Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Empty Chair

Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle C





Earlier this week, I read an article which brought home to me in a vivid and disturbing way just how dangerous it is to be a young person today. All sorts of dangers and temptations surround them, and powerful forces are working hard to corrupt and mislead them. To be blunt, our youth culture has become degenerate.

The fact is, we don't have to look very hard or very far to see the evidence of this. The most popular kind of music among young people today is "gangsta rap", which glories in violence, degradation, and exploitation. It assaults the very idea of social bonds. One of the biggest fads today is body piercing: It's no longer enough for some people to wear one or two, or even three earrings, but now some young people pierce their noses, their eyebrows, their cheeks, and even less mentionable parts. But it goes even farther, to things like branding, or something called "tongue splitting", in which people have their tongues surgically split in two, so as to resemble that of a snake. A serious problem among young women today is "cutting": these girls cut themselves deliberately, mutilating their bodies.

All of these kinds of self-mutilation, all of this degradation, is symptomatic of something. It didn't just come out of nowhere. These things are symptoms of deep emotional and spiritual pain. According to pychologists and therapists who have worked with these young people, the thing that is universal among them is a feeling of total disintegration, a feeling that the world is meaningless, that their lives are meaningless. They feel that everything is random, and nothing really matters. Another thing these young people have in common is rage: uncontrollable, almost inexpressible rage. And these feelings of meaninglessness and rage are so overpowering, so overwhelming, that the only way they feel they can get relief is to inflict physical pain on themselves.

Now, some of you parents here this morning might be thinking "hey, my kids aren't doing any of that stuff." And some of you young people here today might be thinking "I'm not doing any of that stuff." Well, good! Thank God for that! Thank God for preserving you or your kids from that kind of spiritual poison. But, I bet that many of you wouldn't have to think very long or look very hard to discover that you know some young person who is caught up in those things.

Where are these things coming from? Why are some of our young people caught up in this soul-destroying behavior? There are several reasons for this, I think:

We all know that kids need stability. They need firmness, limits, structure. They need guidance. They need to know where the boundaries are. And have we, as a society, given them those things? I'd have to say, in all too many cases, the answer is no.

We've broken up their families with divorce.

We've confused them about sex by creating a society in which anything goes. We've told them "you're going to do it anyway. We're not going to bother teaching you about virtue and self-control and the preciousness of sex." We've just thrown contraceptives at them.

In too many cases they've learned that their lives are meaningless, because they've never heard of the One who gives life meaning.

We've told them, and we've shown them, that their worth lies not in who they are, but in how much stuff they can collect; whether they're wearing the right clothes, or the right shoes. Whether they listen to the right music, or drink the right soft drink.


But one of the greatest reasons for this underlying sense of meaninglessness, for this rage among so many young people, among the "Gen-X'ers" (those who are under 30), is the fact that our young people, those under 30, as a Gen-X'er recently wrote, are the first generation that our society has systematically tried to wipe out through the holocaust of abortion. If you think I'm exaggerating, if you think I'm being "extremist" by saying something like that, consider this: since 1973, when abortion was made legal by the Supreme Court, we have killed 38 million children through abortion. 38 million! That's more people than Hitler and Stalin managed to kill.



That brings me to these young people sitting up here this morning. You see, since 1973, in our nation, abortion claims the life of 1 out of every 4 children conceived. One out of four children conceived today will not survive to birth because of abortion. One out of four. And that child, that fourth child, would have been sitting in in that empty chair. That empty chair would have been filled by a child, by a young person, if it hadn't been for abortion. That child might have been your neighbor, your own child's classmate. He or she might have been your nephew, or your cousin, or your niece. That empty child might have been filled by a child who'd be your paperboy, who'd grow up to be a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, a mother, or even a priest. But that child won't be any of those things, because he isn't here.

Now, the supporters of legalized abortion like to use phrases like "women's rights", or "freedom of choice." Those phrases are deceptions; they're smoke and mirrors. Smoke and mirrors designed to hide that empty chair. Smoke and mirrors designed to obscure the child who isn't there.



Phrases like "reproductive rights" and "the right to choose" are abstractions. But that empty chair is very concrete, it's very real.

Whenever you hear phrases like "abortion rights", or "a woman's right to choose", I want you to think of that empty chair.

At any moment from conception to birth, a child's life can be snuffed out by abortion. That fact sends a message to our young people, a disturbing and corrosive message.

It says "You're only here because we decided to allow you to be here."

It says "You aren't supremely valuable, you aren't of inestimable worth." Because if you were, we would have done a better job of protecting your unborn brothers and sisters.

It tells our young people, "life is cheap, and easily thrown away."

Frankly, I'm not surprised that a lot of our young people feel meaninglessness and rage. I'm not surprised at all.

We heard Our Lord say in the gospel today:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me,
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable the Lord.

(Luke 4:14-21)

Our society is captive to the embrace of Death. Our nation is in poverty: Poverty, in the midst of the richest nation on earth! For as Mother Theresa said, "it is a great poverty to decide that a child must die so that we might live as we wish."

Our nation is blind to the dignity and humanity of the weakest and most vulnerable among us: the unborn child.

Every year, in our nation, millions suffer the ultimate oppression at the hands of abortionists.

In St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, we heard that we are the members of Christ's Body. As Christ's voice, it is for us to bring glad tidings to the poor. It is for us to proclaim liberty to captives.

Our challenge is this: Will we proclaim liberty to those captive to the Culture of Death? Will we be Christ's eyes, and see the dignity and humanity of the unborn child? Will we be Christ's hands, and reach out to protect those innocent lives?

Will we say to our young people, and to the world, "I WILL choose life!"?