Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Celebration of Life

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore
Jan. 22, 2017

By Archbishop William E. Lori

What a joy to see all of you, especially so many young people, gathered in this basilica, the first Cathedral in these United States, for this Mass in which we celebrate and give thanks to God for the gift of life. You come from parishes and schools throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore and you are here because you love and cherish the precious gift of life.

I especially want to welcome Tony Melendez – thank you, Tony, for lifting our hearts in giving thanks and praise to God and for teaching us to value God’s gift of life by putting our talents at the service of others.

And I want to thank Bishop Madden, my brother priests, and pro-life workers from across the Archdiocese, led so ably by Johanna Coughlin who, with others, organized this special celebration. At the end of Mass, we will recognize some real pro-life heroes in our midst, including the Little Sisters of the Poor as well as Bill and Diane Nellies. For now, let’s see how God’s Word sheds light on our celebration of the gift of life.

First, it seems as though today’s weather isn’t the only thing that’s gloomy. Today’s Scripture readings also speak about gloom and darkness. Both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus himself speak of a people dwelling in a land of gloom, a people that sits in darkness. In the first place, they are referring to a desolate area near the Sea of Galilee which for centuries had been in the grip of conquering powers, a region known as Zebulun and Naphtali. But secondly, Isaiah and Jesus could be referring to us and to our situation when they speak of a land that is “overshadowed by death.”

No, it’s not just the weather that is overcast today. I think we could say we are living in a gloomy and divided society and that many people throughout the world live in the shadows where the gift of life has been degraded by poverty, injustice, even tyranny. How many people at home and abroad, in their fear and anguish, would have to say that they “dwelling in a land overshadowed by death.” ‘The darkness, the gloom, of which Isaiah speaks, stands for the spiritual darkness which sometimes envelops peoples and nations’ (cf. JP II, Brooklyn, NY, 1995).

Pope St. John Paul II used the phrase “culture of death” to describe societies where human life is cheap and where death is seen as a way of solving very real human problems. A culture of death can take root in the poorest third world country but sadly it has also taken root in our prosperous land founded on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” For decades, courts and legislatures across America have denied the humanity of the unborn child in the womb. Now there is a campaign here in Maryland and elsewhere to deny the human worth of the frail elderly and chronically ill by legislation that would open the door to doctor-assisted suicide, a stark example of what Pope Francis means when he speaks of a “throw-away culture”. But taking the life of the innocent solves none of our social problems. Rather the culture of death divides families, communities, and nations. It wounds the soul and spreads the gloom of hopelessness across the land.

Thanks be to God, death and gloom do not have the last word! On the contrary, as Isaiah proclaims ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ He announces that upon a people dwelling in darkness light has shone’ (Is. 9:1). The light is Jesus who began his public ministry by the Sea of Galilee in the very towns of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned by Isaiah in our first reading. Jesus comes among those people not merely as a prophet and not merely as a teacher of morality. Rather he comes among them as the Son of God made man. He is the author, the source of our life and in taking on our human nature, Jesus has shown us how precious we are in the sight of his heavenly Father. In God’s eyes, no human life is cheap and every life is worth living.

Yes, Jesus came as the light of the world to preach the Good News of God’s mercy, which helps us understand fully the dignity and worth of every human life. For the Gospel which Jesus preached and handed on to us is a gospel of life, a gospel that tells us we are made in God’s own image, that God loves us not for what we own or for what we can do or for how we look – no, God simply loves us for our own sake, we are inherently valuable in his eyes. Jesus proclaimed the worth of human life in this world, called as we are to joy and friendship with God our Father in the next world. As we saw in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus came not to condemn us or destroy us but to heal us – to heal the wounds of human existence – our physical wounds, our spiritual wounds. Indeed, he came “that we might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Yes, Jesus came into the world to preach the Gospel of Life. But he did not do this alone; he recruited friends and disciples to help him. As his ministry began he chose the apostles (as we saw in today’s Gospel), first Peter, then Andrew, then James and John. He called them to share in his work of spreading the Gospel of life and light. What I find amazing in today’s Gospel is how quickly the apostles followed Jesus. They dropped everything and came to follow Jesus.

Now the Lord is calling you. Some of you in this basilica are being called to the priesthood and religious life, and all of us are being called to bear witness to the Gospel of Life. All of us are called to proclaim with love the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. This coming Friday many of you will take part in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. You are sent neither as angry protesters nor as brokers of power and influence. Rather, you are to go as peaceful, joyful, and committed proponents and advocates for the beauty and goodness of God’s gift of life at every stage of human existence. As good and generous young people who value the gift of life, you will be a bright light of hope and joy that will help dispel the gloom. Through your prayers and your witness to life, those who are seeking to provide good medical care and alternatives to the taking of innocent human life will be encouraged. By your peaceful and joyful spirit, you may win many over to the cause of life and may your example encourage those who need help to seek and find it, especially pro-life counseling, medical services, and the peace all of us can find in the sacrament of reconciliation, the sacrament of mercy.

Finally, following the teaching of St. Paul in today’s second reading, let us go forth united in mind and heart. Our land is gloomy because we are so divided. Let the Lord’s light and love shine forth in us and through us by our oneness in mind and heart and purpose. Our witness should be marked by civility towards those with whom we disagree and by charity for those who struggling with difficult personal decisions. Let our steps help guide their steps to find support and to choose life.
Thank you, for being here! I look forward to praying with you and marching with you on Friday. Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the pro-life cause, may we go forth as messengers of life and love and light! God bless you and keep you always in his love!

Read more from Archbishop Lori here.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.