Today is Respect Life Sunday and on this day we look toward bringing about more and more a culture of life to a country and a world, that seem to be mired in a culture of death. This culture of death includes many wrongs and sins against the human person. Unjust war, the human trafficking of young women, the euthanasia of the aged, the separation of families due to immigration policies, the death penalty for prisoners, IVF, artificial contraceptives, embryonic stem cell research, and of course abortion. This is a long list and a wide range of issues and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. But our faith reassures us that, “Every human being, at every stage and condition is willed and loved by God. For this reason, every human life is sacred. To deprive someone of life is a grave wrong and a grave dishonor to God. And because we are created in the image of God, who is Love, our identity and our vocation is to love. Pope Benedict has called this the key to our entire existence.” Love is the key to our entire existence.
As a people called to love I think it can sometimes be frustrating to see a world that’s not more a culture of life. Instead we see a landscape where there is still suffering where there is still such a culture of death. The prophet Habakkuk, from our first reading, expresses what we may sometimes feel at some point in our lives; we might say to ourselves, how can God be so indifferent to suffering? Habakkuk wrote at a time, about 600 B.C., when Babylon was rising in power and at that time Habakkuk was scared and worried for the future. He says in our first reading, “How long, O Lord? I cry out to you… but you do not intervene. Why must I look at misery?” Have we ever expressed words like these of Habakkuk’s? Habakkuk seems to be saying, Lord if you are who you say you are why do you allow evil to occur, why do you allow this dark evil to happen? We’ve probably all experienced these thoughts at some point when the topic of child abuse, war, disease, or the death of the innocent is put before our eyes. With Habakkuk we say, “Why Lord, How long Lord?”
And the Lord answers, he answers Habakkuk and says in the first reading, “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” This vision is God’s vision of the world its God’s providence over his creation. God knows what he’s doing. Our universe is not just a series of random arbitrary events. God knows what the Universe is all about. And if it seems that progress is slow we remind ourselves that God’s time is not our time. And we can see this in our own lives. Think back to when you were a child and think how long a month or a year seemed to be. That length of time just seemed to drag on forever. But now as an adult a month or even a year just seems to fly by as if they were nothing. And in the same way what we consider to be a delay by God is but the blink of an eye for him. His time is not our time. He will bring good.
Our faith tells us that because we are created in the image of God, who is Love, our identity and our vocation is to love. As Pope Benedict said, “To love is the very key to our entire existence.” Saturday was the feast day of Saint Therese of Lisieux and she wrote about this very thing this vocation to love. She once said, “I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove all the members of the Church to action…I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraced every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.”
There is a story from St. Thérèse’s diary in which she prayed for a notorious murderer. On July 13, 1887 a notorious murderer by the name of Henri Pranzini was sentenced to death for the murder of three women. It was a robbery that had gone terribly wrong. It was in all the newspapers across the whole country of France. It was all they talked about that summer, even the young St. Thérèse still living a sheltered life at home, had heard about it. Thérèse, a very sensitive soul, feared that Pranzini would be lost for all eternity. To avert that “irreparable calamity” she decided to employ “all the spiritual means” she could. And so she began to offer the “infinite merits of Our Savior and the treasures of the Holy Church” for his salvation. She prayed for Pranzini’s conversion.
The newspapers reported that at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, 1887, the door to Pranzini’s cell was opened and inside there were two prison guards and a chaplain. At this, it is said the prisoner turned pale. Pranzini’s step became noticeably less firm as he made his way to the prison gates. These gates opened to reveal a public square, and at its center a scaffold.
In her diary St. Thérèse wrote, “My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.” She wanted a sign that Pranzini had repented of his sins.
Again the newspapers wrote, Declining assistance, and feigning bravado, Pranzini started to walk forward to the executioner. At the foot of the scaffold, however, he began to totter. Turning to the chaplain, Pranzini asked for the crucifix, which he took and kissed. He mounted the scaffold but then broke down. After a pathetic struggle, he was strapped down upon the apparatus. At two minutes past five, the blade of the guillotine was loosed, at first descending slowly, its pace soon quickening.
In her diary St. Thérèse wrote, “The day after his execution I hastily opened the paper… and what did I see? Tears betrayed my emotion; I was obliged to run out of the room. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, but … turned round, seized the crucifix which the priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord’s Sacred Wounds three times … I had obtained the sign I asked for, and to me it was especially sweet. Was it not when I saw the Precious Blood flowing from the Wounds of Jesus that the thirst for souls first took possession of me?
“My prayer was granted to the letter.” Pranzini had repented.
St. Thérèse’s motto was a phrase she had borrowed from St. John of the Cross, “Love is repaid by love alone.”
The next time we’re frustrated or despairing over the many evils in our world and like the prophet Habakkuk we’re tempted to think or to ask ourselves, “What’s God waiting for?” The answer may be that He’s giving us the time, waiting for us to act and to deepen and to broaden our own vocation to love.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley