Homily by Supreme Chaplain at Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life
Homily of Supreme Chaplain
Bishop William E. Lori
Mass for Life
2012 Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life
January 21, 2012
It is said that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of Life and that the Gospel of Life is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wasn’t that the point of the Christmas Season which we celebrated only a few weeks ago?
The Eternal Son of the Father became incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born into human history. God’s only Son took flesh as a embryo in the womb of the Virgin Mary where he grew and developed, assuming our humanity in every respect except sin. He came into the world to redeem us of sin, to restore our wounded human dignity, and to open the way for you and me to have life, and to have it to the full. The Gospel of Life is no mere interpretation of the Gospel, no untoward addition to the Gospel, no constriction of its mercies … It is the Good News preached and brought to fulfillment by the One through whom the world was created and redeemed.
And so it is that the Word of God leads us to focus this evening on Jonah and Jesus. In our first reading, we saw how Jonah began to go through Nineveh preaching repentance. When they heard him, the residents of Nineveh promptly repented. Yes, Jonah turned things around in less than a day, an enviable record! It seems that God’s own Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ, has had a harder time of it. Some two-thousand years ago, at the outset of his public ministry, he proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
His call to conversion is still a work in progress, repeated in every generation. Tonight, in this Mass, it is Jesus himself who speaks those same words to us: “Repent, and believe!” Now, it is our turn!
What a claim his words have on our consciences. Jesus is saying to us: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel of Life!’ He is appealing to us personally to open our hearts to the inviolable dignity of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death, a dignity which includes an inbuilt desire for the very love he came to offer. And we may say to ourselves – I have opened my heart to this truth – and we have, but now we must become witnesses to this truth so as to evangelize our culture. Just as we heard Jesus calling his disciples in the Gospel, so now we hear him calling us to go forth and bear witness.
So let’s go back to Nineveh, which, interestingly, is located in modern-day Iraq. It was not in the land which God promised to his Chosen People but rather a metropolis in the Assyrian Empire. It was there that Jonah went to preach repentance just as Jesus’ call to repentance is to resound in every age and culture. So let “Nineveh” represent for us the increasingly secular culture into which Jesus sends you and me to bear witness to the Gospel of Life.
The message is clear. It is not enough for us to be pro-life intellectually and politically. We must embrace the Gospel of Life in the depth of our souls in such a way that it continually transforms us: bringing us to our knees in repentance for our own failures against human dignity; filling us with joy and gratitude for God’s gift of human life; permeating our minds and hearts with bedrock convictions, born of faith and reason, about the inviolable dignity of human life at every stage.
And prompted by the Holy Spirit, shaped by hands-on service to the poor and needy, we are to respond affirmatively to the Lord’s call to go into ‘Nineveh’ – whether ‘Nineveh’ is the halls of Congress or the halls of a university or a corporation, or the intimacy of discussions in one’s home or among one’s circle of friends – we are to go to ‘Nineveh’ to bear witness to the Gospel, yes, the Gospel of Life.
And because I am like a General at headquarters and you are like soldiers at the front, you know better than I how challenging and costly such a witness can be!
The Wisdom of the Framers
So stay with me, friends, while we think a little more about Nineveh. It wasn’t the Promised Land but there must have been good-hearted people there, otherwise, Jonah’s preaching, though inspired by God, would have been in vain. Here again we can see how Nineveh is an apt symbol for our country. In spite of a growing secularity, Americans remain, overall, a religious people. Years of pro-life witness have also moved the needle. More Americans account themselves as pro-life today than at any time since the Supreme Court’s toxic Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Young people, in particular, are now casting a critical eye on the culture of abortion, maybe asking themselves if they were once considered a choice rather than a person.
Nor is it merely the latest opinion polls that makes our nation fertile ground for planting the seeds of the Gospel of Life. What has made for the enduring greatness of our nation is the wisdom of our founding Fathers embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
In the Declaration of Independence they recognized and proclaimed that the Creator has endowed each person with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A framer of the Constitution, John Dickinson of Philadelphia, said: “Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of pre-existing rights.
They do not depend on parchments or seals, but come from the king of kings and the Lord of all the earth.” Our forebears recognized the right to life as the most fundamental of rights with which the King of kings immutably endowed each person. We can and we must stand for decent housing, health care, employment, and education for all, including the poor and the disadvantaged – but what good does it do if we deny the most basic of all rights to the poorest and most helpless of our citizens, the unborn?
Our founders understood that the common good of the Republic hinges on respect for the God-given dignity and freedom of every citizen – even if they failed to acknowledge the dignity and freedom of the slaves. Nonetheless they framed a vision and constructed a framework of which we are heirs, guardians, and proponents.
It has been said that the house of freedom rises or falls on the respect which our society gives or fails to give to its most vulnerable citizens. Extending that respect to all persons was a struggle in the early years of our republic, and it is a struggle now, and it will remain a struggle with each passing generation. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “Freedom is ever new. It is a challenge to be held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.” (Visit to America, 2008). Every generation must repent and believe in the Gospel of Life!
Threats to Religious Liberty
In his wisdom, James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, listed religious liberty as the first of the liberties to be constitutionally protected. Religious liberty is fundamental because it pertains to the relationship of each person to the Creator, the very Creator who is the source of human dignity and rights. And closely allied with religious liberty is freedom of speech and assembly.
As citizens and believers, we, therefore, have every right to be witnesses in the public arena to the inviolable dignity of the human person from conception until natural death and to press our concerns onward in all branches and levels of government and, indeed, at the ballot box.
We have every right to call America back to its founding principles on the basis of a faith enlightened by reason, and not only by words, but by deeds. But today, the forces of secularism seek to impair and impeded the Church’s witness. As Pope Benedict said to a group of U.S. bishops just a few days ago: “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you [bishops] have pointed out that the concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices…”Just yesterday the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reconfirmed rules that would force many Catholic institutions to include in their health insurance plans coverage for sterilizations and contraception, including abortifacients, and this, in spite of massive efforts to explain to the Obama Administration why it should not subvert the religious liberty of church institutions built up over many years and accomplishing untold good in our society. We think also of our government’s denial of contracts to Catholic agencies that serve victims of human trafficking and victims of disasters because these agencies refuse to provide what is euphemistically called “the full range of reproductive services” – read, of course, abortion.
Here we are reminded of how state government and that of the District of Columbia have forced Catholic Charities to cease providing adoption and foster care services because they would not place vulnerable children in same-sex relationships. Efforts are also being made to force the Church’s hand in providing for assisted suicide in Catholic hospitals and nursing homes.
Not only are these overt coercions directly aimed against our faith, they are also egregious affronts to our nation’s founding principles. So, in bearing witness to the Gospel of Life, we are also bearing witness to religious liberty … all of which brings us again, face to face with Jesus. “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” he says to me and to you. In other words, ‘Acquire those virtues courage and honesty, humility, perseverance, and prudence, resting on the foundation of faith, hope, and charity ‘so that you may be spiritually and morally equipped to engage in the never-ending struggle for human dignity, freedom, and the common good,’ &helli; to the glory of God the Father, for the welfare of the Church, and out of love for our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.
May God bless us and keep us always in His love!