In this Gospel passage, we hear about two sons.
But, in fact, there are three.
The third Son is Jesus himself, the Son of God –
who is described in the second reading from St. Paul.
These three sons show us three paths:
The first son is rebellious and then repents.
The second son keeps up appearances, but is a hypocrite;
The third son – the Lord – takes the path of sacrifice and self-gift.
Notice something about the two sons: both have sinned;
But one son has the advantage of a good reputation to hide his sins;
the other bears public shame even after he has changed his ways.
This is a reminder that lots of us have the luxury
of our sins being hidden from public view,
while others’ sins are all very well known.
The result is that we, who only know part of the story,
judge some people harshly; and don’t kid yourself,
many of those folks are very aware of that judgment.
Our bishops call this Respect Life Sunday,
and they want every Catholic to grow in awareness
of the value of each and every human life –
and to bring that awareness to bear in questions of public policy.
The obvious issue is legal abortion;
and not only working to protect unborn children,
but also to care for the mothers and fathers who are wounded.
And we know there are other concerns, such as research that destroys human embryos –
that is, early human life.
And it should be mentioned that there are alternatives
that do not destroy life
and we Catholics are 100% in favor of those alternatives.
Yet another obvious task – becoming more urgent –
is countering the push for “assisted suicide.”
Suicide is always wrong, because it is simply self-murder.
You and I don’t get to decide when anyone dies,
and that includes ourselves.
That’s not to minimize the suffering many people experience;
but the answer to suffering is not to kill people,
but to help them relieve their pain and discover new purpose.
Also, we’re not talking about those situations
when people are nearing the end of life,
and all they want is to refuse intrusive or extraordinary means of care.
I don’t want to get too detailed here,
but if anyone has any questions about this,
please don’t hesitate to ask me, and I will gladly help you out on this.
Thankfully, many people are pushing back.
But this form of murder has been legalized in six states
and the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital.
And there are powerful forces and lots of money behind this.
Don’t be surprised if, in the near future,
someone will try to legalize it in Ohio.
Meanwhile, here in Ohio, it is legal to execute people
who have committed terrible crimes.
And while that is not the same thing,
because we are talking about a punishment of a guilty person,
rather than the death of someone innocent…
We might remember what Pope John Paul II said on this:
that while the state has the right to apply this punishment,
it would be better if we chose non-lethal means wherever possible.
For that reason, our bishops have been urging a change in the law,
so that the death penalty would not be used
unless there really was no alternative.
The other thing our bishops would remind us,
is that being pro-life isn’t just about this or that issue;
it is about how we treat all people,
from the very beginning of life to its natural end.
And if we really want to be pro-life,
then what about making sure that women who are in trouble,
are helped to choose life?
We are so blessed to have organizations
like the Elizabeth New Life Center and Rustic Hope
that support women and families in these situations.
I encourage everyone to support these efforts.
And if we can, find ways to do even more.
There are a lot of ways government policy
can either foster human life and the family, or else degrade life.
If we are truly pro-life, then it is incumbent on us as citizens
to bring compassion to bear in every way we can.
And to return to the Gospel passage we started with.
We have two sons, one who sin against his father is very public,
and another, whose sins are more hidden.
Pope Francis has often talked about how the Christ’s Church
is called to be a “field hospital,” that brings people back to life.
And that is the task the third son makes his own.
So where do and I fit into this picture?
We are not the Son of God, we know that.
However, you and I have been given the invitation to imitate him,
and to share in his work.
But first things first: take the path of the first son
and own up to our wrongs, rather than be the second son
who has a good reputation to be proud of, but nothing else.