Our reading from Nehemiah today is the story of the day when the Israelites have been allowed to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Ezra the priest brings out the books of the law and reads from them. The Books of the Law told the Israelites how they should live if they wanted to be faithful to the God who gave them life. We read in the story today that “all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” And, after the reading, “all the people, their hands raised high, answered, ‘Amen! amen!’”
Why do we listen attentively to the word of God and why do we respond, “Amen! Amen?” The Psalm today gives us the answer. The word of God is what we need in our deepest parts where we seek truth and goodness and beauty. Anything that is true, or beautiful, or good, comes from God. And the Psalmist sings a song of joy about God’s word.
Our human laws today are clearly not perfect; they are a kind of spaghetti mess that comes from people with sharply different views cobbling together something that will almost certainly upset half of the people involved. There is no refreshment when laws are thousands of pages long and nobody voting on them has really read them. The law of the Lord, on the other hand, is perfect. It is simple and direct: Love God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength; and love your neighbor as you would want to be loved. What else do we need, if we really follow those two laws? They capture everything in a way that you can completely trust. You do not have to get a master’s degree to understand the law of the Lord; it does indeed give wisdom to the simple.
The beauty of the law of the Lord is that it is clear. We know when we are putting God first in our lives. And we know when we are not. When we are living as God means us to live, our hearts do rejoice. God gives us the ability to see his command clearly; it’s like the light from the full moon illuminating a dark road through a forest. We feel confident when we are on the right path, for we are secure in the precepts of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is also called reverence, and we all know here at this parish how pure reverence is. We come to Mass here, and we hear Latin phrases. We do not hear Latin anywhere else in our day, so we recognize that something different and important is going on here when we participate in the Mass. We may not fully understand every single thing, but we see it is important and worthy of respect. The priest at the altar, and the people in the pews, are taking their Sunday obligation seriously because they all know that the ordinances of the Lord are true and just. The reverence we show in the Mass today connects us to the reverence of the eternal Mass in Heaven, the Mass prayed 100 years ago and even 1,000 years ago. Through the centuries, reverence – or fear of the Lord if you prefer – has protected the central act of worship from being degraded into a social event or merely theater. Our reverence is deeply connected to the truth and justice of God’s law: we obey because our king is the true King, the Truth, the Way, and the Life. He told us to do what he did as a memorial of his sacrifice. And our hearts rejoice.
What more pure petition is there than to ask God to direct our hearts and our minds and our words? It is the simple prayer of the soul refreshed in the fear of the Lord. It is a simple prayer that enlightens us. Of course, I have a long list of things I want from God. We all do. And I have an even longer list of things I want him to forgive. I expect you do too. But what I really want is to please him with my life. We want this above all else because he is truly our rock and our redeemer.
God is our rock because he is justice. God is our rock because he is purity. God is our rock because he is trustworthy. God is our rock because he is wisdom. There is no earthly justice, no earthly truth, no earthly wisdom that can compare.
This Sunday is very close to the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade, a decision that established a newly discovered right to privacy for women that included the right to end the life growing inside their bodies. In our American system, laws are written by the legislature and judges apply the laws. Among the many reasons people oppose that 1973 decision is that the judges basically did the job that rightly belongs to the legislative branch. It has always been the states that wrote the laws dealing with the taking of human life. There is no federal statute that outlaws murder. Those cases are heard in state courts. But not this time. As a result, this law made by nine humans in 1973 was definitely not perfect; it was almost immediately full of problems. And it refreshed nobody’s soul.
The command of the Court was certainly not clear, and we have spent fifty years arguing over viability and other aspects of the decision because there was nothing enlightening about it. Nor did the Court show any reverence; in fact, they arrogated to themselves the role of God: deciding who is a human and when life starts. And we have been entangled in this untrustworthy decree ever since.
This is the time of year when the pro-abortion activists try to shout down the pro-life people who stand and march for life. They insist it’s not a child until it is born. Well, I would ask them what they ask a female friend when she is pregnant. Do they ask when she is having that cyst removed, or do they ask, “When is the baby due?” They know in their hearts it is a baby human being growing inside another human being, just as God designed us. Abortion advocates cannot maintain their terminology because their ordinances are not just. They even describe the targets of their procedures as “unwanted children.” Oops, the truth slips out. They know what they are doing, and they do not want to be stopped.
Texas lawmakers wrote a law last year strictly limiting abortion, and they cleverly worded it to block the opposition’s ability to stop it while it is being reviewed by the courts. If this law stands, then we may have fewer abortions. There are other cases before the Supreme Court now asking the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade as bad jurisprudence and to return the issue to the states. If the Court agrees, then we may have different rules in different states.
There is no doubt that the abortion laws do not reflect God’s truth, his beauty, or his goodness. The law of our lives should be the law of God. The laws of our day are in force because our world no longer knows or sees God. But it sees us. In us, let it see Him. Let us love the people who have participated in abortion. Motherhood is difficult, even more so if there is no father present. But we can be present. Let us love our brothers and sisters as we wish to be loved.
As Catholics, we do stand for life, and our stand might take on a different posture. Instead of praying outside abortion clinics, we might be staffing adoption clinics. We might be offering emotional and financial support to the mothers of these babies who are struggling to raise them or must give them up for adoption. People will continue to get things in the wrong order. They will continue to let their passions run, so we should not expect the issue of unwed mothers to go away if Roe v. Wade goes away. And this could be a great opportunity for all of us to pray that last line of today’s Psalm: let our words and thoughts find favor with you, God, for you are our rock and our redeemer.
Lord, let us live your word today.