I’m sure many of you have been waiting with great anticipation the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade that was handed down on Friday; I know I have.  As Judge Alito wrote in his 79-page opinion of the Court, “Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.”  And from these conflicting views, we find deep division about this decision to return the legislation of abortion to the states because it once again brings to the fore the longstanding debate about abortion.

We all know that one of the greatest gifts our loving God has given us is our free will; it is also one of our heaviest burdens.  Many choices we make have only minor consequences: should I have salmon or tilapia for dinner?  But, others are much more serious and have life-altering consequences.  Should I marry this person or not?  Should I accept this job or that one?  Should I have an abortion or participate in an abortion or not?  No one pretends that these choices don’t have serious consequences, but today’s readings make it clear that freedom of choice is offered to us throughout our lives and we need to reflect long and hard, forming our consciences according to the fullness of truth that God offers us and then make the right choice.  Several people in today’s readings are faced with a choice: do they want to follow God’s will, turning away from old attachments and possessions, or do they want to serve “the flesh”, remaining in the comfort and convenience of their old ways?

In today’s first reading, we hear that Elijah throws his cloak over Elisha in response to God’s command that he select Elisha as the prophet to succeed him. And, Elijah makes it clear to Elisha that he needs to think seriously about whether or not he will accept God’s invitation to take over the often-dangerous mission of serving as God’s prophet.  Elisha responds by sacrificing his oxen and burning his plowing equipment – the modern-day equivalent of a business man burning down his business.  Elisha makes it clear that he has made the free choice to follow the difficult way God has called him to take, to become the next prophet of the one true God.

On the other hand, we hear in the Gospel reading from Luke about a village of Samaritans who disputed Jerusalem’s status as the center of worship and, as a result, refuse to welcome Jesus on his journey to that city.  Jesus accepts their choice, and even rebukes his disciples for offering to call down fire from heaven in retribution.  Jesus doesn’t force the Samaritans or anyone to receive him, and he even warns a would-be follower about the difficulties that joining his unsettled life will entail.  But, Jesus knows the work his Father has called him to accomplish and he does not shrink from it; we who claim to be his followers are called to follow his example.

Paul states the case most directly in the second reading to the Galatians.  Jesus Christ calls us to freedom he writes, a freedom that we could refuse to accept and one that requires us to make important decisions about how to use it.  Choosing to live by the spirit, Paul explains, means loving and serving one another, while living by what he calls “the flesh” means the opposite – consuming one another in an effort to gratify self-centered desires.

Living by the Spirit often requires significant personal sacrifice.  In choosing to follow God, people in today’s readings give up property, stability, family ties and even their lives.  As I mentioned a moment ago, Elisha sacrifices his 12 yoke of oxen.  He then bids farewell to his parents; he probably never saw them again.  St. Paul, whose bold preaching of the Gospel results in his beheading, tells the Galatians that choosing to pursue the desires of the spirit excludes the possibility of fulfilling the desires of the flesh.  In today’s gospel, we hear that Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem where he knows that suffering and death await him.  Proclaiming the kingdom of God – and being fit to be a part of it – requires a total abandonment of anything that keeps us from God.  Yes, the life of a prophet of God or follower of Jesus can be dangerous and unsettled.

It is natural to want to cling to the things that make us feel safe and happy: our means of livelihood, a stable home, people who love us.  And, it is not wrong to want to experience pleasure, to support ourselves and care for our families, and in many cases, those things are part of our vocation.

But sometimes, promoting our personal happiness, safety and financial security or providing as comfortable a lifestyle as possible for those close to us can constrain our choices and prevent us from taking risks or fulfilling responsibilities that come with being a follower of Jesus.  Today’s readings remind us that we should never become enslaved to earthly pleasures.  We always have the freedom to follow God’s will.  We can make the decision to promote the kingdom of God even when it entails a dramatic departure from our past lives.

Especially here in America, a nation founded on hard-fought freedom, we tend to think of freedom as “freedom from” – from rules, from restraint, from obligations.  We want to be free to do whatever we wish, with no one telling us what to do. The Bible, however, more often speaks of “freedom to” – to serve, to love, to commit, to follow the Gospel. 

In his opening paragraph, Justice Alito speaks of the abortion debate as a “profound moral issue.”  In Catholic moral theology, we follow a principal called tutiorism, which calls for us to take the safest course, especially in matters of human life and death.  When applied to abortion, where there is endless debate as to when life begins and when the fetus in the womb is a distinct human individual with his or her unique rights, the Catholic Church has consistently followed the safest course and taught that the life of an innocent human being must always be protected from the moment of conception until natural death.  Even if the child was conceived through rape, he or she should not have to suffer the consequences of the evil that was imposed upon his or her mother.

In his news release that was circulated shortly after the Supreme Court decision was handed down on Friday, Archbishop Pérez noted that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is one of the largest private providers of social services in the region, providing a continuum of care to those in need in all stages of their lives.  The Catholic Church throughout the world is the largest private provider of such social services.  Rather than providing abortions, we provide safe homes for women struggling with unexpected pregnancies and foster care and adoption services for mothers who, for any reason, are not prepared to take care of their children.  That is the way our God calls us to care for our neighbor.  As we hear in today’s second reading, the whole law of God is fulfilled in one statement: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The infant in the womb is our neighbor.

The abortion debate will surely continue despite Friday’s decision; now, it will, once again return to the state level.  This is a critical moment for each of us to reflect on our position in this very important debate, listen carefully to God’s call to life, recognize that he alone is the author of life who has the right to decide when life begins and when it ends and strive to live in the freedom to serve him, to love equally everyone he has created and commit to following the safest course.  Let us choose life.  The choice isn’t always easy, and not even God can make it for us; after all, he has given us true free will.  But remembering, as Psalm 16 proclaims today, that God is “the path to life,” offering “fullness of joys,” can help us to choose wisely.