I just returned from a 4-day trip to Washington, DC with a group of 50 high school students. While my body is exhausted, my spirit is galvanized. I’ll post more detailed reflections on the experience later. For now, I’d like to share a small piece of what was, for me, the most powerful part of the whole experience: +Sean O’Malley’s homily at the Pro-Life Vigil Mass at the National Basilica.
Today’s Gospel is one of the most dramatic scenes in the New Testament. The Pharisees are determined to impale Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. Should the woman caught in adultery be punished by death as the law demanded? If Jesus said “no” they would accuse him of neglecting to obey the law. If Jesus said “yes, kill her”, He would turn people against Him for having the woman killed.
The Pharisees brought in the woman almost like a stage prop to use her for their political purposes. It is interesting to note that her partner has escaped punishment. It is only the woman who pays the price for their actions. She is filled with shame and is in fear for her life, with feelings of anger, despair, disappointment and a profound sense of loneliness.
It is curious to note that this is the only place in the Gospel where we see Jesus writing something. For Jesus, there was no need to publish or perish. We do not know for sure what Jesus was writing. Some of the Church’s Fathers speculate that Jesus was writing the sins of those brave men, after telling them that the one who is without sin should cast the first stone. When the men see their sins, the stones fall from their hands and they begin to sneak away beginning with the oldest. Jesus is left alone with the woman; the crowd with their prurient curiosity and the Pharisees disarmed by Jesus, have slipped off. St. Augustine describes that Gospel scene as miseria and misericordis. Misery and mercy meet.
Jesus has come, not for the healthy, but for the sick. He has come to set up the field hospital. He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep behind to seek out the lost sheep. That gives Him more joy than the ninety-nine just people who do not need the Good Shepherd.
The feelings of the woman in the Gospel must be like the young woman caught in a crisis situation of an unwanted pregnancy. She feels overwhelmed, alone, afraid, confused.
We must never allow that woman to perceive the Pro-Life movement as a bunch of angry self righteous Pharisees with stones in their hands, looking down on her and judging her. We want the woman to experience the merciful love of Christ. Jesus does not condone the woman’s fall, but He does not condemn her. He invites her to make a new start, to know that she is forgiven and loved. Pope Francis urges us to practice “the art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other, in this case, the woman in crisis. This accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian Life. This is precisely what the Sisters of Life, Project Rachel and the Community of Jesus the Living Mercy are doing.
We are all here because we want to save the thousands of innocent children who are being executed by the very people whose mission should be to heal and protect life. The truth is that we can save those babies only by saving the mothers. When they experience God’s loving mercy then they will become capable of showing mercy to their children. The Pro Life Movement has to be about saving mothers. We need to focus on the women to try to understand what they are suffering.
You can read or watch +Sean’s homily in its entirety here.