National Prayer Vigil for Life Closing Mass
January 22, 2009
Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Dear Brother Priests,
Deacons, Consecrated Religious, Seminarians,
Dear Young People of the Church, Brothers and Sisters in Christ and those countless thousands who are linked with us this morning by means of the Eternal Word Television Network,
All of you who support and defend life in your daily prayer and through you unfailing witness,
I greet you in the name of Christ Jesus, our Hope and Lord of Life!
The atmosphere is charged with words and with the realities conveyed by these words: change, accountability, responsibility and, above all, hope! The people of life and for life are fundamentally a people of hope! We are that people of life and for life because we are a people of hope.
The hope of which I speak is not rooted or anchored in an ideal or even in a dream or vision, although the scriptures speak of old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions. The hope of which I speak is a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, the one and only Savior of the human race. He alone is the source of authentic and enduring hope! He is, in fact, Hope Incarnate!
The Lord Jesus is our hope because He is our Savior. By His Cross and Resurrection, He has put an end to the permanence of evil, sin, suffering and human death; He has opened for us the fountain of life-giving water, in a word, salvation! As He Himself has told us, "I came that they might have life and have it to the full."
This hope in Him is described so beautifully by Saint Paul in his Letter initially to the Christians of Rome and now to us. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?...For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord." This word of hope both reminds us and energizes us to be, in name and in fact, pro life. Precisely because we are a people of life and for life, we necessarily oppose anything and everything which unjustly takes away human life from its first moment at conception all the way through its various stages of development to its last moment at natural death.
The names are varied and all too familiar, including abortion, partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, mercy-killing, and physician-assisted suicide, but the reality is always the same: the unjust taking away of human life, God's greatest gift to us on the human level. Especially heinous and heart-rending is the unjust taking away of the life of an innocent, defenseless, pre-born human being.
Earlier in this Holy Mass, we prayed: "Help us to work without ceasing for that justice which brings true and lasting peace." There is no greater act of injustice than to take away deliberately and intentionally human life at its very beginning in the womb.
Abortion for any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy, abortion on demand, which the Supreme Court legalized on this very day in 1973, deprives an entire class of human beings the most fundamental right of all rights, the right to life. So, the most basic and immediate restoration of justice must be guaranteeing, upholding and protecting the right to life of every human being, beginning with the most vulnerable of all, the child in the womb.
Two days ago, we witnessed the inauguration of the 44th president of these United States, the first African-American to be elected to the highest office in our land. We welcome him, his new Administration and a new Congress. We pledge our prayers and our willingness to work with those in public office wherever we can. We affirm our commitment to proclaim what is right and good in conformity with the truth even when doing so leads us to a respectful and honest protest. After all, we are mindful of Mr. Obama's words in his acceptance speech on election night, "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree."
In his inauguration address, President Obama reminded us that in times of crisis, "we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forefathers and true to our founding documents." Does not our Declaration of Independence articulate this most basic of human rights: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? If the right to life is not upheld and defended, then there can be no right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. President Obama held up before this nation "...the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." Yes, all people inherit this promise, including the smallest and most vulnerable: the human being alive in the womb from conception onwards.
In recent months, some have been arguing that we should not focus on policies that provide help for pregnant women, but just focus on the essential task of establishing legal protections for children in the womb. Others are arguing that providing life-affirming support for pregnant women should be our only focus and that this should take the place of efforts to establish legal protections for unborn children. However, our faith requires us to oppose evil and to do good, to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies. Moreover, we are being urged to concentrate only on reducing the number of abortions. Our response is unequivocal and absolutely clear: our goal is not the reduction of abortions but the elimination of all abortions!
In fact, this is precisely why we are gathered here in Mary's House, in this beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our nation's capital. We were here last evening for the Opening Mass of the Prayer Vigil and also at nearby Masses for the overflow crowd, and for the Prayer Vigil that continued all night until the beginning of this Mass. Twenty thousand of us will assemble at the Verizon Center later this morning, as well as the many thousands more in additional overflow Masses. More than 150,000 will march for life in Washington and thousands more will march in other cities across this land reaching to the West Coast. How encouraged and blessed we are by the presence and participation of you, the young Church in America!
Yes, all of us, including our youth, are for life! This is why we are marching this day, why we have marched for 36 years and why we will continue to march until these unjust attacks on human life are no more! In so doing, we are heeding the counsel of Saint Paul in today's second reading from his Letter to the Philippians: "Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me." We have heard and received the Gospel of Life! Our witness to life and for life is ongoing, because the people of hope do not give up! Hope sustains us to persevere and to prevail
Not only today but in the days and months ahead, we shall be relentless in our support of and witness to life. This coming weekend throughout most of our nation – and at other times as well, we shall be participating in a national Fight FOCA Postcard Campaign. Why is this campaign so needed and necessary?
The "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA) is a radical piece of legislation that creates a "fundamental right" to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy. No governmental body at any level—federal, state, or local—would be able to "deny or interfere with" this right, or to "discriminate" against its exercise "in the regulation or provision of benefits, services, or information." For the first time, abortion would become an entitlement the government must fund and promote.
FOCA goes far beyond the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade abortion decision of 1973. A broad range of laws currently allowed under Roe would be eliminated—informed consent laws; parental involvement laws; laws promoting maternal health; abortion clinic regulations; government programs and facilities that support childbirth and other health care without subsidizing abortion; conscience protection laws; laws prohibiting a particular abortion procedure (e.g., partial-birth abortion); laws requiring that abortions only be performed by a licensed physician; and so on. No other piece of legislation would have such a destructive impact on society's ability to limit or regulate abortion. FOCA would impose an extreme abortion regimen on our country. Despite its misleading name, it would deprive the American people of the freedom they now have to set at least some limits on the abortion industry.
More detailed information about this campaign and the postcards themselves had been placed at the information counters on the lower level of the Shrine last evening and people were asked to pick up the cards and mail them. I want to tell you that every postcard has already been taken. What a testimony to life! But this should not surprise us, for our ongoing witness to life will not be stopped. After all, the people of hope do not give up! Hope sustains us to persevere and to prevail!
I repeat: our hope is not in an ideal or in a dream or a vision, but in a Person: the Lord Jesus Christ! This is why first, last and everywhere in between, we turn to the Lord in prayer: prayer at home, personal and communal; prayer in the Church, liturgical and public. And to this prayer, we add penance, for we recall Jesus' words: "This kind you can drive out only by prayer and fasting."
We are gathered here this morning to take part in the most powerful of all prayers: this Eucharistic Sacrifice. Indeed, Saint Paul exhorts us in today's second reading: "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God."
We have come here, seeking forgiveness for those times when we failed to support or to witness to the sanctity of life, whether through fear or apathy or the lack of awareness, or, God forgive us, downright disobedience and disregard for the sanctity of life. But here, the Lord is saying to us through the prophet Isaiah: "I will not accuse you forever, nor always be angry;...I saw their ways, but I will heal and lead them; I will give full comfort to them and to those who mourn for them, I the Creator, who gave them life."
We have come here, seeking deepened awareness and understanding. Saint Paul tells us in today's second reading "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,...think about these things." Yes, abortion is an act of injustice; it is not honorable and it opposes the truth about life! Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit who "will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."
We are here, seeking a massive conversion of hearts! Although laws prohibiting abortion and supporting life are needed and necessary, in the end, the conversion of hearts is crucial! We storm heaven, asking for this grace above all other graces: the conversion of hearts.
We are here, seeking renewed strength and zeal to proclaim and to live the Gospel of Life, because this proclamation and witness will engender even greater hope and, in turn, hope will fuel ever stronger witness!
Our prayer is answered here. Hope comes to us, beyond words: the Lord Jesus Himself, Hope Incarnate! He embraces us in Holy Communion: He sends us forth, so that by word and deed, we may live the Gospel of Life and witness to Him, Christ Our Hope! He sends us forth today into the streets of this nation's capital, and later, into the streets where we live, not to be violent or cynical, not to crush those who are already burdened by their participation, often without full consent, in abortion. We are sent forth to proclaim hope, the hope that forgives and heals, the hope that strengthens and enables all of us in our efforts to eliminate abortion and to promote life! This is the hope that, through God's grace and only with His grace, will empower us to overturn the current culture of death and to restore and to intensify the new culture of life.
Brothers and sisters, the atmosphere is charged with words and with the realities conveyed by these words: change, accountability, responsibility and, above all, hope! We will remain steadfast in our commitment to change the culture of death into the culture of life. We will remain accountable to God and to the Church for proclaiming the Gospel of Life and we will remain responsible for upholding life from conception to natural death and in every stage in between.
This is our time, the time to become even more a people of life and for life, because we are, in Christ and with Christ, a people of hope—today, tomorrow and all days until the victory of life is won—for the glory of God and the salvation of the world! Amen.