Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Jan. 17 for the Mass for Life.
On Jan. 20, 1961 -- almost exactly 60 years ago -- John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the first and, until three days from now, only Catholic president of our country. At the time many people worried that he and other Catholic politicians would not be able to keep their religious faith from influencing the decisions they would make once in office. Subsequent history shows that they needn't have worried.
Even so, Kennedy asserted one Catholic truth in his inaugural address when he said that the principle for which our founding fathers fought was the idea that our rights "come not from the generosity of the State but rather from the hand of God."
Why do I bring up this higher law now as we mark the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade? Because our right to follow our conscience, to live according to that higher law, continues to be under attack and after five decades of effort, our efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade have proven futile. Maybe the newly constituted Supreme Court will do something here, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And even if, God willing, Roe v. Wade were overturned, it would only reduce the number of abortions, not put an end to them. The issue would devolve to the states and many women would travel to get abortions or resort to back alley abortions once again.
Merely changing laws will not put an end to abortion; the only lasting solution is to change hearts. And we will only change hearts when we begin to embrace a consistent ethic of life. Denying Communion to politicians who oppose us in matters of public policy on this or any other topic misses the mark, even in the preeminent matter of abortion. Who are we to judge the state of another person’s soul?
I'm sure most of you remember Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in 2015. I was there and I treasure the powerful pro-life witness that was at the heart of most of his talks and homilies. Over and over again he called for a consistent ethic of life rooted in the sacredness of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between. When speaking of specific pro-life issues, he insisted that everything is connected -- thus bridging the American political divide between those are passionate about abortion but weak when it comes to social justice and those who are passionate about social justice but weak when it comes to abortion.
Abortion is clearly the most depraved expression of what Pope Francis calls our “throw-away culture” and nowhere does he imply a false equivalence of all the myriad threats to life, but neither does abortion as an issue stand alone, as some would have us believe. In his homily to us bishops at St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington, he specifically linked “the innocent victims of abortion” to many other pro-life issues.
Pope Francis said, “The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature -- at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong to look the other way or to remain silent.”
We are here today because we are not willing to look away or remain silent when it comes to abortion. Pope Francis is challenging us not to remain silent on any of these other areas either.
This teaching regarding a consistent ethic of life did not begin with Pope Francis. In 1995 Saint John Paul II issued a powerful encyclical titled “Evangelium Vitae” (abbreviated EV, The Gospel of Life) in which he emphasizes fostering a culture of life based on the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament and he insists that human life and human dignity must be protected from conception to natural death. This Gospel of Life that we proclaim places the sacredness of the human person at the center of our teaching and thus touches every aspect of life -- in the womb, at the end of life and every stage in between (EV 37).
If life is sacred, then there should be no euthanasia, no doctor-assisted suicide and no capital punishment in societies where criminals can be imprisoned and pose no further threat to public safety (EV 40). If life is sacred then we must find a way to provide universal access to medical care and compassionate care for the elderly and medical research that does not require the destruction of human embryos. If life is sacred, then immigration when necessary is a pro-life issue (this planet belongs to all of us), as is welcoming refugees and working to end gun violence and unemployment -- and on this Martin Luther King weekend, racism. If life is sacred, then feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless are pro-life issues.
Popes Benedict and Francis then build on the teaching of St. John Paul II. Indeed, Pope Francis goes a step further and condemns economic inequality, what he calls “an economy that kills” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 53). He reminds us once again that everything is connected. Abortion is part of an economy that kills -- the abortion industry is driven by huge profits and many of the victims are poor and with few prospects in life.
Hence the image often used of a seamless garment when referring to a consistent ethic of life. Seamless because all of the pro-life issues are interwoven to the point that if the garment is torn, the whole thing begins to come unraveled. Today we give witness to the sacredness of life in the womb, but that witness will lose credibility if we forget that this life remains sacred once it leaves the womb, all the way to natural death.
In today's Gospel Jesus begins his public ministry and not only does he continue John's work of calling people and society to repentance, he also calls his first four disciples and invites them to be "fishers of men," sharing his mission of condemning evil and calling people to repentance because the Kingdom of God was at hand. That Kingdom of God is still at hand, and we sure have our work cut out for us in our task of calling people -- indeed our entire nation -- to repentance today. And we have not only the God-given right, but more importantly, the God-given obligation, to do so.
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