You may have heard over the past week or so that Pope Francis declared that the death penalty is never permissible, which is a change from previous teaching that the death penalty might be permissible in certain cases. The announcement was big news around the world and also here in our own country, one of the few countries in which executions are still carried out. The pope’s teaching is part of what we call a “consistent ethic of life” in Catholic teaching, which means that we recognize the inherent dignity of the human person from conception until death. In his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, the pope writes that “our defense of the unborn…needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of human life….equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and underprivileged, the vulnerable infirmed and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery and every form of rejection.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 101).
You can see here that the pope wants to expand our understanding of “pro-life” as not only abortion, but anything that affects the well-being or dignity of any human life. His use of the term “equally sacred” to describe not only the unborn but also the already born, is a reminder that we must be aware of the inherent dignity of every human person, an understanding that is rooted in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, which
tells us that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).
We friars, as you may know, preside at Mass for inmates on death row at Central Prison on Thursdays. Every Thursday, we are led by a prison chaplain deep into the prison, up a long ramp, then through a series of locked doors, and finally into a “multipurpose room” where we await the arrival of the inmates. We have come to know these inmates over these past several years. We have found our visits to be profoundly affecting, and for me, as I have gotten to know these inmates and heard their questions, listened to their prayers, and shared communion with them, these visits raise the question, how does God’s grace work in anyone’s life? Where is God found in our often conflicted, divided world? And how do I read Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, verse 36?
The pope’s recent announcement leads us to reflection on all of these questions. Thank you to Br. Casey Cole for being here last weekend, preaching at all of the masses, and speaking on his book “Called” on Monday and Tuesday evening. Casey will be ordained a priest next June at Immaculate Cnception in Durham.
And a reminder that we are hosting a series of information sessions on our parish finances on Thursday evenings in August, all in Founder’s room at 7:00pm, and all are invited.
Also Gladys Whitehouse and I will be resuming our series on Pope Francis’ exhortation on holiness, Chapter 4 on Tuesday evening August 14, and Chapter 5 on Tuesday evening August 21. All are welcome to that as well.
Finally, Wednesday, August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary – Mass times at 9:00am and 7:00pm, both in the church.
Blessings on your week!