Quinquagesima Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dominica Quinquagesimae / Evening, 25 February 2017 / Church of St John

And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should delivery my body to be burned, and have not charity,
 it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3).

On Saturday last, the 18th of February, a sixty-nine-year-old woman named Norma McCorvey died in Texas at an assisted living center. Likely some of you recognize that name; but if it is unfamiliar, as it was to me,[1] Miss McCorvey was the anonymous Jane Roe in the Supreme Court Case of 1973, Roe vs Wade.   

No one here needs to be convinced about the evil which is abortion; in point of fact, that is not even the theme of our discussion this evening. Nevertheless, Ms McCorvey’s death reminds us about the tumultuous moral climate of our time. (As if we need reminding.) Still, her life is also a stark reminder of what the human cost is when moral right-thinking becomes deeply obscured and convoluted and, for that matter, politicized. Yet today, in this secularized land, devout Catholic souls feel more than a little pressured to express their faith with a certain degree of force. To be sure, apologetics is a most necessary discourse—and indeed, we must live the Catholic life with vigor and without compromise.         

But we must also be wary: there is a certain pitfall that may catch us. When the cultural environment becomes hostile to the truth, we run the risk of defining ourselves with reference to that hostility; that is, we begin to understand ourselves only in terms of what we are for and against. I suspect we know, in the serene moments of life, that the Faith about far more than any cultural matter that requires our opposition or witness; but we do well to remember this at every moment.         

After Roe vs Wade, Ms McCorvey became a pro-abortion activist. But one day, after being worn down by all this activism, she reports being convinced of the wrongness of her position in a moment of insight, after seeing a fetal development chart in a doctor’s office. In a very short time she became an evangelical Christian and subsequently a pro-life activist. For instance, she was arrested in 2009 in Indiana while she protested Barak Obama’s speech at Notre Dame. From her childhood onward she carried a host of anguishes, anguishes that even brought her to several attempts to take her own life. However, on August 17th, 1998, Norma McCorvey became a Catholic.

One of Miss McCorvey’s books is entitled, Won By Love. And so, taught by St Paul, we see how it all fits together. Caution: we hear Virgil say, omnia vincit amor[2]and there are some who say the same, in order to obscure or set aside the other virtues, as if to suggest a general love is all that is needed, regardless of the details. That is not what we mean, for it is certainly not what St Paul is teaching us. 

Prophecy is a gift that God may give: but it must be a proclamation of divine love at its heart. Knowledge and understanding, too, are gifts, especially when they are put at the service of teaching: but it must be a knowledge which leads others to love. Faith indeed is the beginning of man’s supernatural life in God, but it will end—and ultimately, it is meant to lead to the final vision of God, which is a vision of love. Service of the poor is a crystal clear teaching of the Gospel: but if it is not done for love of God and neighbor—say, if it is put at the service of progressive politics—then it counts for nothing. Even the singular sacrifice of martyrdom avails us nothing if it serves ourselves and not love. It is charity that forms the other virtues—all human excellence must conform to the law of love or it is no excellence at all.

I say all this to encourage you. The world will try to define us by what we are against; for those who do not understand, that mistake is inevitable. But, taking our cue from St Paul, we assert the primacy of love as a way to explain our way of life. In other words, we are Catholics because we love—or rather, as St John tells us, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”[3] Being Catholic is about giving the fullest, most complete response to divine love. Chesterton wrote somewhere, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”[4] And so with us. Our Catholic life and witness springs from the font of charity.

Norma McCorvey said in 2003: “I long for the day that justice will be done and the burden from all of these deaths will be removed from my shoulders. I want to do everything in my power to help women and their children.”[5] Beloved friends, in your charity, please remember Ms McCorvey in prayer. Requiescat in pace. Perhaps now, in his mercy, Christ has indeed gathered that burden from her shoulders. We have much reason for hope: for it is as St Paul said: “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[6] 

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