Homily for the White Mass, October 17, 2016
As we gather at the altar of the Lord to celebrate our annual “White Mass”, we do so at a time in the history of our nation and indeed, in the history of our culture, when what we value has been objectified, relativized and debased. I speak of the intrinsic and inviolable value and dignity of every human person from conception to natural death.
You Catholic women and men who are in the fore of healthcare in these times are the very ones the rest of us must rely on to not only care for us in our varying needs but to care for us as our Catholic Faith teaches us to do, all for the love of Christ Himself. You know far better than I just how difficult the ideological secularists are making it to not only be Catholic but to be Catholic and faithful to Christ and His Church and care for the legitimate health care needs of others.
In February, 2004 Saint John Paul II wrote a message for the Tenth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Pontifical Academy for Life and then a few days later he wrote to its members gathered for its plenary meeting. I would like to review some of what the great Saint taught only about a year before his own death from a long and debilitating disease. His words were matched by the beautiful example of him bearing his own sufferings with true faith and hope in and love for Almighty God Whom he served to his last breath.
In his Message of February 17, 2004, Saint John Paul II wrote of the importance of the Pontifical Academy for Life and its ability to address both scientifically and morally what was being extolled as progress. He said: “However, while progress in the biomedical sciences gives us a glimpse of promising prospects for the good of humanity and the treatment of chronic and distressing diseases, it also frequently presents
serious problems concerning the respect for human life and the dignity of the person.
The growing control of medical technology in the process of human procreation, discoveries in the fields of genetics and molecular biology, changes in the therapeutic treatment of seriously ill patients as well as the spread of currents of thought of a utilitarian or hedonistic inspiration are factors that can lead to aberrant conduct as well as to drafting laws which are unjust with regard to the dignity of the person and the respect that the inviolability of innocent life requires.”
Our last three Popes have spoken and taught repeatedly and very clearly on what Saint John Paul II noted and all of them base their clear, consistent and authoritative statements on the very same foundation – respect for human life and the dignity of the person. They are equally clear that science and technology have the potential for great good for all of humanity but only if they are tempered by the right, that is, moral use of them to support and advance the common good. Anything else is a fraud and a lie perpetrated on humanity for selfish and base motives. To use science and technology to advance intrinsic evils such as artificial contraception, abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and IVF is to claim a power over other human beings no one has and no one has a right to do.
Four days later, on February 21, 2004, Saint John Paul II addressed the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life and he spoke to what he called ‘artificial procreation’. He said in part: “The subject is proving full of serious problems and implications which deserve careful examination. Essential values are at stake, not only for the Christian faithful but also for human beings as such. What emerges ever more clearly in the procreation of a new creature is its
with the spousal union, by which the husband becomes a father through the conjugal union with his wife, and the wife becomes a mother through the conjugal union with her husband. The Creator’s plan is
engraved in the physical and spiritual nature
of the man and of the woman, and as such has universal value. The act in which the spouses become parents through the reciprocal and total gift of themselves makes them cooperators with the Creator in bringing into the world a new human being called to eternal life. An act so rich that it transcends even the life of the parents cannot be replaced by a mere technological intervention, depleted of human value and at the mercy of the determination of technological and instrumental procedures.”
While it is neither the time nor the place to go into a class room style lecture on what Our Holy Father was referencing, we know of what he speaks with regard to the creation of human life. Again, like his predecessor Blessed Pope Paul VI, he is very much the prophet with regard to the denial of the truth of his statements by the secular culture. We are seeing the destructive effects of the so-called progress in matters reproductive. Just because we are able and can do some things does not mean we should or must do them. What we are seeing is the validation of the false premise that the end does justify the means and this to the subversion of the inviolable dignity of every human life no matter its physical state or condition.
It was on February 19, 2005, less than two months before his own death in April, 2005 Saint John Paul II sent a letter to the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life on what he called the “Quality of Life and Ethics of Health”. It is a marvelous affirmation and confirmation of the Catholic Church’s constant belief in the redemptive value of suffering and, at the same time, it is a stunning condemnation of the culture’s contempt for physical imperfections and limitations.
In part, he said that the meaning of the expression “quality of life” is acquiring is far from the basic interpretation founded on a correct philosophical and theological anthropology which places the person and human dignity first. He went on to say that “under the impetus of the society of well-being, preference is being given to a notion of quality of life that is both
: it would consist in the ability to enjoy and experience pleasure or even in the capacity for self-awareness and participation in social life. As a result, human beings who
are not yet
are no longer
able to understand and desire or those who can no longer enjoy life as sensations and relations are denied every form of quality of life.”
Finally, Saint John Paul II made the statement which the current climate would certainly reject but this rejection only confirms the truth of what he said. He said:
“Health is not,
an absolute good.
It is not such especially when it is taken to be merely physical well-being, mythicized to the point of coercing or neglecting superior goods, claiming health reasons even for the rejection of unborn life: this is what happens with the so-called ‘reproductive health’. How can people fail to recognize that this is a reductive and distorted vision of health?”
As Catholic healthcare professionals, your duty to God, to the Church and to the common good of all is two-fold: use your God-given skills to heal, to comfort and to console your sick brothers and sisters; use your God-given skills to teach others the dignity of every human being in whatever stage of human life and development he or she may be no matter their individual illness or disability. You have the Divine Physician for your model and more importantly for your constant Companion.
I will conclude with a true story which I only experienced yesterday afternoon. In this very Cathedral Church I was celebrating our annual Mass for the blessing and distribution of Catholic Scouting awards. One young boy, a Cub Scout, who was confined to a wheel chair, received two special awards: the Light of Christ award and the Parvuli Dei award which require no little effort. If you could have seen the joy on his face as his Mom and Dad helped him walk to the base of the sanctuary steps and stand while I pinned those medals to his uniform shirt, if you could have seen the obvious pride and tangible love of his parents for him, if you could have seen his brothers and sisters standing around him smiling, you would have seen the “quality of life” as Saint John Paul II spoke of it. It is a pure gift from God to us meant to prepare us now for the eternal happiness of Heaven. It does not depend on how we look or what we can or cannot do. It comes from who we are as unique and loveable human beings.
It all sunk in for me when this young boy’s Dad helped him walk up to me to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. With great difficulty he extended to me his hands and as I placed the Sacred Host in them he said quietly ‘Amen’ and smiling consumed Our Lord slowly and very reverently because I could tell he did not want to drop the Sacred Host. Our current culture would discard this beautiful young boy because he does not meet its standards for health, happiness and convenience.
Again, with Almighty God’s help, it is each of you gives who gives the lie to this depraved concept of the person. It is your fidelity to God, to His Church and to your high calling as healers that will advance the culture of life. I am most grateful to you for your moral courage and for your white martyrdom.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!