January 19, 2024 — This morning, Fr. Chris Kellerman, SJ, Secretary of the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology, delivered this homily at the Ignatian Family Mass for Life, which is organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Jesuit Conference, at St. Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C. Despite the snowy weather, around 250 students from Jesuit schools and parishes around the country attended, including from Loyola University Maryland; Fordham University in the Bronx, New York; Creighton University in Omaha; Regis Jesuit High School in Denver; University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy; Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda, Maryland; Jesuit High School of New Orleans; St. Louis University High; Saint Louis University; Boston College; Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago; St. Mary Student Parish at the University of Michigan; and Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Maryland.
I love this Gospel (Lk 1:39-56) about the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. I love it because it’s all about how God defies expectations. It’s all about how people expect a certain thing, and then God turns those expectations on their head:
- Elizabeth is too old to have children and supposedly infertile … and yet … she conceives defying expectations.
- Mary is a virgin … and yet the Holy Spirit miraculously causes her to conceive defying expectations.
And then, as these joyful pregnant women celebrate these miracles and that God is fulfilling his promise to Israel, Mary praises God in her beautiful Magnificat specifically by talking about how God has always defied expectations and has always turned the world upside down. She says: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Those are things we don’t expect, right? We don’t expect “the lowly” of the world are going to be championed and lifted up, as God does for them. And we don’t expect that it’s the hungry of the world, not the rich, who will be filled with good things. But Mary’s like, watch out. God defies expectations. God looks out for those who are struggling. He looks out for those who the rest of the world tramples upon. Not only that, he champions them. God defies expectations.
I have a really cool job. I represent the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, before the U.S. government.
So I meet with government officials and the White House and members of Congress in order to help advocate for issues that we care about, including pro-life issues.
And here’s the thing. A lot of people in Congress and elsewhere have a lot of ideas and expectations about people who are pro-life. A lot of people really believe:
- The pro-life movement cares about the unborn but not about the families living in poverty who often feel forced to turn to abortion.
- The pro-life movement only cares about abortion being illegal, not about the health of the child and the mother.
- And in particular, that Catholic pro-lifers, coming to a march like this one, only care about abortion and not the rest of their faith.
One of the cool things about my job is that I get to push back on that, and say, no, that’s not true.
There are a ton of pro-lifers who care about families living in poverty, and I tell them about all the pro-life groups that are advocating for expanding the Child Tax Credit that would help out low-income families. I get to tell them about how our U.S. Bishops Conference is lobbying Congress to pass initiatives that would help struggling families, like paid family leave, strengthening pregnancy resource centers, providing more childcare and pre-K programs, and making housing and health care more affordable.
And when folks say that abortion is the only issue that pro-lifers care about, I get to say, well, no, my office and the bishops and other pro-life organizations here also advocate for protecting migrants and caring for the environment and racial justice and all kinds of other things.
And when I say all this stuff, it kind of shocks people, it defies their expectations, and they’re like, oh the Catholic Church really does care about people. And I’m like, yeah, we do. We really do try to live out the faith of the God who champions people in poverty, who champions the cause of those whom the powerful trample upon.
So here’s my question to you today, as we hear this beautiful Gospel about Mary and Elizabeth celebrating God who defies expectations. How are you going to do it? How are you going to defy expectations of what it means to be a pro-life young woman or young man?
People out there have a lot of beliefs about you. How are you going to show them that you really do care about women and children, that you really do care about people living in poverty, that you really do live out the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Well, good news. You’ve got help. St. Paul says so in the first reading (Eph 3:14-21). He says that God “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us.” Through our baptism and confirmation, God lives within us — the same God who champions the unborn and the struggling mother, who champions those living in poverty, who champions anyone being oppressed or treated unfairly. The spirit of God who defies expectations is within you, ready to help you.
Awesome, right? God’s within you, ready to help you.
The only question remaining is: How will you respond? Will you confirm everybody’s worst suspicions about the pro-lifers … or will you defy expectations?
Fr. Chris Kellerman, SJ, is the Secretary of the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology. Originally from Arlington, TX, he studied at Texas Tech University, the University of Dallas, and Regis College at the University of Toronto. From 2020-2022 he served as visiting fellow and then interim director at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans where he engaged in research, education, and advocacy on issues related to racial and environmental justice. Fr. Kellerman regularly gives talks to Catholic audiences on the history of the Church and slavery, Catholic social teaching, and healing our polarized divide in the Church and the United States. He is the author of “All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church.”