afterwards.
“Substance abuse to numb the pain is very common; and the worst thing about abortion is that you know in your heart that you have committed murder and you think you are isolated from God and from men forever. Thankfully, there is hope and there is life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So said Beatrice Feador.
And there is hope . . . now, not only for individuals in whose lives God works wonders but also for our nation. A nation on which God has poured out boundless mercy lo these many decades.
I know more hope today than I have known in many years, for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is not the only red-letter date this weekend. On Friday, the president who blessed Planned Parenthood, who cried “peace, peace” when there is no peace, moved out of the White House.
There is hope that his successor will reshape the Supreme Court so that it respects and defends the sanctity of life.
And perhaps the most profound possible endorsement of this successor lies in the fact that Planned Parenthood spent more than $30 million in a failed effort to elect his opponent.
Of its $1.3 billion annual budget, the nation’s most prolific abortion provider receives 43 percent in federal, state and local taxes. It may lose the federal contribution and perhaps all of the tax money, with those dollars diverted to agencies that provide care for poor women and do not kill children.
Its CEO has termed this “the most dangerous moment in Planned Parenthood’s history.”
God be praised! And amen.