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Listening to God in our consciences

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

October 9, 2019

The following is Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for Respect Life Sunday, Oct. 6. He delivered the homily at Our Lady of Victory Church in Plattsburgh.

The Apostles did the right thing this time. They had been traveling with Jesus for more than a year. They had been his disciples long enough to start realizing that they still didn’t understand many things that Jesus said. They still couldn’t help people as much as Jesus did. It would have been tempting for them to get discouraged. But, instead, they go up to Jesus and they ask for help. They ask Him to increase their faith.

Jesus looks at them and smiles. He must have been glad that they had asked for help instead of abandoning the mission. Then He tells them they don’t need more faith. They just need to use the faith they already have. He explains that a tiny bit of faith, the size of mustard seed, is enough to do marvelous things.

Like the Apostles, we know in our hearts that we are capable of doing much more. We were made for greater things. But we don’t realize that God has already given us everything we need to achieve them. He has already planted in our souls the seed of faith, of divine life – He did so at baptism. Now, it’s up to us to exercise it, to use the graces bestowed on us at our baptism. If we do, our faith will grow. The more it grows the more room God will have to do truly wonderful things in and through us.

Sometimes, our faith never gets beyond the mustard-seed stage because we have the wrong idea of what it really is. Faith involves believing in Christ and His goodness. But it’s a kind of belief that also requires action. Faith is the same word at the root of the Latin motto used by the U.S. Marines you sometimes see on car bumper stickers: “Semper Fidelis” – always faithful. Faith always implies being faithful – it implies a commitment to another person, a trusting commitment. And that means sticking by that person’s side. For us, that Person is Christ. Faith in Christ means following Christ.

Some time ago, I read of a helpful image. Picture a man on a sinking ship. He may have faith in a life-preserver. He may remember examples of people being saved because they were wearing a life-preserver when their ship went down. He may be a physicist and understand the laws of hydrodynamics that make the life-preserver work. He may understand perfectly how the Velcro straps function and where to attach them. But if this man doesn’t actually put on the life-preserver – his faith in a life-preserver is absolutely useless.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm gives us one surefire way to activate the power of faith. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” If we believe in God’s wisdom, love, and power, we will obey Him. We will follow where He leads. And He is always leading us somewhere – always making His voice heard.

The most common way He does so is through our conscience. Our conscience is like an inner radio station that is always tuned to God’s voice. But it’s not the only station out there, and, unfortunately, it’s not always the loudest. Sometimes, we turn up the volume on the station of peer pressure, or the station dedicated to self-indulgence, irresponsible pleasure, cynicism, and other sometimes soothing but always deadening sounds.

That’s why the Psalmist tells us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” We should decide ahead of time that whenever our conscience starts to ring, we will pay attention. And we should decide ahead of time that if we aren’t sure what exactly our conscience is saying, but we know it’s saying something, we will get some good advice from someone who knows Christ and His teaching before we act. That’s the only way God will be able to strengthen us to move mountains-the mountains of sin and the darkness of discouragement that clutter the world today. That’s the only way God will be able to guide us home from exile and give us the inner peace that we beg for.

On this Respect Life Sunday, when we especially focus on the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception to that of natural death, it is good to reacquaint ourselves with the voice of God in our conscience. Hardened hearts today are formed from deaf ears tuned in to other blaring death-dealing stations that ridicule and drown out God’s law. In so many ways today, God’s law, even God’s very existence is denied.

Two personal resolutions seem opportune in light of today’s readings: we double our efforts to have our young baptized, and then be determined to tend the seed of faith given at baptism, by forming a right conscience, learning more about our faith thereby promoting a real culture of life. This Respect Life Month we are urged to do our part in addressing our second Diocesan Priority of Strengthening Faith Formation in Family Life. God’s Word is always life-giving, never death-dealing. May God be praised. Forever may God be praised!

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