May 1, 2023 // Bishop

Homily for Evangelium Vitae Mass, April 29, 2023

Bishop Rhoades delivered the following homily at the Evangelium Vitae Medal Mass on Saturday, April 29, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame:

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” These words of Jesus in the Gospel for this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, are ideal for our reflection this evening as we celebrate the conferral of the Evangelium Vitae Medal. In fact, in his great encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote that these words of Jesus present the heart of His redemptive mission: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” What is Jesus referring to in these words? According to Saint John Paul II, “Jesus is referring to that ‘new’ and ‘eternal’ life which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this ‘life’ that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance” (EV 1).

The fullness of life that Jesus came to give us “far exceeds the dimensions of our earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even its temporal phase” (EV 2). As John Paul wrote: even in this phase, our life on earth, our natural, temporal life, is a “sacred reality, entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters” (EV 2).

Our distinguished Evangelium Vitae medal recipient, Professor Robert George, has been an eloquent witness to the Gospel of life, teaching and defending the truth about the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, a truth that can be recognized in the natural law written in the human heart, known “by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace.” Thus, the Church affirms “the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree,” a right that Professor George has so convincingly and courageously defended and promoted, as Pope John Paul II called us to do. I am truly delighted that Professor George is the recipient of this year’s Evangelium Vitae medal.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus said these words in His Good Shepherd discourse. Before He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus identifies Himself as the gate for the sheepfold. He promises that “whoever enters through Him will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Similarly, elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as “the Way.” He says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is the gate, the open door, the way through which we enter into salvation. He is the Good Shepherd who leads us to the pasture of eternal life. There are others whom Jesus describes as thieves and robbers who don’t enter the sheepfold through the gate, but climb over the sheep’s pen elsewhere. They seek to exploit the sheep and they do them harm. In the world today, many are exploited and harmed by those who do not lead them to the pastures of life, but to fields of death. How many women are exploited and harmed by opponents of the Good Shepherd who convince them that the life they carry is a burden and not a gift! Our task as disciples of the Good Shepherd is to help people to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and to follow Him, to find abundant life in Him, and to reject the culture of death.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  The word “life” sums up the aspirations of humanity. We all yearn for life and life in abundance. But we can be tempted to look for this abundant life in the wrong places. The figure of the prodigal son is a paradigm of this search for life in the wrong places. The prodigal son wanted everything that life can offer. He wanted to enjoy life to the full and so he left his father’s house and immersed himself in selfish pleasures, spending his inheritance on a dissolute life. In the end, he found himself caring for pigs and even envying them. In his quest for life, his life had become empty and miserable. He had wanted to take possession of life, and we can be tempted to do so as well, take possession of it, rather than receive it as a gift. But we don’t find life, let alone an abundant life, in this way. We may think that we can live an abundant life by having everything, immersed as we are in a consumerist culture, or by being able to do whatever we want, influenced by a culture of libertine individualism. In the end, however, we realize, like the prodigal son realized, that these things do not really satisfy us. In fact, living in sin is living for death, not life. On the other hand, living in grace, being in communion with God who is infinite Love, is a truly abundant life.

The prodigal son found life again when he repented, turned back, and was embraced in the loving arms of his Father. In fact, the father even said: “this son of mine was dead and has come back to life.” He returned to true life which he found in communion with His Father. The same with us. We do not find life when we forsake our Father’s love and break His commandments. And we don’t find ourselves free, but enslaved. But even in such a situation, the thirst for life continues to burn within us, and we can return to the arms of our merciful Father and find our thirst satisfied by the living water that flows from the heart of His Son.

Jesus’ mission on earth reached its climax when He, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for the sheep. With infinite love, Jesus surrendered His life for us on the cross. And this love was victorious over sin and death. When Jesus rose from the dead, He revealed that He is the Lord of life and the author and source of the life of abundance we all yearn for, the life He has in Himself as the Son of God. In the Holy Trinity, life is love, the very love that, as Saint Paul teaches, is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The sacramental life of the Catholic Church is a beautiful expression and means by which we receive and share in the life in abundance that Jesus promises us. Through the action of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Body, the Church, the power of Christ’s Paschal Mystery touches us. In Baptism, we receive the new life of Christ and become new creatures. Through Baptism, we enter the sheepfold, the Church, through the gate that is Christ. We enter into communion with Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. Our life and our death thus become a path to eternity. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit communicates to us, intimately and personally, the divine life, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son. Then in Confirmation, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, binds us even more perfectly to Christ and to the Church, strengthening us to follow Him and to bear witness to Him in our words and deeds. When we, like the prodigal son, squander this gift of life through sin, God’s life within us can be restored or renewed by the forgiveness of our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Of course, the greatest sacrament is the Holy Eucharist, the bread of life, Jesus Himself, who nourishes us with the medicine of immortality, an antidote to death, His Body and Blood, on our journey to heaven.

The new life we receive in the sacraments flourishes when we follow the Good Shepherd, live in His love, and love one another as He has loved us. Indeed, the sacraments give us the grace to do so. This is life in abundance — love! Pope Benedict XVI taught that “when we love, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming most fully ourselves, most fully human. Loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator.” This is what it means to be truly alive. It is at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: loving God and loving one another as He has loved us, imitating the Good Shepherd who laid down His life in loving sacrifice for us, serving Him in our brothers and sisters, including those in the womb of their mothers, those who are weak and defenseless and those who are suffering. This is what the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s love unto the end, nourishes us to do, as it nourished all the saints of the Church. When we live in this way, we find life in abundance and, in doing so, we are building a culture of life and civilization of love.

May Our Lady, for whom this university is named, help us with her prayers to faithfully follow her Son, the Good Shepherd, that we might have life and have it more abundantly!

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