October is Pro-Life Month in the Catholic Church. Here at St. Peter’s we have used a section of the bulletin during this month to reflect on several pro-life issues as a means of observing this special month. All of this helps us to review some of the basic truths of our faith, to maybe even learn a few new aspects of our tradition, and to deepen our understanding of the richness of our heritage with its contemporary applications.
This week we will reflect on the Church’s constant teaching on the respect for unborn human life and its implication for abortion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (#2271). What follows is an explanation of this statement.
From earliest times, Christians sharply distinguished themselves from surrounding pagan cultures by rejecting abortion and infanticide. The earliest widely used documents of Christian teaching and practice after the New Testament in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) and Letter of Barnabas, condemned both practices, as did early regional and particular Church councils.
To be sure, knowledge of human embryology was very limited until recent times. Many Christian thinkers accepted the biological theories of their time, based on the writings of Aristotle (4th century BC) and other philosophers. Aristotle assumed a process was needed over time to turn the matter from woman’s womb into a being that could receive a specifically human form or soul. The active formative power for this process was thought to come entirely from the man—the existence of the human ovum (egg), like so much of basic biology, was unknown.
However, such mistaken biological theories never changed the Church’s common conviction that abortion is gravely wrong at every stage. At the very least, early abortion was seen as attacking a being with a human destiny, being prepared by God to receive an immortal soul (cf. Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”).
In the 5th century AD this rejection of abortion at every stage was affirmed by the great bishop-theologian St. Augustine. He knew of theories about the human soul not being present until some weeks into pregnancy. Because he used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, he also thought the ancient Israelites had imposed a more severe penalty for accidentally causing a miscarriage if the fetus was “fully formed” (Exodus 21:22-23), language not found in any known Hebrew version of this passage. But he also held that human knowledge of biology was very limited, and he wisely warned against misusing such theories to risk committing homicide. He added that God has the power to make up all human deficiencies or lack of development in the Resurrection, so we cannot assume that the earliest aborted children will be excluded from enjoying eternal life with God.
In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas made extensive use of Aristotle’s thought, including his theory that the rational human soul is not present in the first few weeks of pregnancy. But he also rejected abortion as gravely wrong at every stage, observing that it is a sin “against nature” to reject God’s gift of a new life.
During these centuries, theories derived from Aristotle and others influenced the grading of penalties for abortion in Church law. Some canonical penalties were more severe for a direct abortion after the stage when the human soul was thought to be present. However, abortion at all stages continued to be seen as a grave moral evil.
From the 13th to 19th centuries, some theologians speculated about rare and difficult cases where they thought an abortion before “formation” or “ensoulment” might be morally justified. But these theories were discussed and then always rejected, as the Church refined and reaffirmed its understanding of abortion as an intrinsically evil act that can never be morally right.
In 1827, with the discovery of the human ovum, the mistaken biology of Aristotle was discredited. Scientists increasingly understood that the union of sperm and egg at conception produces a new living being that is distinct from both mother and father. Modern genetics demonstrated that this individual is, at the outset, distinctively human, with the inherent and active potential to mature into a human fetus, infant, child and adult. From 1869 onward, the obsolete distinction between the “ensouled” and “unensouled” fetus was permanently removed from canon law on abortion.
Secular laws against abortion were being reformed at the same time and in the same way, based on secular medical experts’ realization that “no other doctrine appears to be consonant with reason or physiology but that which admits the embryo to possess vitality from the very moment of conception” (American Medical Association, Report on Criminal Abortion, 1871).
Thus modern science has not changed the Church’s constant teaching against abortion but has underscored how important and reasonable it is, by confirming that the life of each individual of the human species begins with the earliest embryo.
Given the scientific fact that a human life begins at conception, the only moral norm needed to understand the Church’s opposition to abortion is the principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This is the foundation for the Church’s social doctrine, including its teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty and immigration. Conversely, to claim that some live human beings do not deserve respect or should not be treated as “persons” (based on changeable factors such as age, condition, location, or lack of mental or physical abilities) is to deny the very idea of inherent human rights. Such a claim undermines respect for the lives of many vulnerable people before and after birth.
I remind you that during this Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis has given to all priests throughout the world the power to absolve from the sin of abortion. If anyone has had an abortion in the past and has not brought that sin to the sacrament of reconciliation, I encourage you to do so before the Year ends on the Solemnity of Christ the King on the third Sunday of November. This is a great opportunity to move beyond any guilt you might still be carrying around with you and to move into the future with a lightened heart and conscience.
TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Wholeness and freedom emerge as themes in this Sunday’s readings—but not just generic wholeness and freedom that the secular world offers. Rather, our readings speak of the wholeness and freedom that God offers us in Christ Jesus.
The Gospel reading is the familiar story of the ten lepers who first plead with Jesus for mercy. As was customary, Jesus directs the lepers to show themselves to the priests for healing. Even before their arrival and audience with the priests, Jesus cleansed them, although Luke does not inform us how the cleansing occurred. Only one, the Samaritan, went back and expressed his gratitude to Jesus for the gift of wholeness restored. Once a foreigner, his faith in Jesus makes him a believer, a child of God, a disciple. The Samaritan is now a person of faith sent forth in freedom from his old life to embrace his new life in Jesus.
Paired with Luke’s Gospel of the ten lepers is the passage from the Second Book of Kings about Naaman the Syrian, who also was afflicted with leprosy. Naaman, too, experiences healing after immersing himself seven times in the Jordan River. Upon his cleansing, Naaman seeks out the prophet Elisha, confesses his faith in the God of Israel, and offers a gift in gratitude. Elisha refuses the present and Naaman proposes he keep two mule loads of earth instead so that he might continue to worship the Lord in his homeland of Aram. The reading concludes with Naaman’s request, but does not include Elisha’s acceptance, which follows a few verses later when the prophet sends Naaman forth in peace. The God of Israel freed him from leprosy.
Wholeness and freedom come from the power of God alive and active in Christ Jesus throughout the world and in all the world’s people. The Responsorial Psalm comes from Psalm 98, the psalm that also is sung during the Mass during the Day on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. In the refrain, we affirm that the Lord indeed has revealed his “saving power” to the nations. We continue to experience wholeness and freedom from the Lord’s power today—in our parishes, in small faith communities, in our neighborhoods and streets where we see God “has revealed his justice.”
In the Second Reading, Paul reminds Timothy of the Gospel he preaches. Though chains bind Paul in prison, he confirms to Timothy that the Gospel of Jesus Christ raised from the dead has no chains. The Gospel is free and knows no bounds. The concluding verses of the reading probably come from a first century hymn sung in house churches. These verses affirm Paul’s confidence and ours that if we die with Christ, we will live and reign with him. Yet even if we deny him, and most likely we will at times, Christ will remain faithful. What a marvelous gift of wholeness and freedom he constantly offers to us. His saving power never ceases, for its basis is mercy and forgiveness, even when his people stray.
At the beginning of the Collect is a wonderful image of God’s grace going before us and following after us. God’s grace is our source of wholeness and freedom. Naaman, Paul, Timothy, and the ten lepers experienced this, and at least the leper who thanked Jesus recognized from whom his healing came. The Collect also refers to our duty to “carry out good works” as our response to the Lord’s grace active in our lives. The Lord can “make us always determined” to do so. In the Prayer after Communion, we acknowledge how the Lord “feeds us with the nourishment” of the Body and Blood of his Son. Without this nourishment, our determination to live as disciples would wane.
CHICAGO MARATHON THIS WEEKEND
The annual Chicago Marathon through downtown and the environs will be run this Sunday, October 9. As you are well aware, many of the streets in the Loop are closed from early morning until approximately 11:00 A.M. which makes getting to Saint Peter’s difficult from many of the hotels and from the Blue and Red Lines. Parking is even more problematic this weekend than usual. In order not to be late for Mass, people coming to St. Peter’s are advised to leave for church earlier than usual.
We welcome both the runners and their visitors for Mass this weekend. There will be a special blessing during the 5:00 Saturday evening Mass for all those participating in the marathon. We wish you well, especially a safe run, as you compete.
OPEN HOUSE CHICAGO 2016
Organized by the Chicago Architectural Foundation, Open House Chicago is a free annual event that takes visitors behind-the-scenes to more than 200 great places and spaces across the city. The sixth-annual Open House will be held over the weekend of October 15th and 16th. This city-wide festival is a unique, once-a-year opportunity for the public to experience Chicago’s rich architecture, culture and history by participating in self-guided explorations of the city and its diverse neighborhoods.
This year St. Peter’s will be participating in the Open House by opening our doors to those who are interested on Saturday, October 15, from 11:00-4:30 and on Sunday, October 16, from 1:30-5:00. We would welcome assistance from any volunteers on either of these dates either to welcome people in the lobby or to show them the church and tell a bit of our history. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Carolyn Jarosz in her office on the lower level of the church or by calling her at 312-853-2376. This would be a great opportunity to meet all kinds of people and to tell them about our church and the people we serve.
A THOUGHT FOR THE ELECTIONS
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘Thou Shalt Not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Money must serve, not rule!” –Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel
Some of our bulletin readers may not be familiar with Chicago Shares, a way that you can help the homeless but not actually give them cash. You can purchase Chicago Shares in our Front Office anytime the office is open. They come in packets of five (each slip worth $1.00) and they can be used to purchase food, toiletries, and other basic items at a number of stores in the Loop and in the South and North areas beyond the Loop. These shares cannot be used to purchase liquor and tobacco, nor can they be redeemed for cash. If you would like more information about Chicago Shares, you may go to www.chicagoshares.org, or you may stop at the front office to pick up a list of the stores that honor these shares.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
One day at home the phone rings, and Joe answers it. On the other end is a confused woman who asks, “Who is this?”
“This is Joe. With whom did you wish to speak?”
After a pause the woman says, “Did you just say ‘whom’?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then you’re definitely not my son!”