It is popularly said that Christianity, like Islam and Judaism, is a religion “ of the Book.” Our Holy Father and the bishops who were gathered with him in Rome proposed that such a description of our faith does not capture the full reality of the encounter with Christ by grace. They teach us, rather, that ours is a “ religion of the word.” Such a term helps to better proclaim the truth that we enjoy a real encounter with the living presence of Christ made possible by the living Holy Spirit when the word of Scripture is proclaimed in the sacred liturgy.
Our Holy Father Benedict and the bishops at the October Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church have prepared well to lead the Church, the People of the Living Word of Christ, to go forward in hope in these days of change for our country following the presidential elections. The results of the elections on national and local levels — not known at this writing — will indicate whether our country will be a more hostile or a welcoming environment for the most vulnerable human beings among us.
As the fortunes of the cause for life swing like a pendulum through the vicissitudes of time, we must always build our lives of faith upon the one foundation that cannot fail which is the word of God. Christ, the Word of the Father, has sent His Spirit upon His Church that we may truly be a people of life, the life of grace which leads to the Kingdom and everlasting life.
The theme of Benedict XVI’s homily at the close of the synod urged us to be aware that “ Our Thinking Must Conform to God’s Thinking.” Our hearts must be transformed by His grace to be hearts of love, but the word is also proclaimed that our minds may conform to the truth. In Christ, through His word, the fullness of our humanity is called to encounter Him. And, as Benedict taught, “ Emphasis is put on the totality of this dedication to God, listing the three faculties that define man in his deep psychological structures: heart, soul, and mind.” The two greatest Commandments make this clear.
Benedict called us to attend to the catechetical element of our faith, perhaps best accomplished by allowing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to shed light upon the words of Scripture so that we comprehend in practical, livable ways what it means to live as those who love God. In his homily, Benedict recalled the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells His questioner that the first and greatest Commandment is to love God above all.
“ Then, however, Jesus adds something which, in truth, had not been asked by the doctor of law: ‘ The second resembles it: “You must love your neighbor as yourself”’( 22: 39). The surprising aspect of Jesus’ answer consists in the fact that He establishes a similarity between the first and the second Commandments, defined this time with a biblical formula drawn from the Levitic code of holiness ( cf. Lev. 19: 18) as well. And therefore, the two Commandments are associated in the role of main axis upon which all of biblical Revelation rests: ‘ On these two Commandments hang the whole law, and the prophets too’ ( 22: 40).”
What remains is for us to learn what it means for our words and actions to reflect love of God and neighbor as we are commanded. Benedict in his homily reminds us that the Book of Exodus, chapter 22, calls us to love “ the stranger, the orphan, the widow, and the indigent, that is to say those citizens that are without a ‘defender’.”
Those most without a “defender” in our midst are the little ones still developing in the womb. The unborn therefore call us to a concomitant responsibility to be their defenders. Whether the newly elected leaders in these coming years are open to the will of God in this regard or not, our work remains. We are compelled by love to conform our minds and hearts not to “ this present age” but to be evangelical witnesses, committed to the “ renewal of our minds” through faithfulness to the word of God in Christ, present in the word proclaimed in the liturgy as He speaks to us through the indwelling Spirit and truly abiding among us in the Eucharist.
In his homily at the closing of the synod, the Holy Father stressed that “ the lesson that we can draw from the experience of the Thessalonians, and experience that is a common factor in every authentic Christian community, is that love for the neighbor is born from the docile listening to the Divine Word and accepts also hardships for the truth of the Divine Word and thus true love grows and truth shines. It is so important to listen to the word and incarnate it in personal and community existence!”
There is no lack of hardship for those dedicated to the cause of Life! There have been many disappointments, perils, and sacrifices on the part of the defenders of life, especially since a majority among nine individuals sitting on a bench in this nation’s capital took it upon themselves in 1973 to declare legal this abominable crime that cries out to Heaven for vengeance. There will be many hardships ahead as well.
In the days and years ahead, the pro-life movement will be most effective as it is faithfully nourished in this most effective and powerful way, by the Word of Life Himself, living and active in His Church through word and sacrament, that He might take flesh anew in every believer. Be apostles of life by dedication to a correct and beautiful celebration of the Liturgy, attentively listening to the scriptural word and devotedly receiving the Eucharistic Word in adoration and love.
(Fr. Cusick's column, A Leaven In The World, appears weekly in The Wanderer Catholic Newspaper. The above is from the 6 November 2008 edition.)