Most Reverend Joseph Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City and Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, delivered his homily at the Jan. 17 Mass of the Vigil for Life, which took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Below is the full text to the homily:
Readings: Geneses 1:1-2:2; Psalm 139; Luke 23: 25-43
Opening Remarks I've come to this vigil mass for many years and I always wondered what the view was like from here- just going to enjoy this for a moment. I know that many have worked hard on the mosaics here, but the most beautiful mosaic tonight we see in these pews. I also want to acknowledge and thank for their presence, all our consecrated religious women with us tonight. Thank you for your vocations and for being like the women of the Gospels, the heralds of the Risen lord for all of us.
When I was a priest in St. Louis, there was a woman who used to come to daily mass with her dog and some of the other parishioners told me, “Father, it's a very good dog. It's a Catholic dog. The dog does everything we do. When we stand, the dog stands. When we sit down, the dog sits down. When we kneel, the dog even kneels, and when the homily is preached, the dog sleeps.” So, I've often felt that if I can bring one to such serenity that they can sleep in a hard pew, I've accomplished something.
We have a lot to cover tonight, from our readings from Creation to Calvary, but I'd ask you first: In a crowd of this size and with our TV audience, there are many tonight whose lives have been personally impacted by abortion. So, I ask those of you to intercede tonight, that my words and not just my words, but our witness, all of our witness during these days of the March for Life, might be used by the Lord in some way to preserve, to protect others from knowing the pain that you know too well. I Somber Anniversary Tonight, we gather to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the tragic twin Supreme Court decisions (Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton) that legalized abortion essentially for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy. As a result, since 1973, there have been 61 million innocent American children killed in the wombs of their mothers.
The Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases were based on deception. The late Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, lied about being gang-raped. After her pro-life conversion, Norma acknowledged that she was deceived by her attorneys about the reality of abortion. For the last 20 years of her life Norma McCorvey labored tirelessly to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
Sandra Cano, the Jane Doe of the Doe v. Bolton decision, never wanted an abortion. Her lawyers, whom she had engaged to assist with regaining the custody of her children, used her difficult circumstances to advance their own ideological goal to legalize abortion. She actually fled the state of Georgia, when she feared that her lawyers and family members intended to pressure her to have an abortion.
The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the Founders of NARAL, originally the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and now the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, admitted to inventing statistics about the number of illegal abortions. The claim of the Supreme Court that the United States Constitution contained a right to abortion is absurd.
The late Justice Byron White in his dissent from the Roe and Doe decisions characterized them as “an exercise in raw judicial power.” The late Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 said that he could say with certainty that abortion is not protected by the Constitution “because of two simple facts: 1) the Constitution says nothing about it and 2) the longstanding traditions of American society have permitted it to be legally proscribed.”
We assemble in 2019 with some new hope that the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court may result in a re-examination and an admission by the court of its tragic error 46 years ago. We pray that state legislatures and the people of this country will again have the ability to protect the lives of unborn children.
At the same time, we are sobered by the ferocity and the extremism of the proponents of legalized abortion as evidenced in the recent confirmation process to fill a vacancy on the U. S. Supreme Court. Recently, two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the suitability of a judicial nominee because of his membership in an extremist organization, the Knights of Columbus.
Why are the Knights labelled extremists? Because they embrace and support Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life and marriage! Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the first living person I’ve quoted, is here with us tonight. Iin a January 1st letter to his brother Knights, he recounted the vast amount of charitable and humanitarian work that the Order does in our own country and throughout the world. He then noted: “This [same] love also motivates us to stand with the Church on the important issues of life and marriage, precisely because the Church’s teaching reflects and is based on that love. We stand with our Church because we believe that what our faith teaches is consistent with reason, is timeless and transcends the changing sentiments of any particular time or place.”
II The Beauty and Ecumenical Composition of the Pro-Life Movement One of the great goods that Our Lord has drawn forth from the terrible tragedy of legalized abortion has been to unite in common cause Christians of different denominations and members of other faith traditions who share a common concern for the defense of the sacredness of all human life. I am particularly grateful for the presence tonight of leaders of the Orthodox Church who honor us by joining us in prayer. The Orthodox Church has been a strong and consistent advocate for the sanctity of life. I personally treasure the friendships that have been forged with Evangelicals, Baptists, Lutherans, and many non-denominational Christians through my involvement with the pro-life movement.
I believe that Jesus takes delight in seeing his priestly prayer of the Gospel, in part, being fulfilled: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” [John 17:20]. We are grateful for all the non-Catholics with us tonight who have come to join us in prayer, and we look forward tomorrow to marching with many, many other brothers and sisters in Christ and all those who honor God’s sovereignty over human life.
III Upholding the Dignity of the Human Person Sometimes, our opponents criticize pro-lifers for only caring about the unborn. While in such a broad-based movement there are obviously some exceptions, in my experience of the pro-life community this is simply not true.
Millions of pro-life individuals volunteer and financially support the thousands of Pregnancy Resource centers that provide medical, financial and moral support to parents who often in the midst of difficult circumstances choose life for their child. These centers of love are committed to accompanying parents long after the birth of their child. They are committed not only to the survival of the baby, but to empower mothers and families to thrive for a lifetime.
The pro-life ethic challenges us to care about the sacredness of every human being throughout the life spectrum. We are called always and everywhere to promote the dignity of the human person.
Protecting the life of the unborn children is the pre-eminent human rights issue of our time, not only because of the sheer magnitude of the numbers, but because abortion attacks the sanctuary of life, the family. Abortion advocates pit the welfare of the mother against the life of her child. Every abortion not only destroys the life of an innocent child, but it wounds and scars mothers and fathers who must live with the harsh reality that they hired someone to destroy their daughter or son. In reality, the welfare of parents and their child are always intimately linked.
We are concerned about the life and dignity of the human being. We care about those harmed by economic poverty, by racism, by religious intolerance. We care about the plight of the refugee fleeing persecution and the immigrant seeking a better life for his or her family, of victims of violent crime as well as those imprisoned, of those with intellectual or physical disabilities and the frail elderly, of violence and disrespect against those in law enforcement as well as the victims of police brutality. Anyone whose life is threatened and anyone whose human dignity is disrespected have a claim on our hearts.
For all Catholics, the last several months have been profoundly difficult. We have been devastated by the scandal of sexual misconduct by clergy and of past instances of the failure of bishops to respond with compassion to victims of abuse and to protect adequately the members of their flock. The abuse of children or minors upends the pro-life ethic because it is a grave injustice and an egregious offense against the dignity of the human person. Moreover, the failure to respond effectively to the abuse crisis undermines every other ministry within the Church.
IV Unique from Day One: Pro-Life Is Pro-Science The theme for this year’s March for Life, Unique from Day One — Pro-Life is Pro-Science, seeks to dispel the notion that advocacy for the protection of the life within the womb is somehow at odds with modern scientific knowledge. Abortion advocates often seek to portray opposition to abortion as an imposition of religious belief. While our Christian faith definitely speaks to the sanctity of life as the biblical readings for tonight’s Mass illustrate, one does not need religious revelation to know the killing of innocent human life is inhumane.
The advances of scientific knowledge and technology over the past 100 years have confirmed that a unique human life begins at fertilization. The unborn child, beginning as a one celled zygote and throughout its embryonic and fetal stages of development, possesses DNA, a genetic code, distinct from his or her parents. Ultra-sound technology has given us a window into the womb, allowing us to witness the miraculous unfolding of the development of a new and unique human life.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL and himself an abortionist who acknowledges his responsibility for more than 60,000 abortions, became pro-life not because of theology or any religious sentiment, but from his own study of the scientific advancements in embryology and fetology. While it is true that Dr. Nathanson eventually became Catholic, it was long after he had become a pro-life advocate because of science.
And really, I think it takes much more faith to be an atheist than a Christian. He has to believe that the cosmos, the universe, solar system, the complex beauty of the natural world, the miracle of the human body, all happened by chance — against all odds.
There is a reason that the scientific method developed in a Christian culture. There is a reason that the vast majority of scientists until very recent times were devout believers. Unless you believe that there is predictability in the universe, science really makes no sense. This predictability within nature reveals an amazingly intricate design throughout the cosmos down to the tiniest molecule. This design has the finger prints of the designer — God.
V Made in the Divine ImageIn the very first chapter of the Bible, God reveals important theological truths. First, without God there is chaos. Second, all of creation is good. Third, many of the wonders people worshipped as divinities — the sun or moon or certain living creatures — are not gods, but they are creations of the One True God.
Most significantly, the first chapter of the Bible asserts that human beings are the masterpiece of all creation. Men and women are uniquely made in the Divine Image. Psalm 139 reminds us how God knit us together in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully, wonderfully made. Human beings alone amongst all of creation are given the ability to reflect, to understand, to ponder, and, most importantly, the freedom to choose the good and the noble, the freedom to choose to do God’s will or not.
VI Redemption – God Pursues UsThe choice by our first parents to deny God’s lordship, to refuse to do his will — to seek to be their own god, had disastrous results. It brought back the original chaos — a moral chaos. You want a glimpse of this moral chaos, just read a newspaper, watch the evening news, or observe the nihilism present in much of our art, music, literature, and films. If you want to view a powerful illustration of the tragic consequences of this moral chaos, watch the movie Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.
What a blessing our Christian faith! We not only believe in a God who created the cosmos and made us in his Divine Image, but we believe in a God who pursued us even after we rebelled and attempted to push him out of our world. We believe in a God who loved us so much that he became flesh, he became a human being. Why? So that he could redeem us and make it possible for us to share in his divine and eternal life! We believe in God who not only created us in his image, but a God who died for us so that we might have eternal life in him.
VII Mercy – the Heart of the Gospel, the Heart of our Pro-Life WorkIf you want to know the value God places on every human life, just contemplate the image of our Crucified Lord. Tonight, we heard proclaimed a very small portion of St. Luke’s Passion Narrative. Jesus entered fully into our human condition. Our Lord endured the greatest injustice in human history as a result of our sin. On Calvary, Our Lord does not lash out and curse those who have accused him falsely and plotted his cruel execution. Instead, Jesus begs the Father to forgive the soldiers who nailed him to the Cross.
We read in the Gospel tonight about Christianity’s first deathbed conversion. One of the prisoners crucified with Our Lord joins the crowd in mocking Jesus. The other, sometimes called the Good Thief or Dismas, makes a most beautiful profession of faith. The Good Thief recognizes in the brutally beaten and apparently defeated Jesus, the Lord of Life. Dismas makes a humble, but faith-filled request: “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus canonizes him on the spot, proclaiming “This day you will be with Me in paradise.”
The Gospel is all about mercy. Our Lord’s mission is all about mercy. And we, His disciples, must also be about mercy. Our pro-life ministry is about mercy: 1) mercy for the innocent and defenseless child in the womb, 2) mercy for frightened and overwhelmed mothers in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, 3) mercy for post-abortive mothers or fathers who deeply regret authorizing the killing of their own child; 4) mercy for the abortion advocates who verbally attack us and label us extremists; 5) mercy for those who wish to disqualify from public office members of the Knight of Columbus or anyone else in whom “the dogma lives loudly”; 6) mercy for abortion clinic workers, volunteers and, yes, even abortionists.
Nearly every diocese in the country has an abortion healing ministry, most often called Project Rachel, to bring hope and healing to all those wounded by abortion: the mothers, the fathers, and anyone involved in advocating, assisting or performing abortion. God’s mercy is endless. For all are made in the Divine Image and are of such inestimable worth that God died for them.
IX Pro-Life PaulsOurs is a movement that is all about love and mercy. We give thanks for amazing Paul-like conversions of abortion advocates, who have become the powerful pro-life apologists. As we pray through this night and we march tomorrow, let us pray that we can be great and effective witnesses for life, witnesses for love, witnesses for mercy.
If you see only one movie this year, see the movie Unplanned. I warn you — Unplanned is painful, graphic and yet inspiring. The movie depicts the true story of the prayers and compassion of pro-life sidewalk counselors being the human instruments that God used in bringing a former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director, former Employee of the Year, Abby Johnson, out of the abortion clinic into offices of 40 Days For Life. Today, Abby Johnson is devoting her talent and energy to helping others make that journey from the horror of assisting with the killing of the innocent to the joy and peace of God’s mercy and grace.
Pray that through God’s grace there will be many more Norma McCorveys, Bernard Nathansons, Beverly McMillans, Carroll Everetts, Ramona Trevinos, Abby Johnsons (and the list could go on), who will come to know they are made in the Divine Image and that they are of such worth that Jesus died for them. May our advocacy awaken the hearts of others to know Jesus’ desire for them to experience abundant life in this world and to share with him eternal life in paradise!
Let us come forward in a few moments filled with faith and awe to receive the Bread of Life who is the Lord of Life. Let us give thanks for the great dignity God has given to us, to be made in his image and even more to be his living temples, his living tabernacles in the world. Let us receive with great joy, devotion and confidence this God who has pursued us and died for us. Let us ask the Lord of Life to help us be His witnesses of merciful love in the world!
Praise be Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life forever and ever!
Below is the homily of the Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout, Bishop of Richmond, at the Closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington:
In this beautiful National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in this House of Mary, in this place that is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a Tabernacle of the Holy Eucharist, we take refuge in the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Our Lord, and in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Lady, Pray for Us!
Peace be with you! These are Jesus’s first words the Apostles in the upper room. And they needed to hear them, because they had every reason not to be at peace. They were reeling from the betrayals and crucifixion just two days earlier. They were in hiding, afraid to go outside or be seen, lest they too come under the attack of the Romans or their own community led by the Sanhedrin. During the passion they scattered, each abandoning Christ and breaking from one another. Their hearts were divided, their communion broken. They lost peace and found only confusion, anxiety and fear, isolation from God and abandonment of Christ and one another. Yet, Jesus had not abandoned them-- at the height of their fear and doubt, Jesus appears to them. They were startled and could not believe their eyes. How could he possibly be with them, when they knew he had been taken, he had been scourged and crucified? And yet, there he was. Now Christ stands among them as they try to hide, some are still in hiding, Thomas for example. He comes to restore their union with him and communion with each other in the Holy Spirit. He comes to restore peace within and among them. We long for peace, we long for it within our hearts and our relationships with family, friends and with the larger community. But, all we often seem to find is contention. Brother against brother, sister against sister, broken people, broken relationships, broken families, a broken world. Contention both outside the church and inside. In the upper room, surrounded by the darkness of sin and death, and burdened by the effects of sin, the disciples struggled to find peace in their hearts. They struggled to find union and communion. And Jesus brought it back to them. The peace of knowing his life and love helps them overcome their fears and doubts and find strength and power in the Holy Spirit. Jesus does this with simple words – “Peace be with you” – and a simple act: being with them, appearing to them. He just reminds them that he is there, he is God who abides with us always. In the upper room Christ sends the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and they draw close to another and to Our Lady. The disciples encounter peace in Christ, the fruit of the restored relationship with God, and communion with one another. With the Gospel, the good news of the encounter with the Resurrection and the Life, comes peace as the fruit of justice, the fruit of right relationships, and with those right relationships restored, forgiveness of sins. With the Gospel, the proclamation and the one sent to proclaim are united and become effective and powerful and fruitful. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there is a passage where Boromir, a lord of Gondor, is tempted by the Ring of Power. He holds it up, while being tempted to use its power to defend his people, and he says: “The Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!” I heard it said once that our culture has still not adapted to and is not fully conscious of the seismic impact of three technologies dealing with things that are very small: The breaking of the atom, the invention of the silicon micro-chip, and the development of the birth control pill. All are technologies that divide in some way. Unbelievable destructive power is unleashed when the stability and union of the atom is broken. To break it results in destructive power almost beyond imagination. The silicon microchip has divided information and communication from the human person. We now communicate and interact socially through avatars and mini computers rather than in person. Communication becomes impersonal, anonymous, and sometimes vicious. On the web and in the blogosphere, there is little peace and a lot of disagreement and argument. Before this technology, both communicator and communication were present at the same time, and you had to deal with the person in front of you - not some anonymous, abstract identity. Artificial contraception: with the pill, life and love, husband and wife are divided. Union and communion with one another and with God are broken. From this is unleashed the destruction of the family and right relationships between human beings. What results are broken families, societies, and cultures. God’s plans for men and women is union with God and communion with one another. Man and woman become cooperators and co-creators with God. This technology has changed the nature of sexual intimacy and disrupted relationships between men and women and families as well as the relationship between church and state. We celebrate this Mass for Life and the conclusion of this Vigil for Life just a few months after the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Humanae vitae. We celebrate this Mass for Human Life in the City of Washington, the Nation’s Capital, where “the pill” was approved by the FDA in 1960, where the American Humanae vitae crisis was centered in 1968, where the Supreme Court decided that abortion was a Constitutionally protected right in 1973. It is a strange fate that these have all occurred here, but it has a lesson for us. These secular and ecclesial crises can be linked together through a small but challenging teaching. Saint Paul VI indicated in Humanae vitae that several effects would occur if society came to accept the idea that the unitive and procreative ends of marriage could be separated. There would be the general lowering of morals in society. Verification of this concern is seen in the breakdown of family life, the wide-spread practice of a hook-up culture on college campuses and even in high school and the coarsening of conversation in media and entertainment. There would be the objectification and attacks on the dignity of women. Verification of this can be seen in the causes of the Me-too movement and wide spread availability and addictions to pornography. There would be coercion by the State in matters of reproduction and family life. Verification of this is seen in the HHS mandate, requiring employers to provide birth control as part of health insurance. Accommodation for those who object in conscience to this requirement were under attack again in just the last few days. Church leaders, teachers, and theologians warned of other effects from the widespread acceptance of the separation of the unitive and procreative ends of marriage. These consequences result logically, if one accepts that these ends are not intrinsically or necessarily linked. The division between the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act unleashed as much disruption to the good of the human person as the atomic bomb did to politics and the microchip did to the economy. From in-vitro fertilization and partial birth abortion to surrogacy, – all flow from this division. Then, resulting from the commodification of human life there is the diminishing of the dignity of the human person, leading as well to genetic manipulation, euthanasia, and human trafficking. So, what is the remedy? I would offer one possible path for consideration. It is the difficult path, but one assured by Church teaching will lead to life and peace. We must return to the Gospel. We must remember that God is with us, always. And that he lives in each of our hearts in the Holy Spirit. And because of that, each human being has value, and is not a means to an end, is loved by God, and equally treasured. Just as the separation of the unitive and procreative ends of marriage have led to the expansion of the sins that cry out to God for justice, so the remedy is the embrace of the good of the human person and the teachings of Humanae vitae, the embrace of God’s plan for marriage and the martial act. From this experience of justice, from these right relationships will flow peace, union with God and communion with one another, and peace in our hearts. The remedy is embracing the face of God in each person and embracing the Church’s teaching about human life. When we do that, we need not fear the dark of night, or the discord of nations. Many courageous, devoted, and faith-filled individuals and families have embraced this teaching and lived it fruitfully, practicing chastity, NFP, and embracing life. They have found the peace that Christ offers. They have heard the Good News and have placed their lives and families in God’s hands, even as we today, by prayer, place our lives and families in the merciful, Sacred Heart of Jesus and in the maternal Immaculate Heart of Mary.
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