My Novena Reflection

The 10th Annual Novena to St. Joseph, to pray for the seriously and terminally ill and to stop assisted suicide, is under way at Christ the King parish, Worcester for nine consecutive Monday evenings from 7:15 to 8:00 pm. I have been recording the homilies since 2017. You can listen to all the novena homilies for 2021 here as they become available.

I had the honor of being asked back by Msgr. Thomas Sullivan as a guest homilist. Click on the link below to listen to the homily.

I was also honored that the Catholic Free Press happened to cover the novena during the week I spoke. The article can be found here or here.

Below is the text of my remarks.

Scripture is the story of our humanity. Our fallen human nature is the backdrop. Our uniquely human experiences—joy, despair, anger, pleading, gratitude—fill the psalms. The guiding presence of God is constant throughout. At the heart of the story is the Incarnation. Our salvation, our eternal life, our perfect happiness is so desired by our heavenly Father that He sends His divine Son to die for us so we can be saved. Jesus willingly descended from His Father to take on our human form, body and soul, beginning as helplessly as we do in His mother’s womb. He accepts the frailties of our flesh and the torments of our mind to suffer as we suffer in this world damaged by sin. The Incarnation reveals to us the fullness of what it means to be human—the uniqueness and grandeur of our dignity. Jesus willingly undergoes the terrible existential and physical suffering of His Passion, brought about by our fallen human nature, so He could in turn redeem it and save what we had lost. God loves us that much.

The scene we heard is familiar to us all as one small part of Christ’s Passion recounted on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Those of us in the pew take on the role of the “chorus” shouting, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” We cry out to have the murderous revolutionary Barabbas released instead.

This, too, is the story of our humanity. The Garden of Eden led to our fall when the serpent said, “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” We disobeyed and we died. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Not my will but yours be done.” He obeyed and now we live, but only for the sake of His sorrowful Passion.

Our modern Barabbas was born in Europe early in the 1600s. His revolution was known as the Age of Enlightenment, and it had many prominent disciples like Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Hume, Hobbs, Locke, and others. The core of their revolution is to deny that objective truth exists. Reality is just a construct of our minds. God is a human creation; even if there is a God, we can only know what our minds think about God. Since we cannot scientifically determine what is right and wrong, morality is rationally decided by our human mind. Each person determines what is good and bad, right and wrong. Truth is what we determine it to be.

The words of the serpent echo down the ages, “You will be like gods, who know good and evil.” And they echo again in the mouth of Pilate, “What is truth?” The Age of Enlightenment handed Jesus over to be scourged.

Soon after that, and not long before today, about a hundred years ago, the Barabbas revolution became the Progressive Era, the beginnings of our Modern era.  The Progressive Era ushered in the Eugenics Movement that swept over Europe and the United States. In this movement lies the roots of what Pope Saint John Paul II so accurately called the Culture of Death. Infanticide, contraception, abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia were all ways of eliminating the “unfit” from society. You know—the deformed, the feebleminded, the poor, the racially inferior. In 1927, the US Supreme Court upheld forced sterilization laws with Buck v. Bell, in which Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously wrote in his opinion, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” That decision has yet to be overturned.

The advocates of eugenics were scientists, academics, and social elites. Its most fierce opponent was the Catholic Church and so its moral power had to be eliminated. They fiercely attacked the “dogma” of the sacredness of life in all the familiar ways we see today. The moral life is what we decide, not what God revealed.

The serpent echoes again. “You certainly will not die!” Pilot asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Now scourged, Jesus is crucified by the Eugenics Movement. It culminated in the Holocaust.

World War II may have mowed down the weeds of the Culture of Death, but the roots remained, and the vines have grown. It has become an invasive species. No less absurd than what Justice Holmes wrote is what Justice Kennedy wrote in his 1992 Planned parenthood v. Casey opinion: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and the mystery of human life.”

Pope Saint John Paul II pointed out that radical autonomy by its nature makes anyone an enemy who impedes our personal concept of happiness. Laws and rights today simply force society to give the strongest what they want, while the weakest suffer. Laws must be based on the truth of our humanity, on the Natural Law, if all people are to flourish in society. While the Natural Law can be known by reason alone, it requires some work, so only some can really understand it and even then, not perfectly. The Incarnation reveals it to everyone, plainly, and in its fullness. The Word of God commands us to love God and love our neighbor and teaches us clearly how we do that. In other words, Jesus teaches us how to flourish as a society.

A civil society requires justice, and justice depends on truth. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Pilate asks, “What is Truth” while looking right at it. But the crowd wanted Barabbas instead, shouting at the Truth, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”

Again and again, the disciples of Barabbas will clamor for the Truth to be crucified. Those leaders of the eugenics movement are the same type who want assisted suicide today—statistics show they are overwhelmingly White, wealthy, and well-educated. And it is not about physical suffering. They want control over the timing of their deaths and demand that the medical system give them what they want. Their quest for radical autonomy has made anyone concerned for the vulnerable into their enemy, and they will relentlessly persist until they get what they want. They have no regard for its effects on the weak; that is why they pass laws with flimsy “safeguards” that they can ignore for now and remove eventually when we all get used to killing people.

Our state legislators are Pilates looking to us, the crowd, and asking us what we want them to do. More and more are shouting in favor of assisted suicide—to release Barabbas. Will we scatter like most of the disciples or will we fight for His kingdom?  I pray that all who receive the Way, the Truth, and the Life in the Eucharist ceaselessly call upon our legislators to reject such a law, that we do not let assisted suicide be the next nail to pierce our humanity.

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