National Prayer Vigil for Life Opening Mass
January 21, 2009
Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport
St. Vincent Chapel Catholic University of America
Every year, just before Christmas, I have a very important appointment to keep. It is with a special group of young people, students at St. Catherine Academy located in the Diocese I serve, in Fairfield, Connecticut. In fact, I wouldn't dream of celebrating Christmas without first seeing these young people and the Christmas pageant they put on. I'm one of their biggest fans.
For, you see, the students at St. Catherine Academy suffer from severe disabilities – physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. They require one-on-one assistance from specially trained and very dedicated teachers and aides. To put on this Christmas play, they have to overcome huge obstacles: it's a tremendous accomplishment to read a few sentences or to say a line at the right time, or to be in the right place.
But every year it comes together, one year better than the last. And it is the very best of pageants because no one puts their hearts into Christmas more than these kids. Some very powerful people in our culture think that children like these should never be brought into the world!
Lord, you choose those considered weak in the eyes of the world not only to shame the strong but indeed to sing your praises – and to show us the God-given dignity with which you've endowed each person from the moment of conception until natural death.
We live in a world prone to disregard the precious gift of life, especially when it appears to be wrapped in a package that is inconvenient, small, costly, difficult, or different.
But we can change.
Last Tuesday, we inaugurated our first African-American President – something unthinkable just a generation or two ago. Why? Because a sizeable part of our population did not admit the full humanity of African-Americans – including the dignity and rights with which the Creator endowed them.
We have overcome. And we shall overcome again.
As President Obama begins his term of office we pray that he and the Congress will come to recognize and protect the dignity of each person from the moment of conception until natural death. Only then will our leaders be like Melchezedek – whom we met in the first reading: righteous leaders, a force for peace at home and abroad. For, in the memorable words of Blessed Mother Theresa, "the greatest destroyer of peace in the world is abortion."
In the name of those whom the world considers weak, we unite in calling upon our government, fellow citizens, and fellow believers to commit to securing legal protection for the unborn. It is not enough to try to address the social conditions that foment abortion; we must also recognize the God's given dignity of the unborn by legally protecting their lives. No human rights movement chooses between the promise of a better life and legal protection for the weak and oppressed.
Neither should we.
That is why we must stand shoulder to shoulder in resolutely opposing the Freedom of Choice Act – one of the most radical pieces of pro-abortion legislation ever. If enacted it would, with the stroke of a pen, wipe out 36 years of pro-life progress at the federal and state levels – all laws banning partial birth abortion; all laws requiring parental notification before a minor undergoes an abortion; all laws protecting the freedom of conscience of healthcare workers; all laws protecting the rights of faith-based hospitals and clinics. And we must be wary of the Freedom of Access to Health Care Act and other legislation that may try to do piecemeal what F.O.C.A. aims to do all at once.
We must send our leaders a clear signal: "Don't do this!"
In tonight's Gospel, Jesus, under the disapproving glare of the Pharisees, cures a man's withered hand. The Pharisees could not see the miracle of love taking place before their eyes. They had no regard for the man or his need for healing – they only sought to destroy the healer, Christ.
We should not be surprised when this mystery in Christ's life repeats itself in ours – he told us we would not be accepted any more than He was! Under the disapproving glare of many the Church seeks to heal the deep wound that abortion has inflicted on our nation's soul – a wound comprised of 50 million innocent children, victims of abortion.
This is a wound that is also deeply personal in the souls of those who have made this tragic choice or aided and abetted it. Compassionate in our love for life, we must support every sound effort toward post-abortion healing.
"Make us instruments, O Lord, in softening the hardness of heart that remains impervious to the gift and miracle of life. Help us heal the wounds which whither the hopes of a nation!"
What will it take to change hearts, to change laws, to improve lives, and to protect the lives of the unborn?
It will take unremitting effort, new strategies, robust participation in democracy, wisdom in arguing our case ... and prayer ... daily assiduous prayer ... for the cause of life.
It will also take witnesses. Priests to preach the Gospel of Life! Religious who live the Gospel with a radical love! Families who practice the faith and live the Gospel of life! The civil rights movement is unthinkable without those witnesses who put their lives on the line for the cause of racial justice. They overcame. Can we do less?
Today we pray to just such a witness, a 12 year old girl named Agnes. She died rather than surrender her chastity & thus her spousal love for Christ. Pray for us, St. Agnes, that we may be those witnesses the world needs in order to create a true culture of life.
Grant us, Lord, the courage to pray, to march, to plead for the cause of life!
In your grace, Lord, we shall overcome.