Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption
To Cardinal Hickey, thanks to you for your gracious welcome to this great basilica which reflects so well your love of it and your love for the Church.
To you Cardinal George, thank you for the leadership you give us all in the cause of life, and for being here with us this evening.
And also I thank you Archbishop Montalvo, and you, my brother bishops from across this country, for participating in this Mass this evening. Missing from our number is someone who would very much like to be with us, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. I called him to tell him that we would be missing him and asked if he had a message for us. He told me that this is the first time ever that he has missed participating in this Mass and in the March for Life. He is much distressed at not being able to be with us, and he will offer up his missing the event as a prayer for God’s blessing on what happens here and tomorrow in the March for Life. He is delighted that he is represented here in a special way by the Sisters of Life from New York. In your name, I told Cardinal O’Connor how much we love him, how we shall miss him now and how we shall pray for him in this, the great prayer of Jesus, the Holy Eucharist.
And to all of you, thanks and thanks again, for your presence. Thank you for coming to proclaim the Gospel of Life. Thank you for coming to participate in the Holy Eucharist, in which Jesus Christ feeds us with his living self and gives us strength and fullness of life. Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable members of the human family. From my heart and in the name of all my brother bishops, I give you thanks for giving witness to the Gospel of Life in all you do -- in your families and parishes, in your neighborhoods, and in communities all across our America. By promoting the Gospel of Life with conviction and compassion, yes, and with great perseverance, you strengthen the foundation of our American house of freedom.
The cause we serve continues to be the great civil rights issue of our time. In defending the right to life of every person from conception until natural death, we defend the first of those rights upon which the founders of our country built our national claim of independence. In proclaiming the culture of life in which every child is welcomed in life and protected in law, we challenge our nation to renew the great promise of its founding. In defending those whom society may be tempted to deem "useless" or "disposable," we broaden the circle of inclusion in our country. In serving the cause of the Gospel of Life, we work to give America a new birth of freedom: Freedom grounded in truth; freedom fulfilled in goodness . . . the freedom to live . . . the right to live!
Thank you also for taking up this task with such generosity and enthusiasm, in and out of season, and for the duration.
Tonight in this basilica, in the Great Jubilee of this year of grace 2000, we gather as disciples of Jesus Christ. Our scriptures remind us what it means to live the Gospel of Life as servants of the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. It means conversion, one of the preeminent themes of the Jubilee Year. Our Lord began his public ministry by saying "be converted and believe in the Gospel." Our first reading tonight tells the story of Jonah, and his ministry of calling people to conversion.
To be "converted" means to undergo a profound change of both mind and heart. [Conversion is upward-focused; it is perfection-seeking.] Conversion is always conversion to the truth. And the truth we celebrate this Jubilee Year -- the truth of salvation -- tells us this: That we live our lives within the embrace of our loving God, mindful that, as Jesus taught, "Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted; so do not be afraid of anything, you are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31). We exist because of the love of God, who created us and gave us a destiny that is forever. And human history, in all its dimensions, is the dramatic playing out of God's love achieving its divine purpose.
God first binds himself to the drama of history through the patriarchs and prophets of old. Through them, God teaches a chosen people the meaning of love expressed in a holy covenant -- love stronger than death, love capable of conquering death.
Then comes a new and decisive manifestation of God's ever-present involvement in history, that moment when God gives his only Son for the world's salvation. At that crucial moment 2000 years ago, God enters history in the wonder of the incarnation -- the eternal word of God takes human form in order to redirect history toward the destiny God intended from the beginning, humanity's destiny to find its fulfillment in eternal life with the Creator. This is the stunning, stupendous, defining, unrepeatable moment we celebrate in the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.
Pope John Paul teaches us that "In Jesus Christ, the Father has spoken the definitive word about our true destiny and the meaning of human history. ‘In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an expiation for our sins' (1 John 4:10). The apostle is speaking of the love that inspired the Son to become man and to dwell among us. Through Jesus Christ, we know how much the Father loves us. In Jesus Christ, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, each one of us can share in the love that is the life of the Blessed Trinity."
So it is, then, that each and every one of us, man and woman, young and old, rich and poor, born and unborn -- has a role in the drama of which God is the ultimate producer and director and, in the drama's most intensely vital moment, its protagonist, as well. And for this reason, dear friends, we cherish and value every human life, every human person. For every human being -- from Adam and Eve down through the ages to the youngest among us tonight -- is a player in the great drama of creation, fall, promise, prophecy, redemption, and sanctification. To believe in that truth -- that everyone is of infinite consequence and infinite value, and with a destiny that is eternal -- is to be converted in mind to the Gospel of Life.
Conversion also requires conversion of heart. Jonah knew that he ought to obey the divine command to preach conversion to the people of Nineveh. But until his heart was moved, his mind would not obey. Christian conversion of the heart calls us, like Jonah, constantly to prayer and fasting and other acts of penance. Through them, our hearts become evermore open to new initiatives of the Holy Spirit in history's drama and in our own lives.
We might wonder whether our prayers and penance have effect beyond ourselves. But we must never lose faith in the Holy Spirit! Our prayer and penance open society's windows to the Spirit's fresh air and bright sunshine. When Jesus cured the man with the shriveled arm, he restored to fullness of health and form what had been sick and misshapen. So it is with God's grace: Through portals flung open by the force of our prayer and penance, it can flow into hearts that are shriveled, hearts that have lost their spiritual strength and vitality . . . and revive in them a vital beat.
It is the Spirit's grace which can call others to a profound conversion of heart, to a deeper appreciation of the beauty of God's gift of life, to a joyful embrace of the Gospel of Life proclaimed by Jesus Christ.
The selection from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians sets in proper historical perspective the process of our conversion and our efforts to fulfill the Gospel of Life. Paul calls for a spirit of detachment from the world, a spirit that runs counter to the themes and messages and values our culture scatters in our path. He reminds us that "Time is running out. . . for the world in its present form is passing away." Christians are the people who know that God's saving purposes will ultimately be vindicated. Christians know that the dramatic conclusion of the human story has already been revealed. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ the victory is already won! Our human family is not destined for the death our culture would have us embrace. We are destined for life, eternal life!
Knowing this, we also know that we are liberated, profoundly and enduringly liberated. The worst in history has already happened: on Good Friday! And God has given his answer to that evil of evils: The resurrection of his Son on Easter Sunday.
Accordingly, we are freed and empowered for ministry. One special kind of ministry, in which so many of you participate, is in proclaiming the Gospel of Life to those who have been spiritually and emotionally crippled, and sometimes physically damaged by the trauma of abortion. So many of you are working in Project Rachel and similar programs to minister to the many of various faith backgrounds – and some with no religious faith -- who have suffered so much, women mostly, but men as well, people who know they have taken part, however unwillingly, in the death of unborn life. They have spiritual and emotional hurts and terrible memories that need healing. So very often those who are helped and healed become themselves enthusiastic messengers of the Gospel of Life.
An example of what the culture sends our way is Roe v. Wade itself, an important reason for our being here tonight, the reason we will march tomorrow. This decision of the Supreme Court has set our nation on a path that tolerates the purposeful destruction of human lives. And it seems to have no boundaries, as Roe’s defense of abortion is used to justify killing in other ways as well, and at different points in the cycle of life. Roe v. Wade must be reversed. And we will not cease our efforts until it is.
Another example has to do with recent developments in human embryo research. A new proposal from the National Institutes of Health would instruct researchers in how to destroy vast numbers of human embryos to obtain their stem cells. To put it bluntly, should this proposal be accepted, for the first time in our national history, the deliberate destruction of human life would be legally sanctioned for purposes of obtaining raw material for scientific research.
And so, as many have predicted it would, the abortion mentality is now spilling out over its cauldron's brim, reducing human life to raw material for secular society's latest social or scientific project. The past century has made clear, in an ocean of blood and tears, what happens when "society" decides that a class of human beings are not "persons." What happens is the Holocaust. What happens is famine in Ukraine. What happens is the sanctioned starvation of millions of Chinese. What happens is ethnic slaughters of the Balkans and of Central Africa.
In the name of conviction and compassion, in the name of God, we must do all we can to help our country reject this kind of thinking, to convince our research institutions and our policy makers that thinking of this kind is unacceptable and must be rejected.
The Lord's call to Peter in tonight's gospel reading reminds us that the call to conversion is always addressed to individual human beings in the specific contexts and circumstances of their lives. Jesus does not invite in the abstract; he calls us by name. It is an intensely personal call. And it is unique, in every case unique, as each of us is uniquely shaped in God’s image and likeness. It offers us the fullness of life, if only we will rely on the Lord alone and be his disciples.
No one in our time has more powerfully embodied the self-abandonment of Christian discipleship as has our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. Successor to Peter, he is the great evangelist of the Gospel of Life as we cross the threshold of the New Millennium. We thank God tonight for his witness, his conviction, and his compassion. Let us look to the example of the Holy Father -- this example of a life being spent in self-giving love -- as we re-commit ourselves to the right to life of the unborn and the human dignity of those weakened by age or illness.
In St. Louis a year ago this week, the Holy Father had this to say: "The new evangelization must also bring out the truth that ‘the Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel' (Evangelium Vitae, 2). As believers, how can we fail to see that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are a terrible rejection of God's gift of life and love? And as believers, how can we fail to feel the duty to surround the sick and those in distress with the warmth of our affection and the support that will help them always to embrace life?"
And this also the Holy Father said: "The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: Who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of Life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 27). I renew [my] appeal . . . for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary." May God grant us the conviction and the courage to walk with our Holy Father as, in the name of the Gospel of Life, he leads world opposition to capital punishment.
Dear friends in Christ, thank you for your convictions. They are the convictions upon which our home of freedom was built. They are the convictions by which America can be renewed.
Thank you also for your compassion. You confront a culture of death peacefully, prayerfully, and with abiding compassion. In doing so, you testify that the cause of life is the cause of God's love.
Thank you finally for your perseverance on behalf of the Gospel of Life. In the matter of abortion, you have persevered for 27 long years. Let us pledge here tonight to continue in our resolve until the ugly stain of abortion is forever washed from the walls of our American house of freedom. Let us also here resolve to carry the brilliant banner of life into the forums of public opinion and public policy, where vigorous new challenges to God's loving plan are being mounted. Let us resolve as well to make of this Jubilee Year the occasion to extend the healing mercy of Christ into even the darkest corners of our freedom's home.
May the Lord reward you for your goodness. And for all, may this Jubilee Year be a year of God’s gifts of abundant grace, overwhelming joy, and a profound deepening of our commitment to live and proclaim the Gospel of Life. Amen.