Editor’s note: The following is the homily by Bishop Rhoades for the Red Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, on Oct. 2, 2011.
The prophet Isaiah gives us an allegory about his friend who planted a vineyard on fertile ground. He spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines. But later, when his friend looked for the crop of grapes, he found wild grapes. This friend of Isaiah is God, our heavenly Father. The people of Judah are his cherished plant. God had given them a perfect vineyard, but they did not care for it. The vineyard was ruined because his cherished plants, his beloved people, were careless with his gifts, and so the vineyard was ruined. They did not respect the vineyard of truth and love and life that God had entrusted to them.
Today, the Church throughout the United States celebrates Respect Life Sunday. The allegory of the vineyard can easily be applied to us today. God, out of his infinite love, created us in his image and likeness. He created the heavens and the earth. He has given us life. He has given us the Gospel of life, revealing to us the truth about the sacredness of human life. He has entrusted us with the vineyard that he built. He wants us to produce abundant fruits in his vineyard. But what has happened? A culture of death has swept through that vineyard. The vineyard Isaiah wrote about was ruined because God’s cherished plants answered justice with bloodshed and love with their selfish interests. Sadly, tragically, God’s vineyard that we are called to tend is so often ruined today by sins and crimes against life: by abortion, infanticide, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia. God has given us wondrous signs of his love, sons and daughters to love and cherish. He has given us the beauty of married love and the wisdom of the elderly. He has given us hearts to love the poor and the stranger. What have we done with these gifts? In a culture of life and love, these gifts are cherished. In a culture of death, they are destroyed. A culture of death lays waste to the beauty that God has so wondrously created.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a parable which is very much like Isaiah’s allegory of the vineyard. Jesus takes it one step further and puts himself into the story. In the Gospel, the Son is sent to save the vineyard, to protect the most vulnerable plants from being trod under feet. But when the evil tenants saw the Son, “they threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.” God then warns that a wretched death awaits those who have killed his Son, unless they repent. We can think today of this killing of Jesus still going on since He taught us that whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him. We think of the innocent unborn child killed in the womb, of the person with a disability denied treatment and care, of the sick or elderly who are hurt or neglected, not seen as useful to society. There are many offenses against human life and dignity in the vineyard of the Lord today. We are called to protect and defend life, to nurture and serve life, to produce good fruit in the vineyard of the Lord. Today, Respect Life Sunday, the Church calls us to embrace the Gospel of Life and seek to bring truth and life and beauty to the vineyard God has planted for us. We proclaim the sanctity of life, all human life, especially the life of the most vulnerable in the Lord’s vineyard.
At the end of the Gospel today, Jesus says to the chief priests and elders, to whom he addressed the parable, that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” God forbid that the kingdom be taken away from us! It will be taken away if we do not produce good fruit.
Today, here in our cathedral church, we are also celebrating the Red Mass, our annual Mass in which we invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon all who serve in the legal profession. Lawyers, judges, and all public officials are also called to produce good fruit in the vineyard of the Lord. They do so by serving the cause of justice and truth and defending those inalienable rights that serve as the foundation for the laws of a truly humane society. Our Western legal heritage, inspired by the conviction that there is a Creator God, gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, and the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions. These are the criteria of law that all of us, especially those in the legal profession, are called to defend at this moment in our history.
I wish to bring to your attention at this Red Mass, on this Respect Life Sunday, a very serious matter. You probably have heard or read about the proposed mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will require virtually all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and related “patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.” All health plans will have to include these so-called “preventive services for women” — regardless of whether the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or even the woman herself objects to such coverage. There is a religious employer exemption in this mandate that is so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one. Since our Catholic institutions both serve and employ many non-Catholics, we would not qualify for an exemption. Jesus would not have qualified for the exemption since he insisted on helping people who were of other religions. Our Catholic institutions provide health care and other services to the needy of whatever faith. This mandate is a direct violation of our religious liberty. It does not protect the rights of conscience for those who do not want to take part in providing immoral quote “services.” Mandating that we provide health insurance that includes surgical sterilization, contraception, including the abortifacient drug Ella, is a serious violation of our moral and religious convictions, and of our religious liberty.
Nor does the mandate respect women’s health or women’s freedom. Truly preventive services are aimed at preventing diseases or detecting them early to aid prompt treatment. But pregnancy is not a disease. Far from preventing disease, contraceptives can have serious health consequences of their own. Mandating such coverage does not respect the health or freedom of women, nor respect for the consciences of those who recognize the immorality of contraception and sterilization. As I said, this mandate includes even a drug that destroys innocent human life, an abortifacient drug.
As Catholics, especially those in the legal profession, we must not shrink from our obligation to assert the values and principles that are essential to the common good, beginning with the right to life of every human being, as well as the rights of conscience and religious freedom. It is clear that some in our society seek to eliminate religiously motivated people and organizations, especially the Catholic Church, from public programs, by forcing us to violate our moral and religious convictions or stop serving the needy.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “a society can be built only by tirelessly respecting, promoting and teaching the transcendent nature of the human person.” Today and during this Respect Life Month, we are celebrating God’s great gift of life. Let us renew our commitment and our witness to the sanctity of life and do our part in producing good fruit in the vineyard of the Lord!
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