This year, however, the preach's prominence and import is even bigger still. While Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. returned to the pulpit for his second year (of three) as USCCB chair for Pro-Life Activities, of course, events on the wider scene since last time – the ascent of Francis and the Pope's designation of the 69 year-old cardinal as his principal North American adviser – have recast the context, both in terms of the ecclesial turf and, indeed, the negative perceptions of the new pontiff maintained by some of the base's more vocal exponents.
As O'Malley himself sized up the dynamic in an August speech, "some people think that the Holy Father should talk more about abortion," giving the response that Francis "speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the church’s teaching on abortion.
"We oppose abortion not because we are mean or old fashioned," the cardinal said, "but because we love people. And that is what we must show the world."
In years past, the March Eve homily reflected a tone akin to a "State of the Union" speech for the pro-life movement: a pep talk brimming with applause-lines to affirm and prod on the faithful. But this time around, O'Malley drove a very different message, a shift underscored by his choice of Gospel for tonight's Mass – John's account of Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in adultery... and most pointedly, those who would seek to judge her.
Accordingly, the cardinal received no applause until he finished, and compared with the customary vibe in the room, the ovation was palpably tepid at that. Then again, in last year's Life Mass message, O'Malley shared a story from his own past, which has proven rather prophetic given his life over the time since:
I am always a little surprised when I’m invited to preach here. You see, many years ago as a young priest I was preaching at a big Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. It was the Independence Day for Argentina during a very difficult period of their history [i.e. the military dictatorship and the "Dirty War"]. I spoke on John Paul the Second’s teachings on human rights; and the whole congregation got up and left during the homily. Instinctively I knew that 800 people were not all going to the restroom.
I was, of course, concerned what the Archbishop would do to me. When the affair was reported to Cardinal Baum, he said, “Whenever Friar Seán preaches, I want the collection taken up before the Gospel.” It would appear that no one has warned them here tonight since the collection has not yet been taken up.
* * *Working in numerous citations from the Argentine who's since become Pope – and going beyond abortion to touch on life issues ranging from adoption to poverty and immigration – here's full video of O'Malley's preach tonight before the packed Shrine, its 5,000 seats overflowed into the usual standing-room crowd despite several inches of snow.
Through the night, "Mary's House" traditionally becomes the capital's biggest hotel as, by the thousands, marchers take up every inch of the nation's largest church with sleeping bags to keep vigil and get at least a bit of rest before the midday demonstrations on the National Mall.
Before step-off time, two other major liturgies will mark the morning: the 7.30am close of the all-night watch in the Shrine, to be celebrated by the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and at 10am downtown, the capital archdiocese's own mega-Mass and rally for some 28,000 in the Verizon Center (plus closed-circuit overflows elsewhere), led by DC's Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the freshly-named US member of the Congregation for Bishops. (While Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM of Philadelphia was scheduled to preside at the former liturgy, the day's 13 inches of snow on the city made the trip impossible. It is no small thing, however, that – in Viganò's presence – Chaput sent the text of his high-octane homily to be delivered in his absence.)
Across the Stateside church, meanwhile, January 22nd is observed as a day of prayer and penance "for the legal protection of unborn children."
SVILUPPO: As part of a Roe anniversary media push, O'Malley gave an interview for Wednesday's editions of the Boston Herald to highlight both the church's pro-life work and, indeed, how "this Holy Father [is] making such an emphasis on the church’s ministry as a ministry of mercy and of healing."
Asked along the way about Francis' widely-blared statement in the Antonio Spadaro interview that the church "cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," Bergoglio's counselor gave the following notable response....
“The normal Catholic in the parish might hear a sermon on abortion once a year. They’ll never hear a sermon on homosexuality or gay marriage. They’ll never hear a sermon about contraception. But if you look at the New York Times, in the course of a week, there will be 20 articles on those topics. So who is obsessed? Now, the Church’s positions are very clear and very consistent. For us, life is at the very center of our social teachings. Life is precious. It is a mystery. It must be nurtured, protected, the transmission of life is sacred. And our defense of human life is a great service to society. When the state begins to decide who is worthy of living and who isn’t, all human rights are put in jeopardy, but the voice of the church is very clear. And we’re not just saying that life is precious in the womb but life is precious when someone has Alzheimer’s when someone has AIDS when someone is poor when someone has mental illness. Their humanity is not diminished – and they have a claim on our love and on our services. So the church’s position is a very consistent one. It is a consistent life ethic. I don’t think that we are obsessed, however, when the New York Times is writing 20 articles a week about these things and make reference to the Church in half of those articles, it gives the impression. But I think in the parishes, these things are talks, in a routine way, in CCD classes, along with the rest of the Catholic doctrine but all of our teachings fit together. They’re part of a whole. There’s a consistency in our life ethic.”-30-