(I was invited this weekend to speak at all the Masses at St. Augustine’s Church in Ossining, one of our beautiful parishes, for Respect Life Month. Here is the text of my talk.)
When St. John the Baptist moved among the people, he preached to them about the approach of the Messiah. The people kept asking him the same question — “what shall we do?” And now, all of us who are concerned about respect for life ask that same question. “What shall we do?”
In 1985, in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed the threats that are so serious and widespread that they have created a virtual “culture of death”. We see this in violent crime, war, terrorism, torture, human trafficking, the drug trade, the arms trade, and abject poverty. But at this time, abortion and euthanasia must be the focus of our attention here in the United States. They involve unjust attacks on people when they are most vulnerable and defenseless, and they are tolerated and even approved by our society as “rights”.
But it’s important to remember that we don’t just say “no” to things, we say “yes” to becoming a people of life and for life, and to building a new culture of life.
To make this more concrete, I would like to offer a number of practical ideas.
Our first task is speaking the truth about the sacredness of every human life – about how God loves every single human person, and that every human life has dignity from the moment of conception. This is not just a principle of our faith — we rely on the basic scientific fact, available to everyone who has seen a sonogram or a video of “life in the womb”. Human life – the life of each one of us, the life of Jesus himself in his human nature – began at conception, and carries on until our natural death, and then on into eternal life. Every one of us, regardless of our age, disability or diminished “quality of life”, is always and forever a human person and must be treated with reverence. Our first task is to speak this truth about the gift of human life – always with love.
The second task is prayer. We must pray constantly, with determination, patience and trust. We thank God for the gift of life, and we ask Him to protect all vulnerable lives. We do this as individuals, and we also pray as a community. For example, praying the Rosary as a group, participating in the National Night of Prayer Vigil every December, or holding a Holy Hour on the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (the Annunciation), or inviting people to spiritually adopt unborn children and pray for them during their nine months in the womb (kids especially love this). We also celebrate life when we have special Masses and blessings of engaged couples, expectant parents, or new families, or communal anointing of the elderly and ill. Life is a great gift! And we should celebrate that in our prayer.
The third task is to serve those in need, especially the most vulnerable. For example, we help the elderly by visiting and offering companionship, or we offer expectant mothers alternatives to abortion. There are many wonderful groups that do that, like Good Counsel Homes and the Sisters of Life. We can help them by taking up collections (for example, a “baby bottle” campaign to collect small change), or by running baby showers for the new moms, or by volunteering to help with simple tasks, like driving the moms to doctors’ appointments. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been emphasizing our duty as Christians to reach out personally to the needy and those who seem lost in our society and without hope, and this is a beautiful way to promote and defend human life.
A particularly important way we serve others is through public policy advocacy. Last Spring, the New York State Legislature came very close to passing a bill that would have expanded abortion in our state. We already have 110,000 abortions a year. We don’t need any more abortion, we need more life! But this bill would have allowed even more abortion by allowing non-doctors to do abortions, and removing the few remaining regulations on late-term abortions. This bill was defeated because citizens raised their voices in opposition, by letter, call, email, participation in public witness and prayer rallies in Albany and locally. The bill was defeated, but it will come back, and we have to be ready.
I’d like to take a moment to say a special word about how we can serve women and men who have experienced an abortion. The Gospel of Life is a message of hope and mercy and healing. Those who have experienced an abortion should never give in to discouragement and despair. Our loving God is always ready to give forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sisters of Life run regular retreats for those who have experienced abortion, and other groups like Lumina provide support for the healing process. Pope Francis has spoken movingly about the power of God’s mercy, and how we all can invite others to experience that mercy themselves. There is always hope and healing available.
The most important way we build the culture of life is within our own families, where we welcome and nurture new life, and where we support, comfort, and defend our elderly and disabled loved ones. Our families should be a school of life! So, married couples should never stop working on our marriages. Parents can never stop working on your relationship with your children, teach them how to live virtuous, chaste lives and about the value of every life. In the end, strong families and marriages are the foundation of the culture of life.
Each and every one of us has a role to play in this mission given to us in the Gospel of Life. So many people are doing so much already, and God bless you for that and thank you. But every one of us can do something. Please speak to members of your local pro-life committee, or check out the website of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese.
At the end of every Mass, we often hear the words, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”. These words don’t just mean that Mass is over – they also mean that we are being sent on a mission. We are called — each one of us — to go back out into our regular lives and proclaim the Gospel of Life.
By bearing witness to the dignity of every human person. By helping parents recognize that even though a pregnancy may be difficult or inconvenient, a child is always a blessing. By ensuring that every young woman understands that there are alternatives to abortion, and that she will be given the help and support she needs. By making certain that all of our elderly are protected against abandonment, and are always be loved and cared for.
And ultimately, our mission is to love, defend and serve all our brothers and sisters, from conception until natural death. By our words and our deeds we can build a new culture of life in our land. We ask the question, “What shall we do?” And when, one day, we are asked by Our Lord, “What did you do?”, we will be able to answer, we were a people of life and for life, and Our Lord will be pleased with that answer, He will thank us, He will be proud of us, and He will receive us into eternal life with Him.