Words from a March
First, some snips from Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chair of the USCCB's Committee for Pro-Life Activities, delivered at Sunday night's Vigil for Life in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:
Tonight, our first reading from Sacred Scripture leads us to experience solidarity with the chosen people of Israel who assembled at the time of the Restoration of Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C. They came together with the priest Ezra, to listen to God’s word, to be challenged by His commandments and to find strength in His presence. We hear how the people of Israel, after enduring, in hope, both suffering and captivity, offered praise to God. As they listened attentively to His holy word they were moved to tears by the challenge that God’s law presented to them. At this point the prophet Nehemiah intervened, telling the people not to be overwhelmed, not to be sad. He proclaimed: "...today is holy to our Lord.... Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength."And from Archbishop Donald Wuerl's Monday morning homily in the same Shrine:
What the prophet Nehemiah told the people of Israel applies to us, dear Friends, now. Today is holy and our celebration of life is holy to the Lord. Our attitude in the wake of the immense national tragedy of abortion is our sober rejoicing in hope. Indeed, "We have set our hope on the living God."
What then are our reasons for rejoicing?
In the conflict that exists between life and death, between the culture of life and the culture of death we see that something very encouraging is also taking place in our society.
The rate and number of abortions in the United States continue to decline, most notably among teens. Many teenagers are wisely choosing to abstain from sexual activity—motivated both by religious and moral values, and the desire to protect themselves from the epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases that today afflict some sixty million Americans. To be free of disease, to be free of the fear of an ill-timed pregnancy, to be free of a broken heart—this is the freedom that we want for our young people, and we rejoice that it is unfolding.
Another reason to rejoice is that the American people are becoming more pro-life. According to a very significant poll last year, general support for Roe v. Wade fell under fifty percent for the first time since 1973. Most Americans do not support Roe v. Wade, and are against allowing most of the abortions the Court has made legal.
We can, moreover, take heart in knowing that spiritual, educational and legislative efforts are making a big difference in the hearts and minds of so many people of good will. More and more citizens are coming to question abortion and to recognize—as a starting point for deeper conversion—that there is something radically wrong with abortion and the support given it by our laws. There is a growing realization that human life and human dignity cannot be suppressed without immense damage to the entire fabric of our nation and numerous consequences. In the midst of the enormous challenge posed by threats to life, there are new reasons to hope that the truth of God’s law will prevail as a great light in our nation as our people move increasingly toward valuing human life from its earliest and most vulnerable stages onward. This is indeed cause for rejoicing in the Lord!
As we all move forward in hope as citizens confronted with the national disaster resulting from Roe v. Wade, we recall once more the crucial importance of humble and persevering prayer. We also realize how important it is to contribute to the exchange taking place among people of good will. Our position is one of profound concern for the unborn and deep compassion for all those affected by abortion. With utmost respect we express in the public debate our strong conviction that something terribly wrong has weakened our nation—something that flagrantly violates human rights and human dignity, in addition to the law of God. It is necessary for all of us to speak with lucidity in bearing witness to the truth that has such vast consequences.
A great example of this lucidity is found in the way in which Pope John Paul II spoke to Americans just eight years ago this month in the city of St. Louis. Permit me to offer you his own words:
"There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings—people of African descent—outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection.
"After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed.
"America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings—the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered ‘unuseful’—to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences.... My fervent prayer is that through the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life. To choose life...involves rejecting every form of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which oppresses so many human beings; the violence of armed conflict, which does not resolve but only increases divisions and tensions; the violence of particularly abhorrent weapons...; the violence of drug trafficking; the violence of racism; and the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.
"Only a higher moral vision can motivate the choice for life. And the values underlying that vision will greatly depend on whether the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society: the family—teacher of love, service, understanding and forgiveness; the family—open and generous to the needs of others; the family—the great wellspring of human happiness."
Some months ago at a high school that I visited in this Archdiocese I was asked by one of the students: What does the Church bring to our culture, our society? What does the Church offer me? What does the Church have to say to the world today?
What the Church brings to our world, to our culture, to our society, to our nation, to our lives, to you and to me, is the encounter with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, and the Word of God, the voice and gospel of life.
The proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of the gospel of life. When we ask, why does the Church struggle so hard to defend human life, the answer will be found, I believe, in what will be history’s reproach of this age that condones the single greatest moral plight in our nation since the days of slavery.
Have you ever wondered how the great atrocities of history came to be? How is it that there were concentration camps dedicated to the extermination of people? How could it be that slavery – the reduction of human beings to the status of property – was protected by law? How is it possible that the wholesale destruction of human life can be accepted by society? When we look at the magnitude of the evil we are dealing with, one wonders how such activities could be accepted by any people anywhere at any time.
Silence is the ally of atrocity. Sometimes the silence of individuals is compounded by the means of social communication. The full horror of what is taking place can be presented in a way that most people remain ignorant of what is really happening. Silence and ignorance are twin allies of atrocities....
When all of the arguments surrounding the abortion issue are viewed rationally, honestly and calmly, they do not justify the final and drastic decision to take the life of an unborn child. In varying degrees there can be vexing, painful and pressing circumstances that call for a great deal of assistance, understanding, compassion and support, but they never justify the taking of the innocent life of the baby in the womb.
A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a maternity hospital, supported and sustained by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in Chimbote, Peru — one of the poorest parts of a country with a large, struggling population of poor and needy. I had forgotten how strong a newborn child can be. At the invitation of the Sisters running the maternity ward, I picked up a newly born, one-day-old infant.
The baby latched onto my finger with all of his force and held tight. It was as if the baby already knew that his mother, because of her poverty, disability and many other needs, was going to give him up for adoption. He held on with all of his strength.
That infant can be a parable figure for us. Countless unborn infants are reaching out to hold on to us with all of their strength since we are the only voice they have in their struggle to find a place, a home, a life in this world.
Why does the Church speak so strongly, consistently and persistently in defense of human life? Why are you – we – here this morning? We are present in order that unborn children, in the millions around this world, have someone to hold onto, someone to cling to, someone who will speak for and protect them.
As we observe the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand and removed the political consensus that sought to regulate this destructive human action, we must not lose sight of the fact that more that 1.5 million unborn children are killed each year in the United States alone.
What adds to the harm afflicted on our society by abortion is the concerted effort to make such violence acceptable. Through laws and public policy that justify the taking of human life solely because it is inconvenient to someone, we engender in the hearts of our people especially our young, the next generation, the idea that death is a solution to a problem. The lesson has been too well learned. Violence does beget violence.
PHOTO: CNS/Nancy Wiechec