Archdiocese of Baltimore Logo

Stay Connected   Share   Print   

Pro-Life Homily 2003

Cathedral of Mary Our Queen

In recent months I have publicly addressed such current issues as racism, religious freedom, especially in Europe, justice and peace in the Middle East and in Central America, and ecological concerns. Today I turn to an issue daily featured in the news media, the issue of human life. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of how those "who walked in darkness have seen a great light." (Is. 9:1) In the gospel passage, the Evangelist Matthew (cf. Mt. 4:15-16) sees this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, the "light of the world." (cf. Jn. 1:4) Our culture is filled with contrasts of light and darkness. It brightens our day with new ways to amass, analyze, and communicate swiftly information, new ways to cure disease and preserve life. But darkness comes as well when life is cheapened and confusion sown through the same marvelous technology. Some months ago men and women from across Maryland spoke of their concern about how people are bombarded, almost without realizing it, by messages which distort reality and sway feelings to sell a vision of life in which the lives of others -- the unborn, the severely handicapped, the seriously ill -- are placed in peril. If these lives are judged "inconvenient," they can be regarded as disposable, to be thrown away like used and crumpled tissue. Thus, in the abortion discussion, the unborn child is described with the medical term "fetus." What has begun at conception to develop marvelously, with the genetic qualities of a new and unique human being, different from those of both mother and father, is dismissed as a "cluster of cells." Yet within 21 days of conception, scientists tell us, the tiny heart begins to beat. About three weeks later, every internal organ the child will ever have has begun to form and, before another week is up, brain waves can be detected. Some expectant mothers can now see through sonograms this wonderful continuum of life. Some have had their preborn children helped by surgery employed or treatment given to the little one within the womb. But for others have come new pressures from the society in which we live: to pursue a career, to finish an education, to accommodate another's wish or counsel. Each such pressure seeks to overcome the quiet, inner voice of a mother's conscience, urging, "Life is the natural choice. Give it a chance!" Some indeed speak of a right to choose, but this approach denies any choice but death to the voiceless one in the womb. It is a sad and scandalous choice in a land where hundreds of thousands of childless couples are looking to adopt a child. In our defense of human life, we are participating, we know, as American citizens in a civil rights movement of the highest order. Emotions run deep, as they ran deep in the days before the Civil War, when the Untied States Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott Decision, denied American citizenship, in effect, personhood in the law, to those held by the slave States not to be persons before the law. In the halls of Congress, some politicians sought by speech and compromise to halt the spread of slavery while others strove to maintain it as a way of life. The movement to abolish slavery was a human rights movement, but many of its leaders and members -- probably most of them -- acted out of religious conviction and motivation. They were profoundly religious men and women of faith, in seeking to secure dignity and freedom for those brothers and sisters they believed made in the image and likeness of a loving Creator. Today we stand together for another human right, the right to life. It is a secular cause, as Doctor Bernard Nathanson, the former abortionist, and Nat Hentoff, the civil libertarian, repeatedly remind us. Yet we, like those who fought slavery, like those who, with the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., fought discrimination, we too are inspired to push ahead by our faith. Science, common sense, even the Hippocratic Oath, all speak of innocent human life as sacred and not to be destroyed. In our free, pluralistic society no one individual, no one group can impose its moral vision on another. But each citizen has a right and an obligation to contribute his or her moral vision for the common good. This is a major thrust of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. As followers of Jesus we have special motivation to defend life we believe to be sacred because it is also of God's making. Many other Christians give us fresh heart by the public stands they take on behalf of human life. Evangelical Christians have become vocal and committed leaders in this cause. In many mainline Protestant churches individuals have banded together in denominational pro-life organizations. Our own Catholic Church has stressed the human life issue. As the Second Vatican Council, has taught , "From the moment of conception life must be guarded with greatest care; abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes." (Constitution on the Church in Today's World, No. 51) In our pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace (1983), we bishops of the United States put the issue in the context of justice and peace concerns: "No society can live in peace with itself, or with the world, without a full awareness of the worth and dignity of every human person, and of the sacredness of all human life (Jas. 4:1-1). When we accept violence in any form as commonplace, our sensitivities become dulled. When we accept violence, war itself can be taken for granted. Violence has many faces: oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity. Abortion in particular blunts a sense of the sacredness of human life. In a society where the innocent unborn are killed wantonly, how can we expect people to feel righteous revulsion at the act or threat of killing non-combatants in war? Nothing, can justify direct attack on innocent human life, in or out of warfare. Abortion is precisely such an attack." (Numbers 285-286) Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul urged that, in all things, followers of Christ act with that charity which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. (cf. I Cor. 13: 1-7; See also Rom. 8: 11-36) This expresses itself in the tenacious and tender love for the little pre-born ones, whose lives are threatened in their mothers' wombs. This is the sensitive and sympathetic love for the troubled mother, often confused by propaganda and pressures, often unaware of the help at hand from many sources. This is a love for confused neighbors, together with the gift to teach clearly the facts which will dissipate the mist of misinformation. This is a love for God, giver and upholder of life and judge of how we live it. In that love we should see and affirm the differing contributions each can make to the effort: --The clarity and the patience of those who teach about respect for God's gift of life in classrooms, in churches, and through the media. We shall never know how many lives their teaching saves.--The sense of human justice and perseverance of spirit of those who serve in public office and work valiantly in defense of human life in the great American civil rights tradition. --The generosity, diligence, and professional skills of those working with Birthright, Catholic Charities, and the numerous pro-life Pregnancy Centers throughout Maryland, and other counseling and support services which provide expectant mothers faced with the temptation of abortion the special assistance they need in order to choose life for the little ones beneath their hearts. By way of example, in Baltimore St. Agnes Hospital is working with Catholic Charities through the new Villa Louise Family Resource Center to offer expectant parents and new parents a full range of services, including health, education, prenatal nutrition and child care. --The sensitivity and compassion of those who through Project Rachel bring Christ's forgiveness and healing to women who have had abortions, their partners, families and friends. The wounded become in turn healers and they themselves help to save lives. --The courage and commitment of those bringing a new emphasis to the pro-life movement, drawing inspiration from earlier non-violent efforts on behalf of justice. Peaceful picketing and the annual March for Life speak of a love for the many who may have forgotten that abortion kills -- these also save lives. As the pro-life movement takes stock of itself here in Maryland, may we be blessed by God's Spirit with the love which gives strength in the face of weariness. May we gain fresh hope in the presence of frustration. May we receive that peace which comes with faith in Jesus' words: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 15:12)