Catholics must not be indifferent, discouraged in cause of life
Homily from the Mass at March for Life – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Jan. 22.
The Catholic Church in the United States observes today, Jan. 22, as a “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.” We do so since it was on January 22, 1973, that the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion across our nation in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision. The next year, the first March for Life was held. I remember as a sophomore in high school my classmates and I discussing the great injustice of the Roe v. Wade decision. As seniors, we participated in the second March for Life here in D.C.
It has been 49 years since Roe v. Wade, and because of that decision, millions of unborn children have never seen the light of day. That decision has affected our culture deeply and led to a serious distortion in our society, a completely individualistic concept of freedom – the freedom to take another’s life, the freedom to kill the most vulnerable among us, the child in the womb. This year, there is a real atmosphere of hope that the Supreme Court may overcome Roe v. Wade as it considers the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, the most consequential challenge to Roe v. Wade in many years. Let us pray fervently during these months that the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, will illumine the minds of our Supreme Court justices.
Roe v. Wade has contributed greatly to the serious moral decline that has taken place in our nation during these past 50 plus years. Many people find it more difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the most basic value, the value of human life. Pope St. John Paul II rightly called the culture that has been formed “a culture of death.” The permitting of the killing of the weakest and most innocent human beings is done in the name of freedom of choice or the rights of women. St. John Paul II wrote: “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom.”
God has given us the great gift of freedom. This gift is fulfilled through the gift of self and openness to others. It is violated when it leads to the harm and destruction of others. Freedom to take the life of a child not yet born or to take the life of a person near the end of his/her life becomes a freedom of the strong against the weak and tramples upon the most fundamental human right, the right to life. (cf. EV 12)
In our first reading today, St. John wrote: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother.” We’re all familiar with the story in the book of Genesis about Cain killing his brother Abel, the first murder. After Cain murdered his brother, “The Lord said to Cain: ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ Cain answered, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.’” This fratricide happened at the very dawn of history. That evil has continued and spread throughout history. How many attacks on human life have occurred since then!
Cain tried to cover up his crime with a lie. Throughout history, all kinds of ideologies have tried to justify and disguise atrocious crimes against human beings. Cain refused to accept responsibility for his crime. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he asked. The answer should be: yes, I am. As St. John teaches so emphatically, we are to love one another. We are to be in solidarity with one another, especially with those who are weakest among us, the unborn, the elderly, the infirm, children, and refugees. There is a lot of indifference in the world to their plight, so much so that Pope Francis has called this a “globalization of indifference.” Many, perhaps without saying it aloud, cynically repeat what Cain said: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Notice that St. John said that “Cain belonged to the evil one.” How delighted Satan is when we are indifferent to the plight of our brothers and sisters in need, especially the little ones in their mothers’ wombs. Crimes against life continue and are even given legitimacy as happened 49 years ago with the Roe v. Wade decision with its assertion of the right to abortion.
We must not become discouraged in the face of various manifestations of the culture of death in our nation and in our world. There are also many signs of the promotion of a culture of life, like the March for Life yesterday. There are people all across our nation working every day for the cause of life, thousands of centers and initiatives supporting women who are in difficulty and may be tempted to have recourse to abortion. There are thousands of people who are not indifferent, who recognize that we are our brother’s keeper. There are many movements and initiatives to educate people on the sanctity of human life. And there are countless numbers of people who, through everyday works of mercy, are serving life, freely giving themselves out of love for their neighbor, especially for the weak and the needy. They are helping to build a civilization of love and life. Most are motivated to do so by their faith; faith in God as the Creator, faith in “the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us,” as we heard in today’s Gospel from the Prologue of St. John.
The Second Vatican Council taught that “by His Incarnation, the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human being” (GS 22). In becoming man, he shows us the incomparable value of every human person” (EV 2).
In speaking of the eternal Word through whom all things came to be, St. John says: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” All things came to be through the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Life came to be through Him – human life on this earth leading to eternal life with God. God called us into being so that we can eternally be with Him, sharing in His life.
Though there is darkness in the world, though there is a culture of death in many places, we must always remember that the light shines in the darkness. There is all manner of evil and death in the world, but the light of the Word, Jesus, the Word made flesh, shines in the darkness. John’s whole Gospel is an invitation to embrace the light and not remain in darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We must never forget this truth.
In a world of conflict between light and darkness, the death and resurrection of Jesus shows us that the victory belongs to the light. It is the victory of love. We celebrate this victory at every Mass, the living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Eucharist strengthens us to proclaim and to serve the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of life and love.
The Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. We celebrate this Mass here in her church, the beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine named in her honor. At the Annunciation, Mary said yes to life when she consented to be the mother of the Incarnate Son of God. She lovingly carried Him in her womb and cared for Him. She is our model of how life should be welcomed and cared for. We ask for her intercession for the cause of life, for the babies in their mothers’ wombs waiting to be born and for their mothers and fathers. We ask her to give us the courage to defend life, even in the face of criticism and opposition, and to persevere in our witness to her Son and His Gospel, the Gospel of life!