Archbishop Wuerl’s Homily at Jan. 22 Pro-Life Mass
January 22, 2007
Following is the homily Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl delivered January 22, 2007 at a Mass for Penance and Prayer, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.
Later that morning, Archbishop Wuerl, joined by two Cardinals, dozens of bishops and hundreds of priests, celebrated a Youth Mass for Life at the Verizon Center, DC’s largest sports arena. Over 20,000 young people and hundreds of seminarians, as well as women and men religious from around the United States attended.
Archbishop Wuerl’s Homily
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, brother priests, deacons, women and men in consecrated life, brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Today all of us here at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, join in solidarity with the Church throughout the United States in proclaiming the dignity and value of human life.
What brings us here is also the recognition that we must share our faith, our conviction – that we must proclaim the gospel of life.
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.
Today we are confronted with the evil of abortion on demand. It is almost inconceivable that in a society which calls itself civilized it would be legal under the heading of “abortion” to kill a perfectly healthy, almost full-term child. That is what a partial-birth abortion is. In like manner, we should be appalled at how easily unborn human life is killed throughout this nation.
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.
As a society we are witnessing the fruits of the abortion mentality. The generation of people now entering their thirties has grown up hearing over and over again – in school, from teachers, politicians, courts, the media, movies, music, television and various personalities – that it is all right to kill if the life you take is still in the womb. Too many of our young people have accepted this message. Is it any wonder that we have created a culture of violence?
We need to repudiate all forms of violence. That conviction brings us this morning to the altar. Jesus offered the way — demanding but fruitful. Prayer does change hearts. The current culture of violence will yield only to that spiritual force that first touches and then changes individual hearts. Prayer does work and it must be our instrument of change.
If the spiral of violence and death that haunts our streets, schools, families and communities is to be broken, we need a new vision. We are going in the wrong direction and the only way to correct the error is to turn around. We must realize and proclaim that there is something wrong with our society if all we can offer a woman caught up in the drama of an unexpected pregnancy is abortion.
Surely, we are capable of life-giving compassion, life sustaining care and life-nurturing support for the mother to be.
Some time ago I visited a mother who had given birth to sextuplets – six tiny bundles of life. When I got to her hospital room she insisted that we go down to the incubator area so she could show me each of her children. I helped her into the wheelchair and off we went. As we moved from incubator to incubator, she insisted that I bless each one of her six children and that I do so by actually tracing the cross on the minuscule head of each of her children. As I did so, she described the child and its personality even though they were so young and tiny that I could hold each one of the children in the palm of my hand.
There are many things I remember about that late night visit to the hospital. The love in the mother’s face, the pride in her voice and the joy in her eyes. But I also remember how, so soon in their young lives, each of those six little mites did have his or her own identifiable personality. They are all now preparing for kindergarten.
The Book of Genesis teaches us that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26). Who cannot believe that when you look on a newly born infant and realize his or her gifts, potential and future. We are challenged as Moses did so with the chosen people: Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live…” (Dt 30:19).
The Gospel of Jesus confirms the dignity of human life and its extraordinary destiny: I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
When asked what is it the Church, what is it you and I, what is it all of you gathered here today bring to the world, to our society, to our culture, to our nation?
We bring the vision of today’s Gospel – the Beatitudes. We see so much more when we see with the eyes of faith.
We see the coming of the Kingdom. We see comfort to those who mourn, mercy, righteousness, justice, peace and life. We bring the vision that allows us to act as the children of God and to act on behalf of God.
You bring a resounding reaffirmation of how good life is, how wonderful God’s good gift of life is, how blessed we are to share the gift of life and how we intend to make our voices heard in defense of life, in proclamation of the gospel of life, and in praise of the God of Life. Amen.
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