Bishop’s homily at diocesan Mass at March for Life
The following is the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades on Jan. 20 at the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for diocesan participants at the March for Life.
It is wonderful to gather this morning for Holy Mass here at the beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have been looking forward to seeing the Trinity Dome, which completes the interior decoration of this great church. Our diocese has a special connection to this National Shrine, since the fifth Bishop of Fort Wayne, Archbishop John Noll, led the fundraising nationwide for the construction of this upper church. It is appropriate that we gather here today, before returning home to Indiana, after yesterday’s March for Life.
We have been on a pilgrimage these past few days. When we look up at the Trinity Dome mosaic, we see where our pilgrimage of life on earth is headed: to communion with the Most Holy Trinity. We don’t walk this pilgrimage alone. Notice in the mosaic those who accompany and help us with their prayers. We see in the Trinity Dome mosaic a procession of saints who inspire us on our pilgrimage to heaven, saints like Kateri Tekakwitha, Frances Cabrini, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Juan Diego, Pope John Paul II, and a saint who was canonized here 2-½ years ago, Father Junipero Serra. And, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of All Saints.
Notice around the base of the Trinity Dome the words of the entire Nicene Creed. We are united with the saints and with one another in this great profession of faith as we walk the pilgrimage of this life on earth.
Living this faith is not always easy. When Jesus sent the Twelve on mission, He did not delude them with mirages of easy success. On the contrary, He warned them that announcing the Kingdom of God would bring opposition. He even told them that they would be hated for the sake of His name. We are reminded of this every time we celebrate the feast of a martyr, like today, the feast of St. Sebastian.
On the pilgrimage of life, Christians often find themselves in a hostile environment. Third-century Rome was a hostile environment for Christians like Sebastian. We should not be surprised when we encounter hostility today. Why is this? It is because we live in a world marked by sin, which manifests itself in various forms of selfishness and injustice. A disciple of Jesus who believes in His Gospel, the Gospel of life, will encounter difficulties: opposition, ridicule and rejection. So Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.”
We came to Washington to bear witness to the Gospel of life. We oppose the injustice of abortion. With Pope Francis, we cannot accept or buy into a throw-away culture that devalues human life and dignity, in which innocent unborn children are allowed to be destroyed and thrown away, in which poor refugees are not welcomed, and in which the frail elderly and the weak are offered not care and accompaniment, but, in the name of a false compassion, assistance in suicide.
We came to Washington and marched for life yesterday not out of a polemical spirit, but out of love. We believe in the logic of the Gospel. We came out of faithfulness to the logic of the Kingdom of God. When we marched for life, we marched for truth, for justice, and for goodness. But the March for life should not be just one day a year. We are called to walk the path of discipleship every day. And when we face hostility, we should remember the words of St. Peter in today’s first reading: “Even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you.”
St. Peter also teaches something very important as we prepare to return home: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” Hope is one of the marks of an authentic Christian. Even after 45 years of legalized abortion in our country, we still have hope. We don’t despair. The reason for our hope is not just some idea or feeling. The reason for our hope is a Person: Jesus Christ. He conquered hate with love and He conquered death. We live in hope because Jesus rose from the dead. He is our Teacher and Lord who shows us how to live according to the truth and logic of the Kingdom of God. It is the path of love, of overcoming evil with good. It’s the way of the cross. It’s the path of holiness.
We are called to walk in that procession depicted in the Trinity Dome — the procession of the saints — to join great saints like John Paul II and St. Sebastian. They are our heroes. Our greatest hero is the woman in whose house we worship this morning. She is the Immaculate Conception. On our pilgrimage, she is at our side always. We say to her: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” May Mary intercede for us as we return home, so that God may give us the strength to witness to the Gospel of life!
With Mary and the saints, may we put all our hope in Jesus who, in the Holy Eucharist, nourishes and strengthens us to do good, to protect life, and to love, always to love, for love is the path to victory, in the pro-life movement and in life itself. May God bless you!