This is my third and final opportunity to have the privilege to preach this annual Vigil Mass for the March for Life. In my homily two years ago, I commented on the magnificent mosaics that adorn this Basilica dedicated to Our Lady. I observed, however, that the most beautiful of the mosaics was the packed congregation in the pews of the Basilica. This evening, we have a lot of missing pieces to that mosaic. Though the Basilica has the maximum crowd permitted by the D.C. Covid protocols, it is miniscule compared to the usual crowd.
Gratitude to EWTN
Welcome to all those who are able to be with us in-person and virtually this evening. Thank you for your dedication to witness the Gospel of Life. Tonight, I am attempting to visualize in my imagination the thousands participating virtually thanks to the Eternal Word Television Network. On behalf of the Bishops of the United States, I want to thank EWTN for its outstanding coverage annually of not only the Vigil Mass, but the Rally, March and other activities related to this somber annual commemoration of those infamous decisions by our Nation’s highest Court. Those erroneous, flawed decisions resulted in the loss of more than 62 million American lives – millions more than any other event in the history of the United States. As Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressed in her confirmation hearing, the Roe and Doe decisions are far from having the features of settled law as evidenced by the many statutes passed in State Legislatures annually testing and challenging the assumptions of Roe and Doe.
Lookback One Year Ago
It seems like ten years have passed since last year’s gathering. Within less than two months of this Mass, our nation, for the first time in our history, was experiencing a national lockdown necessitated by the global Corona Virus Pandemic. Most of the country remains in some stage of lock down. More than 400,000 of our citizens have died and many more have been hospitalized. Many children have lost almost an entire year of in-person education. Many small businesses have been shuttered. Millions of people have lost jobs.
We all hope with the vaccines available and the large number of Americans who have recovered and gained immunity from the virus, we will return to a semblance of normalcy soon and very soon. Gratefully, in the midst of this terrible tragedy, we have witnessed points of light. Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers have shown incredible courage in caring for the victims of the Pandemic. Our dedicated school teachers are true American heroes who, with bravery and commitment to their students, have reopened and kept open many schools in the past several months. Catholic Charities and other Catholic ministries have served even more people with fewer volunteers to help the economic victims of this menacing plague!
Through the creativity and determination of our Priests, Deacons, Religious Sisters and Lay Leaders, our parishes have continued to provide the sacraments to the maximum degree possible. I commend especially our priests, many of whom at some personal risk, labored heroically to insure that people approaching death had the benefit of the sacraments.
One of the unanticipated blessings of the past year was the swearing in of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. The make-up of the Court has vastly improved in the past four years.
There is legitimate hope that the U.S. Supreme Court could modify or even reverse the decisions that we commemorate each year.
Covid Bright Spot – Protect the Vulnerable
Perhaps, the greatest bright spot in our nation’s response to Covid 19 was the extraordinary measures that we have taken to protect the most vulnerable, those with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly. In a culture where euthanasia and assisted suicide have gained traction, it has been heartening that our Covid protocols are not based on a biased Quality of Life ethic. Our policies have communicated to our elderly that their lives are important and treasured.
I have been edified by our young people who have made many educational and social sacrifices, even though they are much less at risk, in order to protect their grandparents and other elderly (like me). It is a moment when we see signs of our society embracing in part the Gospel of Life ethic, where every life is valuable no matter age, physical or mental limitations, economic status, race or ethnicity.
Walking with my Mother
If I may speak personally for a moment, the most significant event of the year for me was the death in late September of my 97-year old Mother, Louise. My Mother reminded me frequently that everything that I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten, because, after all, she was my Kindergarten teacher.
Mom did not have an easy life. My Father was murdered a week before Christmas in 1948 when my Mother was three months pregnant with me. A young widow, Mom went back to college to earn a degree in Education.
Miraculously, through many personal sacrifices, my Mother was able to provide for me and my brother on a Catholic elementary school teacher salary.
In the final years and months of her life, my Mother, like many elderly, wondered if God had forgotten her. Through most of her life, Mom had tremendous energy and the ability to operate on only a few hours of sleep. However, in her nineties, she slept a lot. If you asked her if she slept well, she would quip: “Sleep is what I do best.”
Mom asked the question: “Why am I still here?” I reminded her of all the people’s lives she had touched – in our family, in her many friendships, in her apostolic work as a very active member of the Legion of Mary, as a teacher and principal. I said to her: “Mom, I think God has you here for us, your family. You have done so much for us and you continue to inspire us with your Faith. God wants to give us the opportunity to return some of the incredible love you have given to us. You are helping us become better, more like you.”
Mom was a widow for more than 70 years. I asked her if she was looking forward to seeing my Dad when she left this world? Her eyes lit up and she said: “Of course, but even more I want to see Jesus.” She wanted to die in her sleep. She thought it would be cool to go to sleep and wake up in the presence of the Lord. I told her: “Mom as much as you sleep, the odds are with you.” God granted her wish last September.
My Mother taught me powerful lessons about the beginning and the end of life in this world. I was part of a crisis pregnancy. My Mother was a single Mom. I am certain she never considered abortion. With the support of family and friends, she embraced the circumstances and challenges that she would never have chosen.
With the support of family and friends as well as her abiding trust in God, she created a great home life while inspiring and influencing many lives in her additional vocation as a Catholic School teacher.
In the final years and months of her life, Mom taught me the importance of treasuring our elderly and those with disabilities. We can learn so much about life from them. They help make us better as they draw forth love from us.
Biblical Teaching on the Unborn
Some Christians claim that the Bible is silent on the morality of abortion. They question the validity of the application to the circumstances of today of the treatment of abortion found in Exodus.
What these Christians ignore is how frequently the Scriptures speak about the wonder, awe and beauty of life in the womb. The Bible speaks of children as a blessing. If fact, fruitfulness is recognized as a great gift from God. Our readings for Mass tonight reveal this great Biblical respect for human life before birth.
Being from Kansas, from the Heartland of the United States, about as far as one can get from any coast, I must note in our first reading from Isaiah, the Prophet declares: “Hear me, O coastlands, listen O distant peoples.” Now as in the time of Isaiah, the people of the East and West coasts could learn a lot of wisdom from those of us coming from fly over country. What does Isaiah say in his time to those on the coasts? “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” A few verses later the Prophet observes: “For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to Him and Israel gathered to Him.” Isaiah goes on to say that he is being called to be a light for the nations.
In tonight’s Psalm, we hear the Psalmist declare to God: “Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul you also knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you.”
The Encounter of the Unborn Jesus and the Unborn John the Baptist
Tonight’s Gospel passage from Luke is both fascinating and instructive. The pregnant Mary makes the arduous journey to the hill country of Judah to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. The Archangel Gabriel told Mary that the formerly barren Elizabeth conceiving in her old age was a sign for Our Lady of the truth of the miraculous conception of the child conceived in her womb. Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a sign that nothing is impossible for God.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice the infant leaped in her womb. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cries out: “Most Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth, still under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is the first one in the Bible to acknowledge Jesus as Lord as she wonders: “And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me.” Elizabeth calls Jesus her Lord while he is an unborn child in the womb of Mary. Elizabeth goes on to marvel: “For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant of my womb leaped for joy.”
Of course for the Jew well versed in the scriptures, all of the phrases that Luke employs to describe the encounter between the pregnant Mary and the pregnant Elizabeth with the leaping unborn John the Baptist are reminiscent of David leaping before the Ark of the Covenant as he brings it from the hill country of Judah to Jerusalem.
The allusion is clear. Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. Why? Because she carries in her uterus something even more precious than the Torah, she carries the very life of God within the tabernacle of her womb.
How could the Bible be more explicit about the sanctity of life in utero? The life of Jesus did not begin with his birth in Bethlehem, but at His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. In the Gospel, we see the pregnant Elizabeth and unborn John the Baptist are the first to recognize Jesus as Lord, even though he is only in the first trimester, the first three months of His bodily existence in this world.
How can a Christian not be Pro-Life? How can someone who ponders the Bible with an open heart not recognize its affirmation of the humanity of children in utero. The Biblical picture is clearer than the highest definition ultra-sound about the reality of life in the womb.
Science and the Unborn
What about those who are not Christian, who do not believe in biblical revelation? Does one need revelation to recognize the humanity of life within the womb?
Sadly, in 1973, the Supreme Court claimed that science had no idea when human life began. It was not true then and the evidence is even stronger today. Science and reason are not on the side of abortion advocates.
The discovery of DNA, the unique genetic code that each and every human being possesses, was a dark day for the Culture of Death. Medical texts, even in 1973, taught that human life begins at fertilization, at the time of conception. They affirmed this, not based on theology, but observable fact.
Science continues to affirm that at the moment of fertilization a unique, new human life has begun. This new life has a unique DNA genetic code, distinct from her Mother. The zygote, the embryo, the fetus, the unborn child is not a part of the Mother’s body but is a new and unique human being that is merely a temporary resident in the womb.
This in no way minimizes the important role of mothers. The relationship between a mother and child is unlike any other human bond. Each of us spent our first months of existence residing in the sanctuary of our mother’s womb.
Roe v. Wade Movie
Recently, I had the opportunity to preview a new feature length movie entitled simply, Roe v. Wade. It will be in theatres and available on DVD sometime this year. I encourage you to see this film. With some of the artistic liberties of the movie industry, the film provides insight into the cultural circumstances that resulted in the Court decision that led to more than 62 million American children killed by abortion over the past 48 years.
The film is narrated by the actor portraying Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who with journalist and author Larry Lader and feminist activist Betty Friedan founded NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League). Dr. Nathanson earned the unofficial title, the Abortion King, because he served as Medical Director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health. Dr. Nathanson performed or presided over more than 60,000 abortions.
A key component of Lader and Nathanson’s plan to gain public support for legalized abortion was what they termed the Catholic strategy. It had four basic components:
1) Blame and Accuse the Catholic Hierarchy for social ills and the oppression of women, 2) Support and Campaign for Catholic Pro-Abortion Candidates, 3) Foster division amongst Catholics, and 4) Execute “The Straddle” – the separation of religious conviction from legislative judgment.
Only a couple years after the Roe V. Wade decision, Dr. Nathanson began to have scientific doubts about the ethics of abortion. He was profoundly influenced by the ultrasound images that made the humanity of the unborn undeniable.
Nathanson eventually produced The Silent Scream, a documentary film showing an actual ultrasound abortion narrated by Dr. Nathanson. Nathanson was convinced that The Silent Scream would slay the monster of legalized abortion that he helped to create. He was confident that Public Television stations would telecast The Silent Scream. Once large numbers of Americans actually viewed the brutality of abortion and saw the humanity of the unborn child, Nathanson believed America would reject abortion. To his astonishment, Public Television Stations generally refused to telecast The Silent Scream.
Bernard Nathanson, who had described himself for decades as a Jewish Atheist and had helped to create and implement the so-called Catholic Strategy, on December 8, 1996 was baptized in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. For the remainder of his life, he worked tirelessly to end legalized abortion.
Truth and Love
Many of us, as we observe this somber anniversary of a true American tragedy – the legalization of abortion in 1973 resulting in the deaths of millions of American children and the scarring of the lives of millions of mothers and fathers, may feel dispirited and discouraged.
The Catholic Strategy appears to have succeeded with the election of a President who proudly professes to be a devout Catholic even as he promises: 1) to codify Roe V. Wade, 2) seeks to force American taxpayers to fund abortions, and 3) desires to force The Little Sisters of the Poor to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in their employee health plans. Sadly, President Biden is the perfect example of the religiously and ethically incoherent straddle: claiming to believe that human life begins at conception and personally opposing abortion, while doing everything within his power to promote and institutionalize abortion not only in the USA but also around the world.
We must not yield to discouragement, much less despair. We must also not indulge in anger or attacking those who disagree with us. We speak the truth with firm resolve but also with compassionate love. Just as Elizabeth’s pregnancy was for Mary a sign, so Bernard Nathanson’s conversion is for us the sign that “All Things are possible with God.”
We must reject violence in action and in speech. Archbishop Jose Gomez’s Statement on the day of the Inauguration of President Biden was a great example for all of us. Violence and disrespect for others are not consistent with the Gospel of Life.
Pope St. John Paul taught the essence of the Gospel of Life was the value that Jesus placed upon each and every human life on Calvary. Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified so that each of us could receive mercy and share in His abundant and eternal life.
Our weapons to defeat the Culture of Death are not bricks, guns or, Molotov cocktails, but prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We need to pray and fast for our President that the Holy Spirit will touch and change his Heart and enlighten his mind just as He did for Bernard Nathanson.
We must pray and fast that the President will have the integrity to acknowledge that his actions in seeking to codify Roe V. Wade and impose tax funded abortion violate the most fundamental of all human rights. We must pray and fast that the President will cease attempting to confuse people about Catholic teaching by trampling on the sanctity of human life while presenting himself as a devout Catholic.
The people of the United States have entrusted enormous power and responsibility to President Biden. However, the Presidency does not empower him to define Catholic doctrine and moral teaching.
Prayer and Action
I ask all in the Basilica and the thousands more joining us through EWTN to join me in an urgent and renewed effort of prayer and action with many other Catholics across the country as we work together and seek God’s assistance to end abortion and all attacks on human life and the sacred dignity of the human person.
I urge you to join Respect Life: Prayer and Action by signing up for our prayer and action alerts at respectlife.org. I look forward to praying with you and working with you to advance the dignity and protection of every human life, from conception to natural death.
Walking With Moms in Need
Similarly, I urge each of you, if you have not already, to become involved in your parish and diocese with Walking With Moms in Need that was officially launched last March 25. Walking With Moms in Need is an initiative for Dioceses and Parishes to become knowledgeable about all of the resources that are available to women facing a difficult or untimely pregnancy. We are asking our Dioceses and Parishes to promote and expand existing resources.
Mothers and Children that we cannot protect by law, we can surround and rescue with love. We want no Mother, no Child left behind because there was no one to encourage and assist them.
In a few moments, those assembled in the Basilica will come forward to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. Sometimes, Catholics are accused of being inhospitable because we do not invite non-Catholics to join us in receiving Holy Communion.
We do this, not to be exclusive, but out of respect for those who do not share our Catholic Faith. When a baptized Christian, after prayer and reflection, is received into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, they make the following profession: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
Each time we come to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, the priest says: “The Body of Christ.” The recipient replies: “Amen.” Our Amen expresses not only our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist but also our belief in the Church that Our Lord empowered to make Himself present through the Blessed Sacrament.
In effect, our Amen when receiving Our Lord is an affirmation that we believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. We do not want a non-Catholic Christian to profess something that they do not believe. Similarly, integrity requires a Catholic not receive the Eucharist while acting in a manner incoherent with fundamental Catholic teaching.
Life Will Be Victorious
Jesus never promised His Disciples that following Him would be easy. In fact, Our Lord told them, if they wanted to be His Disciple that they had to be willing to take up the cross. Jesus did promise His Disciples that He would be with us until the end of time.
We heard in the Letter of St. John tonight the Disciple of Jesus should not be amazed if the world hates us. He also reminds us that to hate another is equivalent to being a murderer. While rejecting actions that are evil, we can never hate those who do evil to us or others. Jesus gave His life for us, despite our sins and betrayals. It is the call of His disciples to lay down our lives in love for others, even those who speak ill of us and seek to harm us.
Jesus tells us that He is the Way and the Truth and Life. Jesus, who is Life itself, has already won the victory over sin and death. We know, therefore, with complete and utter confidence that Life Will Be Victorious. Adversity only makes our love purer and more powerful.
We say with St. Paul: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God …” [Rom 8:28] “If God is for us, who can be against us?” [Rom 8:31] We are “…convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 8: 38-39]