Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Importance of Helping Other Members of the Body of Christ

(Third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on Sunday, January 27, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Nehemiah 8:1-12; Psalm 19:8-15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday 2019]

On the website of the New York Times, there’s an interesting article from May of last year.  It’s entitled, “Broke your Right Arm?  Exercise Your Left.  It May Help, Really.”  The article begins with these words:

If you sprain an ankle or break a wrist this summer and cannot use one of your limbs, the muscles there will weaken and shrink—unless you exercise those same muscles in your other limb.  According to a fascinating new study, working out the muscles on one side of our bodies can keep the muscles on the other side strong and fit, even if we do not move them at all.  The finding has implications for injury recovery and also underscores how capable and confounding our bodies can be.

If one part of your body is injured, another part of your body can help to restore it to health—or at least give you the ability to deal with the injury or handicap.  That was the core message of this article.  And this is something we all know by experience.  When you get an infection in your body, for example, your immune system immediately kicks in to try to get rid of it.  When you get a cut on your leg, your hands come to the rescue, since you use them to clean the wound and put a BAND-AID on it.  When you lose your sight, very often the abilities of your other senses are heightened to compensate for your inability to see.

That’s the way it is in the physical world: One part of your body helps other parts of your body.

So why should we expect anything different in the spiritual realm?  In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul talks about the body of Christ—the Church—reminding us that we’re all part of it through our baptism: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons.”  We’re all different—we all have different talents, gifts and abilities—but we’re one Church.  And we need each other!  As Paul says there, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

And one of the things for which we need other members of the body of Christ is to help us when we’re injured (spiritually speaking)—because the weaknesses and sins of one member of the body affect to some extent every other member of the body.  This was what Paul was getting at when he said, “If one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it.”

This, in fact, is why Christians are called to “admonish” one another.  Paul tells us specifically to do that in Colossians 3.  Just as one part of your physical body can help to heal another part, so too one member of the body of Christ can help another member find the forgiveness and spiritual healing that he or she needs.

A great example of this is found in the open letter that the bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger, wrote to the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, this past week.  It was the case of one member of the body of Christ trying to help another member avoid making a big mistake and putting his eternal salvation in jeopardy. 

This happened because the pro-death crowd in New York is running scared these days.  (They’re worried that the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.)  So they recently put forth a bill in the state senate that will legalize baby killing right up to the moment a child is born.  It will be the most radical pro-abortion law in the country.  This means a woman will be able to go into a New York hospital on a Monday afternoon, be scheduled for a C-section the following morning, and then decide Monday night (or Tuesday morning!) that she doesn’t want the baby, but rather wants an abortion—and the hospital will be required by law to do it.

Now if that’s not infanticide, I don’t know what is.

So as a concerned member of the body of Christ, Bishop Scharfenberger wrote to Governor Cuomo (also a body of Christ member—at least he claims to be) to admonish him lest he make a serious mistake—and commit a heinous sin.

I won’t read the whole letter to you—just a few of the more important parts.

Dear Governor Cuomo, 
Although in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should “stand with Pope Francis,” your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church. Once truth is separated from fiction and people come to realize the impact of the bill, they will be shocked to their core. By that time, however, it may be too late to save the countless lives that will be lost or spare countless women lifelong regret. …  
Contrary to what its proponents say, the [so-called Reproductive Health Act] goes far beyond Roe vs. Wade in its aggressive extremism. Granting non-doctors permission to perform abortions does nothing to advance the security and health of women. Condoning coerced or involuntary abortions by repealing criminal sanctions even in cases where a perpetrator seeks to make his partner “un-pregnant” through an act of physical violence does not represent any kind of progress in the choice, safety or health of women. Removing protection for an infant accidentally born alive during an abortion is abject cruelty, something most people of conscience would deem inhumane for even a dog or cat. Finally, allowing late-term abortions is nothing less than a license to kill a pre-born child at will.
It is very difficult to understand how you can align yourself with Pope Francis and so vehemently advocate such profoundly destructive legislation. …
As a society, we can and must do better. The teaching and intuition of our common faith readies us to help. It is an essential part of our mission to support the lives of all, especially the voiceless, the most vulnerable and marginalized, as Pope Francis always reminds us to do.
Let’s not bequeath to our children a culture of death, but together build a more humane society for the lives of all of our fellow citizens. 
Mr. Cuomo, do not build this Death Star.
That’s one member of the body of Christ desperately trying to help another member of the body of Christ: a good arm desperately trying to help a broken arm. 

You know, I wanted to be able to end my homily by saying, “May the governor have the good sense to accept the help.”  But then, on Wednesday, he signed the bill into law.

So please pray for his repentance—and for God to have mercy on him.  And pray also for our state, because they’re going to try to pass the same kind of law here in Rhode Island in the very near future.