It is a true blessing for pilgrims from across our land to be able to gather once again with their bishops in this great Basilica. The blessing is enhanced because so many can join us by television through the Eternal Word Television Network.
In the first reading we were reminded by the prophet Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in deep darkness, on them has light shined.” We acknowledge before the Lord that there is deep darkness in our world, precisely because of a variety of threats to God’s gift of life, and we pray here that the merciful Lord will dispel the darkness with the “great light” only God can give.
There is a special life-sustaining gift of God which we call peace.
Let us pray for peace in all the human family, a peace that defies differences, whether of race or religion, whether of nationality or culture. This invitation includes a special remembrance for the peace of those who risk their lives for others, and all those many millions around the globe whose lives are jeopardized by the absence of peace. Let us pray for those millions more, here and almost everywhere in our world, who literally face death threats because of hunger and illness and poverty, as well as for the victims of the recent natural disasters in Southeast Asia. Let us not forget in our prayer the frail elderly in this country and elsewhere who with minimal resources suffer from the isolation of neglect and the absence of compassion. Let us pray for the victims of violence and, yes, even for those who have done great violence and await the ultimate punishment society can inflict.
This evening uppermost in our minds is the call to pray for the most vulnerable of God’s children, those waiting to be born.
We are joined yet again in our pilgrimage for life, pausing in this holy place to pray for an end to the terrible evil spawned that 22nd day of January, 1973. It was then that a few men sworn to uphold our nation’s Constitution shamefully abused that guarantee of human and civil rights by denying to the most vulnerable of all humanity the most fundamental right of all. It was an incredible distortion of justice. It meant the denial of the first of all human rights, and to vulnerable innocents! A tragedy and a grave sin! Thirty-two years later, the evil of Roe v. Wade persists, the blood of innocents continues to stain our Constitution, and the loss of more than 40 million unborn children should haunt our national consciousness.
Thirty-two years! And each year, another 1.3 million children are lost to the great evil of our time. 20,000 of them are put to death after the 21st week in their mothers’ wombs, as many as 4,000 of that number by means of the horrendous partial-birth abortion method. And this, for 32 years!
The evil must end! It must end soon! And we are here to affirm that, with God’s grace, we must be instruments of its ending!
We come together here confident in this purpose and confident in the knowledge that our purpose has God’s blessing, for God is the Lord of life. As we gather to protest yet again the tragic miscarriage of justice that was the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, we re-commit ourselves to the dismantling of Roe and its poisonous progeny, confident in the promise of the psalmist that we “shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”
Confident in our purpose, we also come together here unified in that purpose, mindful of the Apostle Paul’s charge to the Corinthians, a charge directed to us in the second reading, that they be “united in mind and judgment.” We are as one in our prayers for the souls of the little ones whose lives have been taken by abortion, and for the mothers and families and broader communities who are abortion’s secondary victims. And we are as one in our determination that Roe must be undone, that legal protections of our unborn sisters and brother must be restored.
Unified in spirit, we bring many gifts to our continuing pilgrimage for life. We must put them to work. Can you write? Then write – write letters to lawmakers and newspaper editors. Can you organize? Then organize – organize a right-to-life rally, or a petition drive or letter-writing campaign. Are you blessed with material things? Then use your wealth in the right-to-life cause – buy needed materials for a pregnancy center, help staff a pro-life advocacy office, support the campaigns of pro-life political candidates. Have you time to give? Then give time – answer phones at your local pro-life pregnancy center, volunteer for parish pro-life work, join pro-life organizations.
One in spirit, then, and confident in our common purpose, we are also met here tonight in hope, a hope rooted in the words of the prophet Isaiah, who assures us that people who have walked in darkness can see great light. There are good reasons for our hope, reasons that include, but also go beyond the recent demonstration that Americans have had quite enough of legislation without a values basis, and of court decrees that are shorn of all reference to the religious and moral values in which our nation was explicitly grounded by its founders.
There is hope, for example, in the growing popular recognition that the so-called pro-choice movement is aggressively anti-choice. If the pro-choice leadership has its way, Catholic hospitals will be denied the opportunity to treat the poor, unless they choose to provide abortion-inducing drugs. If pro-choice clinics have their way, women facing difficult pregnancy decisions will never hear about the choice of adoption. If NARAL and Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have their way, nominees for appointment to high judicial office will have no choice at all in the matter of abortion, nor will members of the U.S. Senate have a choice in voting on such nominees.
“Choice” is a positive concept, and an attractive concept. That’s why abortion apologists use it. But the way they use it is a lie and, increasingly, Americans are catching on. There is hope in this development.
There is also hope in the growing popular recognition that the decisions of the Supreme Court can be changed. The assertion of the Supreme Court in its Dred Scott decision (that slaves are not citizens), in time, was changed. The argument of the Court in its “separate-but-equal” Plessy v. Ferguson decision, in time, was changed. In each of these cases moral outrage was a decisive factor in the change. So it will be in the case of Roe v. Wade.
Increasingly, Americans are recognizing what a moral evil is embodied in Roe. Increasingly, they are aware of the vast network of lies that have been spun and fortified to sustain the illusion that abortion is somehow a good, or at least a morally neutral procedure; that it is a standard part of health care and family planning; that it is a proper exercise of a woman’s freedom; that it is a solution to intractable social problems. It is, of course, none of these things. What it is, is an unfettered right to take an innocent, human life from the mother’s womb. All this, more and more Americans are coming to know.
And, increasingly, Americans are coming to know what a Constitutional challenge Roe poses. Thirty-two years ago, seven members of the Supreme Court took the issue of abortion out of the hands of the American people and their duly elected lawmakers. In doing so, they declared that the tiniest human beings have no claim on life and that, therefore, their lives can be terminated. In doing so, those seven did more than write new laws; they invented a constitutional concept that had never been envisioned; in doing so, they contravened two of our nation’s most precious values: the recognition of a God-given, inalienable right to life, and the promise of equal protection under law. All this, increasing numbers of Americans are coming to understand. And there is hope in this.
A pilgrimage, dear friends, is a journey that is undertaken with a view to a great event or experience. If it is a Christian pilgrimage, it is undertaken in prayer and a spirit of penance. It always entails some discomfort, but it always brings the grace of an increased peace of heart.
The pilgrim learns of the past or coming event and heads off in search of the evidence, to be an eyewitness, to confirm what others have reported. In the process, the pilgrim hopes to be transformed by the experience. Although pilgrims might make their journey in the company of others, they must witness individually, each with his or her own eyes, and they must individually be changed. And when they return from their journey, pilgrims must tell others what they have witnessed.
Jesus began to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” soon after leaving Nazareth. In the gospel passage, we see him beginning his own public pilgrimage toward Calvary, the empty tomb and reunion with His heavenly Father. Near Capernaum, walking by the Sea of Galilee, he sees two sets of brothers, first, Simon and Andrew, and then, the Sons of Zebedee, James and John. To them Jesus speaks a simple phrase, “Follow me.” And they do follow him, beginning their own pilgrimages. Each one of them thereafter spent his life doing what Jesus had taught him to do and, like Jesus, reaching out to others with the same invitation, “Follow me.” The same invitation touches each of us and we must do as they did, we must follow Jesus.
Recall if you will the surprised reactions to the recent elections. Abortion apologists and their lawmaker and media friends are still trying to wrap their dreary arguments with a “values” ribbon. But they are not credible and their arguments are not credible. As the election-day exit polling made clear, a solid majority of Americans, no matter their party, know they are not credible.
It is our task to invite them to find their true home, in the pro-life movement. We must invite them to walk with us, and to work with us, for the overturn of Roe. And so we must reach out, each one of us, as Jesus did to those who would become his Apostles, and as the Apostles did to a waiting world.
Today’s world waits for us, blessed as we are by the example of Jesus and the example of the Twelve he called. We are blessed in other ways as well: here in this Basilica we remember the Immaculate Mother of us all, whose powerful prayer is with us, and how we are called to carry forth the Gospel of Life and nourished, in this Year of the Eucharist, by the very Bread of Life, Our Lord Jesus, who suffered, died and rose for us.
Cardinal William H. Keeler delivered this homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Jan. 23, 2005.