St. John the Evangelist tells us in today’s Gospel a story of a wedding, but so does the prophet Isaiah in our first reading: the wedding of God and his people.
…you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.
This divine romance between God and his people runs through the whole Bible: from the beginning of the Old Testament, from the story of the Exodus in the Pentateuch, right through into the New Testament, the Gospels, the letters of St. Paul, and on to the very end, the book of Revelation, which ends with the wedding feast of the Christ the Lamb and his bride, the Church.
Already in the wedding at Cana in our Gospel St. John is looking ahead to that heavenly wedding feast in Revelation. On one level it’s just an ordinary wedding celebration that Jesus and his mother happen to be attending. But John’s Gospel is full of symbolism and second meanings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
At Cana, the mother of Jesus asks her son for the needs of a wedding feast; this is the sign of another feast — that of the wedding of the Lamb where he gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride. (CCC 2618)
For that matter, not just the wedding at Cana but all weddings, all marriages, are meant to be pictures or icons of this divine romance between God and his people. Marriage is a “great mystery,” says St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, but then he adds, “I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” All marriages are meant to show us the love of Christ and his Church.
God is our Father and the Church is our mother, so we are all children of this divine romance. And in the same way, all marriage, by its nature, is ordered toward children. Married couples are called to be open to life, to welcoming new life. This is part of being pro-life.
Being pro-life is especially on our minds, of course, because this week we come again to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the terrible 1973 Supreme Court decision that overturned many state restrictions on abortion. As Catholics, we mark this day as a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The annual March for Life is usually held on this date; this year it was this past Friday.
Sometimes our critics attack us and say we aren’t really pro-life, just anti-abortion, perhaps based on disagreements about other issues. Now, we are anti-abortion. Abortion is a heinous crime, a direct attack on the sanctity of human life, which we revere. So we are anti-abortion because we are pro-life.
At least, we’re meant to be. Some who oppose abortion do resist the idea that being “pro-life” has implications for other issues besides abortion, and maybe euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide — issues that are less cut and dried, like the death penalty, particular wars, healthcare, social services for the poor, and so forth.
I’m sure many of you have opinions about these topics. I know I do! But my opinions are irrelevant when I stand here as a deacon in the Mass. Here I must proclaim the Gospel, not my opinion.
In my hand is The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) of Pope St. John Paul II, published in 1995 — one of the most important and authoritative teaching documents of one of the most important popes of modern times.
For this great pope, the Gospel of Jesus cannot be separated from the defense of life. “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message,” he says, and quotes Jesus’ words, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”
Listen to the urgency of the pope’s exhortation here:
…we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. … we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. (EV 28)
“We are all involved, and we all share” in “the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”
We must all be defenders of the culture of life. We must resist all “crime and attacks against human life,” especially those, in the pope’s words, that “are opposed to life itself”: murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, suicide. These are the most direct and heinous crimes against human life.
But there’s more to The Gospel of Life than that. To be “unreservedly pro-life,” the pope teaches, we must reject not only abortion but also contraception, birth control.
Of course abortion is much worse than contraception, but there’s a link between the two. The pope teaches:
despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree… The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious.
I’m not saying this to condemn anyone. Contraception undermines the unity of the spouses in marriage. So do many things. We are all sinners and fall short in different ways; when we sin, the Church calls us to repentance, conversion, and newness of life.
“Crimes and attacks against human life” also include — and here the Holy Father is quoting from a document of Vatican II — acts like torture and mutilation that “violate the integrity of the human person”; offenses that “insult human dignity,” like intolerable living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery and human trafficking, and prostitution, as well as exploiting and dehumanizing workers through “disgraceful working conditions”
All of this is so important that John Paul said it all not once but twice, repeating the entire list of crimes and attacks against human life in his other great moral encyclical, The Splendor of Truth (Veritatis Splendor), where he declared all these crimes to be “intrinsically evil … always and per se … independently of circumstances … seriously wrong by reason of their object” (VS 80).
The “inescapable responsibility of being unconditionally pro-life” obliges us all to oppose all of these crimes against human life.
Notice that the death penalty is not listed among those crimes that are intrinsically evil. That doesn’t mean that being unconditionally pro-life has no implications for the death penalty. The Gospel of Life teaches that “Society ought not to go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity … when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” So the pope cites growing opposition to the death penalty as a positive sign of the culture of life.
The pope lists other positive signs of the culture of life as well. The gospel of life means married couples generously welcoming children as the supreme gift of marriage. It means active concern for vulnerable people with needs greater than our own: children whose parents aren’t there for them; elderly and infirm people with no one to look after them; the poor and immigrants; people with no family or friends.
It means supporting organizations that help pregnant women in difficult circumstances and other people need. It means taking seriously our obligations to care for the environment, on which all life depends.
In all these ways, and in so many others, the words of Moses, quoted in The Gospel of Life, challenge us today: “See, I have set before you this day life and death, good and evil … blessing and curse: therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”