It is hard to believe, but here we are at the end of October. In just a few short weeks we will begin Advent and the beginning of the new Liturgical year as we prepare for Christmas. The month of November is about to begin, and that is the month we pray for the poor souls in purgatory. Here we have the beautiful and profound story of Zacchaeus the tax collector.
This chief tax collector can show us something about what it means to be a Catholic especially in this culture in which we live. How is that? Well I propose a few ways. First, Zacchaeus was willing to take that initial step regardless of what others may think. Not many adults are to be seen climbing trees, and we can think of how strange it would seem to see a grown man climbing a tree. He doesn’t give it a moment’s hesitation. For us this should be a challenge. We should not be concerned about the opinions of others, but rather living our lives in accord with God’s will. If they think we are strange because we pray the Rosary, go to Mass, fast and abstain, do not use birth control, frequent the sacraments, go to Eucharistic adoration, then their thoughts should not stop us.
Another lesson Zacchaeus teaches us is that sometimes finding God is not always convenient. Life is not always convenient. God did not create man to be busy, to be ignored, to be thrown away, but to be in relation with him and with our fellow brothers and sisters. He calls us to share in his life, and when we are baptized he gives us Faith, Hope, and Love. He expects us to put these gifts to work in our lives. Yes, it is hard to wake up at 3am to tend to a child. It is really heroic to chase toddlers around the house all day. It is heroic to care for an elderly or sick parent or relative. God is hidden in each person, so how we treat others is how we treat God.
Life is such a profound gift and we are called to a life even more full than what we experience on earth. Deep in the human heart is a desire for more life, and for those moments of love and joy to last forever. We are called to a life which far exceeds our earthly existence. Yet our life now in time is essential preparation for what will happen after we die. How often we use and hear the phrase “I am busy!” as if that is what defines life. Busyness.
Pope Saint John Paul II writes that the heart of the tragedy is “the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which…succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence.” (EV 21)
When we lose our sense of God, our appreciation for the human person, for any moral code will begin to fade. Does this not sound familiar? We are experiencing this problem in our country as we speak.
The divine adventure our Lord calls us to live in the midst of our ordinary lives is worth it. Jesus calls us each by name as he called Zacchaeus. Pope Saint John Paul II describes what we are experiencing today as the struggle between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death”. He provides some wise words and deeply rooted teaching in his Encyclical “The Gospel of Life” which is being reprinted in the bulletins bit by bit.
God’s mercy is bigger than any sin. Here again let’s look at Zacchaeus. It must have been a stunning experience to hear his name called with such tenderness. Usually people used his name with contempt. He considered himself to be absolutely rejected, and that feeling was made worse by the way the crowd would have viewed him. Here Jesus seems to be addressing an old friend, a forgotten but still loved friend: “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5)”. Come home, Zacchaeus, I have missed you. The Sacrament of reconciliation is powerful against the darkness that is brought about by abortion and other offenses to human life. Like Zacchaeus, nobody is ever beyond God’s mercy. He heard God calling him home and he took that action to return. This is why Christ died on the cross for us. What makes a Saint is one who does not give up, one who always struggles to cooperate with God’s grace and returns to the fight even after having a fall.
This issue of snuffing out life before it sees the light of day is not new. While ancient Israel was struggling to be faithful to God’s law, there were pagan practices that involved throwing newborn children into the pit of Gehenna to please their pagan Gods. Gehenna was a garbage dump, and like all dumps was full of gas from decomposing garbage. Thus it was fiery and hot. The prophets railed against offenses contrary to life. In ancient Rome, the practice of exposure was done–newborn children were left in the open to be consumed by nature or beasts. Temptations by the government and the culture. The early Christian church explicitly denounced the practice of abortion in a document called the Didache, written about 149AD, saying simply “you shall not procure abortion nor destroy a new-born child”. It is not a new or made up teaching that life is to be respected at all stages. It is repeated in the Encyclical On Human Life by Blessed Paul VI as well as The Gospel of Life by Pope Saint John Paul II.
What do we do about all this? Pope Saint John Paul II recommends a few things which I will reiterate. First, we must become contemplative-that is, we must look for God throughout our day. The people we meet, the struggles we have, the joys we have, the beauty of art, music, creation-God is there! We have to stop being busy and spend time with God. A great way to be a contemplative is to pray the Family Rosary. What a powerful way to fight the breakdown in the family than by making some sacrifice and praying the rosary, or part of the Rosary for smaller children, together each week. We did this every Sunday when I was growing up. We were involved in sports, Boy Scouts, and other things, but this was a priority for my parents. When I was in college I remembered this and the Rosary brought me out of a real slump. Pray to the blessed mother that only pro life politicians will be elected, and that pro abortion politicians will have a conversion of heart. Pray for each other. The family that prays together stays together.
Second, We must celebrate life, most especially eternal life. Look to the examples of saints, and there are some modern ones such as Saint Gianna Molla, an Italian mother and physician. They can inspire us and help us to grow in love and reverence for human life as a gift from God. They were truly alive because they struggled day in and day out to make themselves open to God’s grace.Their sure witness will help us to follow God’s plan for each of us.
Third, we must educate ourselves. Jesus gave us the Church to help us know how to navigate the tricky waters of life. Every married couple should read and re read Paul VI’s encyclical on Human Life and keep reading the excerpts in the bulletin from Pope St John Paul II’s The Gospel of Life that have been published since last Advent. Thank you Father Arnone for taking your duty to inform us about this essential teaching!
Finally, at all times, it is a great idea to look to the holy family. The government tried to have the Christ child killed. They had to flee for their lives. Saint Joseph lived out his role as father protecting and caring for the blessed mother and the Christ child. Our Blessed Mother was not passive. She was caring for the Christ child and also would have been caring for St Joseph who was probably stressed and working overtime! I can’t even imagine the stress they felt of having to care for and protect this child-the Son of God, God incarnate, from Herod. Let us welcome the Holy Family into our homes to be with us and help us through whatever problems, distress, worries, anxieties, or real brokenness we may be experiencing. Saint Joseph and the Blessed Mother are not aliens. They want us to be forever in heaven with Jesus, and they know the way is not easy, but it is filled with joy if we walk the narrow way our Lord calls us to walk. Then with their help, we may hear our Lord calling each of us by name, in the same way he called Zacchaeus, “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5)”.