National Prayer Vigil for Life Opening Mass
January 21, 2009
Most Reverend Joseph Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas
Trinity Washington University Notre Dame Chapel
Passing a Cultural Threshold
It has been an eventful week in Washington with the inauguration of our new President, Barak Obama – our first president of African-American descent. Similar to John F. Kennedy's election, signaling a turning point in the diminishment of religious bigotry, Barak Obama's election signifies a mortal blow to the racial prejudice that has scarred our nation since its inception. Just as John F. Kennedy's election did not mean that anti-Catholicism was eliminated from our culture, the election of Barak Obama, unfortunately, does not mean all racism has been eradicated from American society. However, it does symbolize an enormous cultural change that has taken place in our nation.
Regardless of our profound disagreements with President Obama's positions on fundamental moral issues, we can and should rejoice that his election signals the crossing of a cultural thresh-hold. Our nation has taken another important step away from the lingering effects of the evils of slavery, segregation and racism and towards becoming a nation where one is not judged on the color of one's skin but upon the content of one's character. We all must pray for President Obama that the Lord will give him wisdom and strength as he assumes the enormous responsibility of leading our nation in a time of menacing national security threats, as well as a grave economic crisis.
At the same time, I am not suggesting that we succumb to Obama-mania that has infected many in the nation. I was at a gathering in Kansas City recently where a speaker talked about things that were B.O. (Before Obama) and what he anticipated would be A.O. (After Obama). We do our new President no favor by speaking of him in messianic terms.
Just Let the Abortion Go Away
While we celebrate the important threshold our nation has crossed, we gather tonight on the vigil of the March for Life, on the eve of the 36th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions of our Supreme Court that, in effect, struck down every state statute protecting the lives of innocent unborn children. In 1973 the Court usurped the right of the people and their elected representatives from determining public policy on abortion. Their decision has divided and frustrated our nation for the past 36 years.
We live in perilous times for our nation, society and civilization. Our nation is fighting three wars: 1) in Iraq, 2) in Afghanistan and 3) a war against terrorism – a war without boundaries or borders against an enemy whose principal desire is to frighten, harm and kill Americans in order, ultimately, to destroy America itself. We face the worst economic crisis that our nation has experienced in the past 75 years. Yet, I believe, the most serious threat to the health and future of our nation is a moral crisis – a struggle for the very soul of our nation.
There are many in our country who wish the abortion issue would just go away. In fact, I wish that the abortion issue would go away. I wish that our nation tomorrow would choose to protect again by law the sanctity of each and every human life before birth and would make the commitment to surround every couple facing an untimely pregnancy with love, compassion, support and resources to give them the opportunity to care for their child.
However, what many people mean when they say they want the abortion issue to go away is that you, I and millions of other pro-life Americans stop caring about abortion public policy. They want us to get over it and just accept the state-sanctioned killing of unborn children in our nation. They want an end or at least a truce to what has been called the culture wars.
Yet, it is a one-sided cease fire that is proposed. They want to remove the modest existing limitations on abortion. They want to deny conscience rights to doctors, nurses and health care institutions that do not want to be involved with abortion. They want us to be docile to an imperial Judiciary that not only wants to prohibit our elected representatives from determining our nation's policy on abortion, but has shown, in a few state high courts, a desire to redefine marriage and family. They want us to acquiesce to the creation of test tube babies, created in laboratories, to supply replacement parts for those already born. They want us simply not to care about the tens of thousands of human embryos in cold storage – in a man-made limbo.
These legislative leaders and pundits argue that America has to focus all of its attention on solving the economic crisis and winning the war against terror. They maintain that we do not have the luxury, as a nation, to waste time on these social issues. In this, they are terribly mistaken.
In fact, how we resolve abortion and other fundamental moral issues will largely determine the character of our nation and our ability to contend successfully with external and internal threats to our nation. How we settle the abortion issue will determine if we choose to be a nation of self-indulgence, willing to pay any price, even the deaths of our own children, for our insatiable pursuit for pleasure or a nation who will sacrifice heroically to protect and provide for the weakest and most vulnerable. They are the same values and principles – heroic sacrifice, discipline, respect for the rights of others, fidelity to the truth – that are critical for rebuilding our economy and protecting ourselves from foreign enemies.
A Settled Legal Question
In the last election, there was a well orchestrated campaign, by some prominent Catholics, to encourage Americans to accept abortion as a "settled" legal issue. It has been 36 years since the Supreme Court's decisions that, in effect, legalized abortion. They would argue that our culture and society have grown accustomed to abortion. We should concentrate our efforts on minimizing abortions which usually means some very modest support for crisis pregnancy centers and an aggressive effort to provide contraceptives to teens and all women in child-bearing years.
In this area, I believe that the election of Barak Obama is very instructive. If you go back to pre-civil war days, you will discover similar rhetoric about the issue of slavery. If you study late 19th century and early 20th century American history, you will find arguments for the acceptance of "Jim Crow" laws and segregation as a settled issue.
As we celebrate the inauguration of our first President of African-American descent, I say: Thank God that the abolitionists, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and other heroes of the Civil Rights Movement did not acquiesce to the acceptance of injustices that seemed so entrenched in law and society. President Obama's election illustrates that important societal changes may take over a century and require great personal sacrifice to be accomplished. Thank God for you and the tens of thousands of others who will join you tomorrow to say to our President and our Congress that abortion is not a settled issue in our nation.
More Somber Gathering in 2009
In many ways, our gathering this January 22, 2009 is more somber than those in recent years. Even though recent polling data confirms again that the vast majority of Americans do not support the radial abortion license imposed by the Court in 1973, we know that we have lost ground in both chambers of Congress. We have a President who has indicated that he will use his executive powers to advance abortion, who has expressed an eagerness to sign the most radical pro-abortion legislation ever proposed – the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, and who, we have every reason to believe, will fill our courts with activist judges who support Roe v. Wade and its progeny.
If we trusted only in our own human power and ingenuity, we would despair. In many ways, we seem no match for the powers that are arrayed against us. Pro-abortion advocates feel they control the White House and the Congress. They dominate the academy. They have the sympathy and collaboration of the mainstream media (the vast majority of newspapers and network television and radio stations). They overwhelmingly outnumber the pro-life presence in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. In many ways, we seem as mismatched as David was against Goliath.
The Low-born, the Weak, the Foolish, the Despised
Recently, I was listening to an interview on Public Radio Station with a comedian whose name I do not know. Unfortunately, like many professional comedians today evidently a part of his style is to use vulgar, profane, crude words and images. In defending his use of such language, he told the story of a deceased comedian whom he reveres. His comedic mentor was tired of the abortion issue getting so much attention. He quoted his idol as having quipped once: "Did you ever notice how the people who are against abortion are people to whom you would never want to make love?"
Actually, he said something much cruder, but you get the point. The interviewer and the interviewee thought this was just a hilarious quip. It was broadcast on a radio network that prides itself in being politically correct and sensitive. The bottom line, this comedian's hero was calling you and I ugly and unattractive. Had he made such a statement about almost any other group there would have been a huge outcry. He would have been compelled to make a public apology and, even so, he would have lost many work engagements.
I thought of this when I was reading tonight's first reading in which Paul describes the type of person that the Lord likes to use. Paul tells the Corinthians that God uses the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to vanquish the strong, the lowly and despised to humble those who think they are really something.
In the 7th Chapter of the Book of Judges, the author describes the Lord preparing Gideon to do battle against Midian. God tells Gideon that he has too many soldiers. Were he to win with such an army, the Israelites would credit their superior numbers and strength. He tells Gideon to excuse any of his soldiers that are fearful. Gideon's army was reduced immediately from 22,000 to 10,000.
Yet, the Lord felt that Gideon still had too big of an army. He tells Gideon to take his soldiers to a river stream and observe how his men drink the water. He is to keep those who lap water like a dog and send away the rest. Gideon is left with only 300 dog-lapping men. Gideon and his band of three hundred defeat Midian by surrounding the enemy camp creating a chaos by blowing horns, breaking jars and yelling. This tactic throws the camp of Midian into a panic and in their fright they destroy each other.
If we feel weak against the power of abortion advocates, if we feel not well connected with those in power, if we feel despised and looked down upon then we should rejoice because we are perfect for God's army. The weaker, the more incompetent, the more ill-equipped we seem in the world's estimation, the better suited we are to make it clear that it is God that is working through us.
St. Agnes Patron for Youth
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Virgin-Martyr, St. Agnes. Although the historical data about Agnes is scarce, she was one of the most revered saints of the early Church. The commemoration of her heroic martyrdom is found in the earliest Roman calendar (354 AD) and in the earliest Roman sacramentaries. She gained the admiration and captured the imagination of the early Christians, in part, because of her youth (she was only 12) at the time of her martyrdom and because of her purity. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and St. Jerome all wrote about St. Agnes.
St. Agnes is an apt patron for our gathering because of her youth, her incredible faith and her beautiful chastity. St. Ambrose described hers as a "twin martyrdom" because she was a witness to her faith in Jesus and a witness to virtue – not willing to compromise her modesty to save her life in this world.
The annual March for Life is always a powerful experience, in part because of the goodness of the young people who come each year to advocate for the unborn. St. Ambrose describes the amazement of people at the heroism of Agnes because she was so young. Ambrose states: "...that one not yet of legal age can give her testimony to God. So she succeeds in convincing others of her testimony about God, though her testimony in human affairs could not yet be accepted." Like St. Agnes, so many young are here today manifesting a wisdom, much greater than many who are much older, by standing up for the sanctity of human life for the most vulnerable – the unborn.
Pope Benedict, commenting after the great gathering of young people from around the world for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, proclaimed: "The Church is young!" This annual March for Life reveals that the Pro-Life movement is young!
St. Agnes Patron for Chastity
St. Agnes is also an apt patron for us because of her remarkable chastity. Again, St. Ambrose describes Agnes in these words: "In the midst of tears, she sheds no tears herself. The crowds marvel at her recklessness in throwing away her life untasted, as if she had already lived life to the full." Agnes chose not to save her life by granting sexual favors to those with worldly authority over her.
We know that underneath the abortion policies in our nation is a distortion of the understanding of the human person. This distortion manifests itself not just in the denial of the humanity of the unborn child. A major reason why so many believe we need abortion is to be able to eliminate inconvenient lives that are conceived because of our culture's desire to be unrestrained in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.
It is no accident that legalized abortion became a reality in our nation in the wake of the so-called "sexual revolution" that sought to separate the life-giving power of sexual intimacy from its love-giving power. The sexual revolution's attempt to redefine the meaning of sexual intimacy – as being exclusively the pursuit of pleasure and the failure of contraceptives to always prevent the conception of new life – made abortion a necessary back-up for failed contraception.
St. Agnes stands as a complete contradiction to the wisdom of our time that believes the absolute freedom of sexual expression is essential for happiness and meaningful life. We will never be able to completely correct abortion and its surrounding issues without re-establishing the true meaning of sexual intimacy: namely that it is only authentic when the complete physical gift of oneself to another corresponds to the complete and permanent commitment to the welfare of the other as expressed in the marital vows. It is in this context that a couple is best equipped to welcome a new life and best prepared to nurture and care for a child.
St. Agnes Patron of Courage
Finally, St. Agnes is the patron of courage born of a true faith in the God who revealed the depth of His love for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. St. Agnes, along with so many other martyrs of the early Church, was a witness to the eternal hope that is ours as disciples of Jesus.
Again St. Ambrose describes the remarkable courage of Agnes: "You could see fear in the eyes of the executioner, as if he were the one condemned; his right hand trembled, his face grew pale as he saw the girl's peril, while she had no fear herself."
How is this possible? It is possible because St. Agnes had discovered the pearl of great price – the one that was worth selling everything else to acquire – the love of Jesus Christ.
St. Agnes knew that her dignity did not depend on what others thought of her, nor her happiness on the experience of the pleasures of the flesh, nor even protecting her life in this world. St. Agnes knew that all that she needed was to know God's love and share in His life – eternal life.
Life Will Be Victorious
We, who come to march in our nation's capitol, on behalf of the innocent lives of unborn children do so because we have experienced God's love for us. We have come to understand our true dignity as one so precious in the eyes of God that His Son, Jesus gave His life on Calvary for us. This is a dignity that the State cannot grant us nor deny us. It is a dignity we also understand we share with every other member of the human family, no matter race, ethnicity, sex, social standing, age or stage of development.
We come to advocate for the life and dignity of unborn children. We come to attempt to protect others from knowing the inconsolable pain of a post-abortive mother or father. We come to assure those who suffer, because of their involvement with abortion, that there is hope, healing and mercy for them. We come also for those who advocate for and support legalized abortion to invite them to a change of heart – to call them forth from the culture of death into the culture of life.
We come to rescue the soul of our nation – to challenge it as did the abolitionists, as did Abraham Lincoln, as did the Civil Rights Movement, as did Martin Luther King Jr., to be true to its own principles of protecting the most fundamental right, a right that no state has the authority to deny and a right that every state has an obligation to protect.
The armies amassed against us can seem overwhelming. Like Gideon's band of soldiers, we come to sound the trumpet and raise our voice against an opponent who appears much more numerous and powerful. Like David, we must be unconcerned about the size of the giant we combat. We must not cower in fear because he is so big and appears so strong. Though our weapons appear as inconsequential as David's sling shot, we look upon the Goliath of the abortion industry as a target so large our pebbles cannot miss. We are confident that the Lord will guide our humble efforts as He guided the pebble from David's sling in order to achieve His victory.
In the end, we know the victory has already been won. We know that the truth is irrepressible. We know that the culture of death built on lies and deceit cannot stand. We know, as did Agnes, as did the Christian martyrs through the ages and right up to the present day, that we carry within these earthen vessels the pearl of great price – the very life of God. We know that life indeed will be victorious and we are privileged in whatever way the Lord desires to use us to be part of its great unfolding.
Praise Be Jesus Christ, now and forever and ever. Amen.