Homily of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

6:30 p.m., Sunday, January 22, 2012

Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

It is the Lord’s Day and Christ gathers us for his paschal sacrifice.  It is the Lord’s Day but also a somber day of remembrance, January 22, the Roe versus Wade Decision of our Supreme Court thirty nine years ago.  It is the Lord’s Day at Mary’s House here in Washington and we gather from every place in this land and beyond to hear and thirst for the Word of God and the Bread of Life.  With Cardinal Wuerl, our local Shepherd, the Apostolic Nuncio, with my brother Cardinals and Brother bishops from this land, I welcome all of you to this celebration preparing and enlivening us for our activity in the public square tomorrow for the Annual March for Life.  It is particularly wonderful to welcome anew Archbishop Vigano, our Nuncio, who is here for the first time. Thank you and please give the Holy Father our heartfelt greetings and our pledge of prayers.  I thank Cardinal George and Cardinal O’Malley for being with us.

There are so many priests, deacons, both permanent and transitional, seminarians, religious sisters and brothers, postulants, novices and newly professed sisters, how magnificent your presence is for all of us.  May you remain committed to the human person at every stage of his or her life.

This pro-life assembly has many veterans in the pro-life movement, many adult leaders and many families.  What stands out tonight, as always at this Mass, is the vast number of children, youth and young adults who are present.  You are grand and eloquent witnesses to human life, enthusiasm unmoved by sour pundits who prefer to ignore you.  You remain and abide in joy, a good infection that we all want to catch from you.  A thousand thank yous!  The staff of the National Shrine, beginning with Msgr. Rossi, are such generous hosts and so hospitable to us each year. Thank you!  EWTN Network always televises this Liturgy and we are grateful that through them this Mass can be seen throughout the world.  As always, we are grateful for this service!

A few years back I came across a sign in front of a Church announcing the following Sunday’s Sermon.  It read: “Don’t be so hard on Jonah!”  I presume it has to do with the fact that Jonah, on one level, is not one of the most stellar prophets.  He receives a call from the Lord, runs away, tries to take a transatlantic cruise, is found out for his negligence by pagan sailors during a storm who toss him overboard to calm the waves, is then swallowed by a great fish, manages a most beautiful formal liturgical prayer while in the stomach of this whale-like-creature, is spit up on the beach, and finally realizes the Lord is serious about the call to Nineveh.  The narrative of the First Reading today is the preaching of Jonah and the immediate repentance of Nineveh, yes Nineveh, that most hostile pagan city, ruthless in its destruction of Israel and seemingly implacable enemy of the Lord.  Yet not even Jerusalem and Israel repent like this city in the narrative parable that is the Book of Jonah.  Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezechiel seemingly could not do for Israel what the Lord manages through Jonah for Nineveh.  This great little book written most probably after the exile of Israel to Babylon and Israel now back home, is a gentle and perhaps slightly humorous reminder to all God’s people, now reinforcing their wondrous Jewish identity of Pentateuch and Covenant after their exile, that the Lord is full of universal mercy and wondrous surprises.  Receptivity to the Covenant is also an opening out of the glory and compassion of the one true God even to those hostile and seemingly incapable of turning around to the Lord.  Jonah had at first run from his call and his mission and is not bubbling with joy when it meets success as the Lord’s ways are sometimes, maybe many times, not his and not ours.  Perhaps that is why we are more like Jonah than we would care to admit, especially to those hostile to us.  If we are to be critical of Jonah, we must see him as our mirror.  (By the way, I wonder how many days it would take to go through Washington, D.C.?)

The Reading from Jonah prepares us for the Gospel Reading from St. Mark, that short but incandescent Gospel that accompanies us most Sundays this year in the Lectionary.  We hear of the opening days of Jesus’ public life, the very beginning of his ministry after his baptism in the Jordan and his Spirit driven 40 day fast in the desert with the wild beasts and temptations from Satan, a real beast in himself.  Chapter One is a day in the life of Jesus in those early joy filled and heady frenetic times of the initial announcement of the Kingdom of God.  But St. Mark sets us straight that this happens against the background of John the Baptist’s arrest and imprisonment and sets the shadow of the Cross already in our hearts.  Jesus’ message is a call for a turn around and a swift movement to the Lord, to God who is advancing towards us.  It is Good News!  God Reigns!  The full meaning of the message, the Kingdom of God, will only become evident gradually when the “what is it” is replaced by “who is it.”  Jesus Christ is the Kingdom, God’s merciful face turned towards the world and us that we can turn to Him.  

Equally stunning is the swift way Jesus begins to call associates, those who will be apostles.  In abrupt fashion he calls and the first disciples respond.  What urgency and authority are in Jesus’ call.  Not even the claims of work, family, business or culture can intervene in order for disciples to be “in Jesus’ company.”  Good Grief!  There is no HR person involved, not even a mention of a pension plan or benefits as yet!  Perhaps with St. Paul who speaks to the Corinthians today, the message is that the time is short.  In fact, there is a word in today’s Gospel that is repeated 32 more times in the Gospel of St. Mark.  The word is “immediately.”  There is no time for a Jonah run around.  The response to Christ is always “immediately,” the same word used to describe Jesus’ miracles.  They happen immediately.  The invitation of Jesus is to pass from obscurity to light—and immediately.  The history of salvation has reached its fullness with Jesus.  That is fact.  The imperative is to come follow him.  Conversion is personal but immediately involves you in a fellowship, in a community, in the Church.  To be engaged in this is to be introduced to Jesus’ new way of fishing, that is, catching them alive!  Immediately!

Jonah gave Nineveh forty days and they repented.  We are nearing the 40th year anniversary of Roe versus Wade.  53 million children have lost their lives since then; millions of men and women have lives that will never be the same because of their tragic choices.  Our embrace of life must be clear.  As we mourn the loss of precious human lives, most of them without a name but always known by the Lord, we cannot let our resolve to pray and work for change be such as to use so stringent a rhetoric against those hostile to us that we foreclose change and repentance.  Yes, the Lord through his Son weeps over the loss of life; His simultaneous compassion and mercy opens up forgiveness to those who have greatly sinned.  The more wounded his sinful children become the more he promises mercy and invitation to conversion. And through the Church’s ministry of Project Rachel, we witness the miracle of Christ’s mercy and healing grace as hearts broken are made whole, filled with peace and hope once again.  Our rightful criticisms of policies of a given Administration, our clear work with legislators, even those who oppose us, our ability to persuade the media who most frequently refuse to give the truth, --- all these approaches must be imbued with Jesus’ Face.  It is not weakness to show compassion for those with whom we have fundamental disagreement on human life, a matter of the greatest importance.

But clear we must be. Disturbing news came to us Friday from HHS and the Obama Administration: it fundamentally repeated the mandate that sterilization and contraception must be included in virtually all health plans. Never before in our US History has the Federal Government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs. At issue here as our President of the Conference stated it this past Friday, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty. More on that in a few moments!

We are the people of the Gospel of Life.  We are the People of Life.  We first live our lives as credible witnesses.  We are engaged in the truth about Faith and Charity, virtuous living in chastity, a must for all and especially for young people who are pro-life.  We must be sensitive less the desire for good things becomes a huge form of acquisition  for things, for gadgets and for glamour.  The beauty of the human person made in the image and likeness of God gives us a different “immediately” in terms of “getting.”  Our face is turned to the unborn, the elderly and very ill, the disabled and those traumatized by our economic troubles.  These persons are beautiful and these “poor ones” are the most important in the Kingdom of God.

There is also good news in the pro-life arena.  There are a record number of state laws that now restrict abortions.  State prosecutors have begun to prosecute late term abortionists who deny life and injure and maim women.  At the same time conscience protection and religious liberty for all of us who work for life has been put in jeopardy and represents a significant and troubling issue.  We must be perseverant and very clear in fighting for this constitutional right and unfailing in bringing this matter to the administration and to the Congress.  That can be part of your witness tomorrow.

A few weeks ago Our Holy Father, at his yearly address to the Diplomatic Corps, made young people and their life and concerns the main theme of his talk.  He repeated the words of Blessed John Paul II that “the path of peace is at the same time the path of the young,” and then said that young people impel us to take seriously their demand for truth, justice and peace.  Repeating words from the Annual World Day of Peace message, Pope Benedict spoke of education as a crucial theme today for it determines the healthy development of each person and the future of all society.  He spoke of the primary setting of education as the family, which is not just a societal convention but the fundamental cell of every society.  Openness to life in the family is a sign of openness to the future.  The Holy Father then read a most clear statement: “ (…) (W)with particular reference to the West, I am convinced that legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience and for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity.”  You cannot get clearer than this.  I beg and pray for the young people present and all youth and young adults not to be compromised in your dedication to the protection of life of each human person, born and unborn.  Keep it before your eyes and in your hearts immediately.  Threats against life and against the consciences of those who say “yes” to life must be met with timely and unwavering action, in our families and institutions, and yes, in the public square.

Just the other day the Holy Father gave another address to Region IV of the Episcopal Conference. He spoke to the bishops on religious liberty and the public nature of the Church’s witness. At one point he said: “(…) it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.  Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.”  In light of last Friday’s announcement about health care mandates, it seems that the Holy Father has “nailed” the issue in advance. His calls for courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public life and debate have targeted the issues we face in our pro-life efforts, to defend those who defend human life and to defend their religious liberty!
Advocacy on behalf of human life is an essential dimension of the prolife cause and the prolife heart.  I know that the prolife youth and young adults here and beyond will continue to be a source for renewed efforts and final victory in this truth and this reality.  A “Year of Faith” begins this October for the whole Catholic Church throughout the world and will last till November of 2013.  It will overlap with the sad 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade next year; may the new evangelization, which always begins with personal conversion, be a prime vehicle for re-invigorating the Gospel of Life here in the United States, for individuals, for the Church, and for the people of the United States.  Please do not underestimate your presence and conscience here: Remember Jonah!   Remember religious liberty and the current attacks against it!

Prayer leads to action and action leads us back to prayer and contemplation.  We are about to approach the Lord’s Altar of Sacrifice and there place our own labor and life, our prayer and sorrows, our joys and anxieties there with the gifts of bread and wine.  In the Eucharistic Prayer they are lifted up and the bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood, nourishment and food for all of us pilgrims on the way to the final glory of the Kingdom of God.  At its beginning we hear the invitations: “Lift up your hearts” and “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”  We immediately respond to each: “We lift them up to the Lord” and “It is right and just.”  Like the apostles we are called and brought into intimacy with the Lord Jesus in his free and life giving act of reconciliation to the Father for us.  Activated by the Holy Spirit we enter into sacrificial contemplation.  Once nourished we are sent forth: to be sent is to be apostolic.  Like the four first apostles we go immediately.  We are not afraid.  We are gone fishing for good.  Immediately.

It has been a privilege and an honor to be principal Celebrant of this Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life these past few years.  I have been more than edified.  The beauty, reverence and great joy of this assembly and their letters and notes to me afterwards have been transforming.  Later this year the Chair of the Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee moves to Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, an ardent apostolic witness to Life who will in turn have the honor to preside at this Mass.  I want to express my deepest thanks to Tom Grenchik and to all the staff of the Bishop’s Pro-Life Committee for their knowledgeable, unflagging and beautiful commitment to the pro-life reality and all that it means to us bishops and to the Catholic Faithful of this country.  The staff is dedicated and persistent, at times even relentless with the Chair and the wonderful members and consultors of the Pro-Life Committee.  Were I forced to articulate all they have done and mean, I would be left altogether helpless.

We are in the House of Mary.  In all pro-life work and activity and prayer, she is the great model, disciple and friend who leads us to Christ and deeper commitment.  For she was privileged to bear him; she was his mother not his incubator.  In a brilliant early Russian icon of the Annunciation she is pictured, standing beside, not kneeling beside, the Archangel Gabriel.  Both are seemingly ten feet tall.  She is the youngest Virgin Mary I have ever seen painted and she is smiling.  Her right hand gestures in a “let it be” to the Angel.  The infant Christ, blessing, is already outlined within her.  In her left hand she is holding needle and thread, for she will indeed weave the Eternal Word Made Flesh into our everyday existence, into our humanity.  What a profound image of what the Incarnation means, what excellence is the human person, what magnificence is at stake in young people.  When I think of that icon of the Virgin, I think of you young people, and I am put into a genuine state of joy and assurance for you too in many, in simple, but in deeply true ways are weaving Christ into our culture.  You do so with energy and joy, with a love of life and a deep friendship with Christ, our Crucified and Risen
Lord.  May the Holy Spirit overshadow your efforts.   

The time is short! Come with Jonah! Repent!  Come follow the Lord Jesus.  Come with Peter, Andrew, James and John! Be sent fishing in behalf of Life.  And God bless you all. Immediately!


Homily of Archbishop Stefan Soroka

11:00 p.m., Sunday, January 22, 2012

Compline Prayers

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

 + Christ is Born!

Sixty years ago in a small Children's hospital, twin brothers were born to poor immigrant parents.  They had just arrived one month earlier on a transport ship across stormy seas from Europe.  One of the twins was born very sick, requiring extensive and expensive medical treatment if he was to have a chance to survive.  The doctors advised the father to cease treatment, to be content and thankful that one other healthier child was born.  The father, a new immigrant who could barely speak English, begged and cried to the doctors to offer the treatment and to give the child a chance to live.  He promised to cover all of the costs regardless of how long it would take him to pay.  The doctors felt that it would be a waste of money, but finally relented and offered the life-saving treatment which the other twin needed.  That boy, my twin brother, lives, served as a police officer, and has raised a beautiful family.  It took my father many years to pay that hospital bill, but he never once complained. My father's reluctance to accept the fatalistic and practical arguments of the doctors provided for life of his other son.  My father lived out of hope and with an unyielding conviction as to the sacredness of life.  It is God who gives life.  It is God who decides when life enters eternal life.

Are we living out of a mentality of allowing present circumstances, presenting needs, perceived perceptions of what one can handle, and the desire to pursue freedom and happiness to dictate decisions effecting life itself?  Have people of these past six decades and more especially, people of today's culture largely stopped thinking of children as gifts from God and first-fruits of the future? The dominant mentality today seems to be a preoccupation with the present.  Critical life-giving decisions are being determined based on present needs, perceived limitations of the people involved, and the pursuit of one's desires and even pleasures.  People today are living increasingly without hope.  They are living without hope because they are not providing for the future.  Our culture, compulsively and even morbidly, is preoccupied with the here-and-now.  It is depriving itself of anything to look forward to.

This is born out today by the staggering debt loads of developed and supposedly well-off countries such as ours.  The ability to respond to survival needs of future generations is being mortgaged away to meet current needs and pursuits.  This is also reflected in the very low birth rates in this country today and in these past decades, and in so many of the developed nations.  Children are now being aborted in the flesh because they have already been, in large measure, aborted from the mind.  We deprive unborn infants of a future because they are inconveniences intruding on our chosen pursuits and needs in the present.  People question why we should let these infants live, if they are but the by-product of sexual activity rather than the properly intended purpose of that activity?  Our current cultural crisis is due to regarding sex in terms of present 'fulfillment' rather than in terms of future family and life.

Our nation has always afforded protection to the vulnerable in our midst because we, as a people, cherish each individual human life.  Unborn children were protected by law because, as a society, we cherish children as a gift from God.  We believe that each person is made in the very image and likeness of God Himself.  We declared in our foundational national documents that "all men were endowed with inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  As Christians, we also believe that human life is precious because God had sent His very own Son to become one with humanity, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all peoples.

The Second Vatican Council emphasized this truth of revelation by stating "By His incarnation, the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human being".  An assault on human life is really an assault on God himself!  In the "Gospel of Life", Blessed John Paul II reminded us that "this saving event reveals to humanity not only the boundless love of God who 'so loved the world that He gave His only Son' (Jn 3:16), but also the incomparable value of every human person".

You will recall the Gospel story in which the apostles were preventing the children from bothering Jesus.  But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me".  When you and I live out of a mentality placing a greater value on the needs, our perceived limitations, or the pleasures and pursuits of today, we are enabling a 'culture of death' amidst us – a culture which enables the killing of innocent life through abortion, euthanasia, and other forms of suffocating life – and thereby keeping the children away from Jesus.  When we are tempted and lured by our earthly desires, and when that desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity, it gives birth to death.

The Eastern Church Fathers frequently emphasize that everything we are as Church is based on the example of the mystical life of the Blessed Trinity.  We believe in a God, Who is both One and at the same time a Community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.God is Love.  Jesus taught his disciples to follow his own example: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12).  You and I are called to be an icon of God's love, goodness, mercy, healing, and justice.  You and I are called to be agents of the 'culture of life" in our love for one another.

Let us pray with love and without doubting.  Let our faith, our words, our day-to-day actions loudly proclaim a 'culture of life' amidst those with whom we are called to journey with in life, within our faith communities, within our homes, schools and universities, and everywhere in our nation.  It IS significant that you gather and march with thousands of others here in our nation's capital and throughout our nation today, proclaiming our faith and conviction in the incomparable value of every human person from conception of life to death.  Thank you for uniting in the power of prayer.  Thank you for your prayerful presence these days in our nation's capital.  Thank for caring.  Thank you for loudly proclaiming the truths of our faith to our nation and to its leaders.

Special gratitude is offered to the many bishops, priests, religious and consecrated men and women, and laity of all ages for gathering in this holy chapel this evening.  Thank you to the choir leader and to the choir members for your magnificent uplifting of our prayer this evening. Thank you to those who have organized and facilitated this evening prayer service, especially the dedicated ministry of the staff of this National Shrine to the Immaculate Mother of God.

Our heartfelt gratitude to our main celebrant, the Most Rev. William Skurla, newly designated by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict as the Metropolitan-Elect for the Byzantine Catholic Church in the USA., for leading us in holy prayer in this evening's Compline Service  Our heartfelt and joyous congratulations are offered to you, Bishop William.  We pledge of our fraternal love and support as you meet the challenges of this special call and ministry.  God bless and provide all which you will need to meet the challenges which will be placed before you.

May the Blessed Mother who is ever present offering her maternal love and guidance to all of us, her children, spread her omophor of protection on everyone present as you prepare to rest this night, and as you participate in your proclamation of the sanctity of life tomorrow in the annual march for Life.

God bless you richly in ways only He can, in the name of the + Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Homily of Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan

7:30 a.m., Monday, January 23, 2012

Closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

You have just spent the night in your mother’s homes!

You have “kept vigil” that cherished tradition so frequently found in the Bible, and now we commence this somber anniversary her in our Mother’s home, our National Shrine, in the best possible way, through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I welcome all of you!
I whisper “good morning” to so many of you who have kept vigil here for the noble cause of life;
I thank you for the radiant inspiration you give all of us.

That radiant inspiration we need indeed as we persevere in this now two-score years of promoting a recovery of the culture of life gravely threatened by unlimited abortion.

Simply put, we are often tempted to give up hope that we can even turn it around.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus mentions some mysterious “unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit.” What is it?

Wise men and women, saints and scholars, tell us that Jesus is teaching that, really, the only unforgiveable sin…is to believe that there is any sin which cannot be forgiven, that God’s mercy is limited.

Nope! God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s power is unlimited! There is no evil, no horror, no sin that is exempt from the healing rays of His grace.

Not even the horrors of the culture of death!

From a human point of view, we may be tempted to surrender;

When our government places conception, pregnancy and birth under the “Center for Disease Control”;

When chemically blocking conception or aborting the baby in the womb is considered a “right” to be subsidized by others who abhor it;

When the ability of feeding, housing, and healing the struggling of the world is curtailed and impeded if one does not also help women abort their babies;

One can hardly be faulted for being tempted to the “sin against the Holy Spirit” and just consider all as lost.

Not us! Not for thousands who have stayed up all night in prayer in this, the home of a pregnant woman;

Not for hundreds of thousands who will march today with the words of “We Shall Overcome” ringing in our ears;

Not for those of us who whisper “Thanks be to God” as we behold untold numbers of young people with passion for the Culture of Life, those of us old enough to recall thirty-nine years ago when sophisticated voices told us that the “pro-life movement” was just a momentary fad that would soon crash upon the shores of a “brave new world.” We veterans who now smile as the pro-life cause is acknowledged as today’s premiere civil rights movement still, in spite of editorial pages and chic tsk-tsk the most pivotal, burning issue on the campaign trail.

Yes, like David in our reading from God’s word this morning, the pro-life movement has been dismissed by the Goliath of the well-oiled, well-inked, glitterati-crowded pro-abortion one…. But, Goliath the Giant didn’t win, did he? Trusting, shrewd,
Faithful, confident, energetic little David did!

Thank you, David…for the radiant inspiration you give us!