Living the Truth in Love: The Ecstasy and Terror of Being Chosen

Another great Pope of the 20th century is Paul VI, who is on the road to canonization as he was beatified by Pope Francis on the occasion of the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family on October 19, 2014.  In his homily for the Mass of Beatification, Pope Francis expressed, ". . . the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom - and at times alone - to the helm of the barkque of Peter, while never losing his joy and trust in the Lord.”  Pope Francis has great regard for Pope Paul VI and for his encyclical on the transmission of human life, Humanae Vitae.


This courageous encyclical emphasized the sanctity of life as part of the very nature of marriage.  As hundreds of thousands of people gather in the March for Life in Washington on January 22 to protest the 43rd anniversary of the tragic decision of the Supreme Court permitting abortion in the decision of Roe V Wade, Blessed Paul VI's "farsightedness and wisdom" stands as an inspiration.  The words of Pope Francis truly are appropriate, "When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks; thank you our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and His Church!”


Pope Paul VI had a great fondness for the Catholic French intellectual circle which was an integral part of his time and culture. Jean Guitton, a distinguished French Catholic writer and member of the Académie Française, was a very prominent lay figure at the Second Vatican Council as well as a friend and confident of Pope Paul VI since 1950.  He assembled direct quotations and paraphrases of the conversations he had with the Pope over sixteen years in a well-known volume which is entitled, The Pope Speaks.  In a conversation about the call of Pope Paul VI to the priesthood, the Pope quotes a poetic line from a tormented Catholic poet, Paul Verlaine, which had great meaning for the Pope, " J'ai l'extase et la terreur d'être choisi" -- "I have the ecstasy and terror of being chosen."  Pope Paul VI elaborates that these words do not refer to him as Pope or priest but as a follower of Jesus Christ and applies to all men and women of the Church.


These words certainly have a great deal to say to our culture and society in regard to the sanctity of life and the horror of abortion which puts an end to life.  When life is given in the act of conception from the very beginning, no matter how small the embryo may be, a person is chosen by God for a life of ecstasy - one of joy.  However, every human person knows the terror that can exist in life by being chosen, especially when the call is not properly heeded.  A secularized and hostile society looks for insecure joy by avoiding every aspect of suffering that life can bring.  When the gift of life will bring a suffering, then the abortion of life itself is considered not only appropriate but necessary.  This truly emphasizes what Pope Francis has characterized as one of the horrifying symptoms of a "throwaway culture."


Our faith is one that reminds us that God never leaves us by ourselves.  Even in the terrors of life, such as the sicknesses, losses, misunderstandings, and even death itself, God has chosen us so closely to Himself that He is there with us.  We have just celebrated Christmas in which we dwell upon the reality that God truly became one of us and was born as a helpless infant.  Soon we will begin the season of Lent in which we dwell upon the reality that the Son of God gave His life in death, condemned unjustly as a criminal, so that we could have life eternal through His Resurrection.  The ecstasy of life can only be found in realizing that God has conquered terror by identifying with it.  We have the ecstasy and terror of being chosen.  It is only in realizing that we are chosen by God for life that we find the real joy that God wants us to possess.


Each year the Bishops of Florida have published a letter regarding the tragic Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion within our nation.  The bishops have done the same this year mourning over 57 million lives that have been lost through abortion since this decision.  The bishops made reference to the admonition of Pope Francis against a "throwaway culture." The words of the Bishops truly reflect the favored words quoted by Pope Paul VI regarding the ecstasy and terror of being chosen. We state, "To call ourselves unequivocally pro-life requires that we always choose life, even when it most challenges us: whether encountering an unplanned pregnancy, ill and dying love ones, the execution of a convicted criminal, or the stranger seeking refuge in our communities.  Recognizing that we often fall short of this great task, we are jubilant that this Year of Mercy, called for by Pope Francis, invites us to seek forgiveness and find peace through the miracle of God's infinite and inexplicable mercy.”


As believers in the call of Jesus Christ to each and every one of us, we recommit ourselves to the sanctity of life of the unborn child and to the sanctity of the life of each and every person at every stage.  We realize that we do not choose life on our own but that God has chosen life for each of us.  There is a great joy as well as a terror in this but we know that the meaning of life is only found in God and His relationship to us.  As we continue to celebrate this Jubilee of Mercy, may we more deeply appreciate the call to life given to every person conceived in a mother's womb and may we hold that life as precious until God calls that person back to Himself in eternity.  Indeed, we have the ecstasy and terror of being chosen! 


Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 22, 2016