God’s gift of peace in uncertainty

Archbishop Aquila

We are shortly approaching two events that this year stand in contrast to one another – the birth of Jesus at Christmas and the end of 2017. Christmas brings with it the peace and good news of our Savior’s birth, while a review of this past year reveals a time of uncertainty and cultural disarray.

This same reality was present when Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. Most scholars believe that Jesus was born roughly around the year 4 B.C., which was a particularly turbulent time in the Holy Land.

The ruthless King Herod the Great, who died soon after Jesus was born, contributed significantly to this upheaval. The historian Philip Jenkins described Herod as having “a long career that was bloody and paranoid even by the standards of Hellenistic monarchies. He ruled through tactics of mass terror and widespread surveillance that sometimes sound like a foretaste of the Stalin years.”

In the aftermath of his death, the historian Josephus recounts how various Jewish activists rallied in the streets of Jerusalem and the surrounding parts of Judea. This movement included three separate men being proclaimed kings in different cities by popular approval. One of these upstart kings was Judas, the son of Hezekiah, who took over the town of Sepphoris, which was located a mere four miles from Nazareth. The Roman governor of nearby Syria was alerted and he arrived with two legions, which burned Sepphoris to the ground and enslaved its inhabitants.

As Jenkins points out, “Some four miles away, there would have been living at this time a young couple named Joseph and Mary, who must have heard of these developments with terror. Just possibly, they had a newborn. Did those invading troops plunder Nazareth?” We don’t know if the Holy Family experienced this violent suppression, but we do know that the Prince of Peace was born into a time of upheaval and political tension.

This fact is worth reflecting on as we celebrate Christmas and bring 2017 to a close. This year has been one of political uncertainty, not only in the U.S. but around the world. We have also endured tragedies like the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the war in Syria and the resulting displacement of millions of people, a violent rise in racial tensions, the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the implementation of assisted suicide in Colorado, just to name some of the major events.

In the humble settings of a stable in Bethlehem, the Son of God brought hope, first to the lowly and then to kings. We live in a time of great spiritual poverty, despite our material wealth, and we need the lasting peace that Jesus brings to the lowly. The peace he offers is the restoration of our relationship with God the Father, the gift of a new identity as his adopted sons and daughters, and the healing of our entire person. This takes place through personally encountering God in the sacraments, in reading his Word, in silent prayer and in others.

No matter what your circumstances are, God the Father longs to bring you, your family and the world back into right relationship with him. And at Christmas he shows us that he always chooses to reach out to us in a humble and hidden way, calling us to himself when we are weak.

Mary and Joseph are perfect examples of God’s way of saving us. He chose an unknown but holy virgin in the small, insignificant town of Nazareth to bring his son into the world.

St. Joseph, a carpenter, was also humble. In his book, Theotokos: Preparing for Christmas with the Mother of God, Father Mark Toups proposes that St. Joseph might have resolved to quietly divorce Mary precisely because he realized she was carrying the Son of God in her womb and he felt unworthy. But God “knew exactly how Joseph felt and said, ‘do not be afraid,’” Father Toups adds. This same message is one that he speaks to us now at Christmas and at any moment we are willing to listen. It is worth repeating: do not be afraid, God is with us.

As we prepare for 2018, I encourage you to open your hearts to receive the peace and healing of Jesus as the firm foundation for your plans. Approach Jesus in prayer and ask him what he is inviting you to do in the coming year to bring his light into our confused and chaotic times. May God bless each one of you in the coming year and give you his peace!

COMING UP: Celebrate and support the sacred gift of life

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Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Aquila’s remarks to the 2018 Celebrate Life March, which took place on January 13th in front of the Colorado State Capitol building.

As we gather today to celebrate life, we must remember three things: 1) life is a gift, 2) life is sacred, and 3) rebuilding a culture of life requires joy.

We are here today to celebrate our joy over the gift of life. Every minute and every day we live presents us with an abundance of gifts that seem mundane and are often overlooked: our health, the gift of creation, or something as simple as having food on our plates. Above all, we should give thanks for the gift of life!

As people involved in protecting life at every stage, the challenge we face is not just one of providing resources to mothers and fathers in need or ensuring people battling a terminal illness have good palliative care. Our challenge is to also communicate to them that they are loved, that their unborn child or their own lives are gifts, no matter the circumstances.

Many of us fought in 2016 to prevent doctor-assisted suicide from becoming legal in Colorado, and one person who helped in that effort was a courageous man named J.J. Hanson. J.J. was a Marine veteran and father of two young children who was working for a real estate investment firm in Florida when he found out he had glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. His doctors told him that it was a very aggressive cancer that meant he only had four months to live.

Despite his odds, J.J. resolved to fight. His motto was: “Every single day is a gift, and we can’t let that go.” What’s even more remarkable is the fact that J.J. dedicated his time and energy to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide around the country, all while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. There was hardly a speaking engagement or trip to testify before a legislature that J.J. turned down. His conviction that life was a gift propelled him to defend that gift however he could. As pro-life people, we need to have that same conviction.

Just about two weeks ago, on December 30th, J.J. was called home to the Father – three years beyond what doctors told him to expect. St. Anthony of Padua church in upstate New York, where his funeral was held, was filled with people who paid tribute to how J.J. inspired them to embrace every moment of life, no matter its difficulties as a gift, not something to be thrown away.

All of us are called to embrace life as J.J. did, and in doing so we will help recover the culture of life that is being neglected or forgotten as people cast God and truth aside.

I have said that life is a gift, and while that is true, it’s more than that. Life is also sacred. Life is sacred because it comes from God, the God who is love and who has loved us first. Our lives are also sacred because our beings are made in God’s image and likeness.

We are called to participate in the love of God and to see that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is invited into relationship with God. We are called to ensure that life is set aside for God, that it is honored and recognized as sacred.

The struggle for so many today is that they do not even believe in a god; their only god is themselves. They truly do not believe in the God who is love. And because of this limited worldview, a person’s life can lose its value if their “quality of life” declines.

In the words of Pope Francis to participants in the 2013 Day for Life, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

When Jesus speaks about the Judgement of the Nations in Matthew 25, he tells us that life is always sacred by saying that when we love the weak and vulnerable, we are loving him.

The more that we can love the sacred gift of life and celebrate it with joy, the more we will contribute to building a true culture of life in the U.S.

A wonderful example of concretely loving the sacred gift of life is a story I recently heard about a 15-year-old Colorado teenager named Missy, who showed up with her parents at an abortion clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Missy was a sophomore in high school and was in her second trimester of pregnancy. As they approached the clinic, some pro-life volunteers who were parked nearby in a mobile crisis pregnancy van saw them and invited them inside. The volunteers learned that Missy wanted to complete high school and that this desire was pushing her to consider an abortion. One of the volunteers told Missy about how she was faced with the same choice as a teen and chose to keep her child. “It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing,” she reassured Missy.

Missy also worried about the father of the child not being around, to which her dad responded by taking her hand and saying, “I’ll be that man in your child’s life.”

This kind of accompaniment and willingness to heroically support the gift of life is vitally important to forming a culture that welcomes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the dying as a gift.

Building a culture of life begins by first receiving the love of the Father, who loves each of us as his sons and daughters. He never abandons us, even though we might abandon him or reject his love.

A culture of life grows when we share his love with others, helping them to embrace life as a gift and a joy, rather than a burden.

Life is a gift, it is sacred and our celebration of the joy of life helps build a culture of life.

I encourage you to be those who are unafraid to give witness to life. Be not afraid to give witness to life. Even though people might ridicule you, yell at you, or reject you, know that Jesus experienced it all so that you might have life, and life abundantly.

May God bless you and help you celebrate life in 2018!