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Third Sunday in Advent (Cycle A), 2019-12-15: Every Christian’s Honourable Task to Defend and Protect Life – Reflections On the Mass Readings and the Pastoral Letter from Cardinal Arborelius to the ”Respect for Life Sunday”

Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ

Homily for Third Sunday in Advent

2019-12-15

Year A: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Ps 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Chapel of the St. Bridget Sisters, Djursholm (Mass at the Closing of the Stockholm Catholic Student Chaplaincy Retreat and Recollection Day)

 

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Many years ago, our bishop Anders Arborelius, today also cardinal, decided that this Third Sunday of Advent every year should be celebrated as “the Respect for Life Sunday”. And all over Sweden, Catholic parishes as well as other Christian communities today commemorate the Respect for Life Sunday in gratitude for life and as an ecumenical reminder of our Christian duty to safeguard the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, and to fight for human life wherever it is weak, unprotected and regarded as of no use for those stronger, those in position to threaten and extinct it.

In his Pastoral letter written for this year’s Respect for Life Sunday, Cardinal Arborelius begins by reminding us how Advent prepares us to celebrate that God chose to be born into our world as an infant in need for protection. This fact should make us considering how “unborn children are especially at risk” because those belonging to “this ‘invisible people’ can often be quietly eliminated without anyone reacting”.

The “weary hands” that need to be strengthened, as our first reading from the prophet Isaiah talks about, are indeed very small, not even a centimetre. We know from ultrasound clips of abortions how these little ones try to defend themselves against the intrusion and how they twist and turn trying to escape from the instruments of death. The “retribution of God” that Isaiah foretells in our first reading, gives hope that God will take on the cause of the unborn and open “the eyes of the blind” and unseal “the ears of the deaf”. How? Through each one of us, already having received the privilege to be born.

In his letter, the Cardinal states: “As Christians we must do all we can to save” every unborn child from abortion. Therefore, we have a great responsibility to support and enable pregnant women struggling with difficulties, to always choose life, and the Cardinal concludes that “[h]ere, we all need to be a lot more involved”.

Our second reading from the letter of St. James urges us to be patient. When we reflect upon the other pressing pro-life issue in our society today, euthanasia, we can perhaps see the opposite of patience, i.e. impatience, as one driving force. In a culture of instant satisfaction of individual choices – point at the screen and your wish comes true! – death, by a poison injection carried out by a doctor forced by law, has suddenly become the answer to an often hypothetical possibility of physical pain and suffering in an imagined future.

Bishop Anders points at another alternative, and gives another vision, in his Pastoral letter: “Palliative care should be a human right available to all who are seriously ill. Everyone should be able to experience human kindness and goodness that can make the last part of one’s life more peaceful and harmonious. As disciples of Jesus, we need to show more love for the seriously ill and dying [… ] and do all we can to make life easier and better for everyone. In that way, the voices of those calling out for euthanasia will often be silenced.”

The Bishop also points to the fact that fear of suddenly feeling redundant, and as a burden on family and relatives, among old and ill, is easily exploited in this debate.

This leads him over to a third topic in the Pastoral letter: the increasing loneliness and isolation in our “individualistic climate”. He exemplifies with the horrific example from earlier this fall here in Sweden, of a man having laid dead in his apartment for three months before someone even noticed it. And the Cardinal means that “we Christians have a huge and important task in this area”, naturally starting with the atmosphere created by us in our parishes, as well as the way we approach others in the “often rather anonymous neighbourhoods” where we live.

In our gospel today, Jesus talked about “the least in the kingdom of heaven” compared to the greatness of St. John the Baptist, the greatest in the choir of Christmas bell-like prophetic voices, ringing to announce God’s intervention through his own elect, the Messiah. Jesus does not diminish or undermine the saintly life of St. John the Baptist, the last and without competition greatest Biblical figure of the Old covenant. He just compares the Old covenant with the New, where God himself, by his sacrifice through Christ, obtains the blessings of salvation for all, in all times, who believe in Christ, in whom St. John forebode.

Today we can ask ourselves who is the least among us, and answer: the unborn, who still only hear the Christmas bells through the body of their mothers; the severely ill and the old and lonely who are bells for attention and care. These least of brothers and sisters of Jesus must have their lives protected against all threats. Let this Respect for Life Sunday be the starting point of your effort for them.

Cardinal Arborelius ends his Pastoral letter by pointing out that the gift of life is given by God to every human “to grow into a friendship” with, and “fellowship” of, God “intended to last beyond the borders of death”, why “every human being, no matter who he is and what he has done, must be respected and revered. As Christians, we have been entrusted with the honourable task of getting involved and protecting those who are most threatened and vulnerable, those who have no one but us.” Amen.

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