As I begin these reflections, I want to thank Father Adam Park, Pastor of this Parish and also Chaplain to the Catholic faculty and students at George Washington University, for arranging this opportunity to celebrate the University Mass for Life in which we give thanks to God for the gift of human life.
The Liturgy speaks to us. At every Mass the Word of God is announced so that we can hear that Word and seek to have it form our lives. What does God say to us? What does the Word of God, announced in this Liturgy, say to us tonight?
Some of that Word is addressed explicitly to you, the young people, the university students who are at the heart of this University Mass for Life. God says to you as he did to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Do not say I am too young, I do not know how to speak.” Do not say, I am not sure how I should voice my support for unborn children. Because the Lord says to the Prophet Jeremiah, “See I place my words in your mouth!”
The second reading tells us why those words are so important. Saint Paul writing to the Romans, then and to us now, says, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
Yes, there is a powerful political correctness movement, emphasis, perspective, environment and force all around us. It says to set aside such things as the value of human life and substitute the politically correct position that you should be free to choose to kill unborn children. But the Word of God comes to us to say, “Do not conform yourself to this age.”
And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us in response to the question of the young man, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” “Keep the commandments.” And these include “You shall not kill.”
Once, some years ago, I was at a hearing that involved a number of community leaders, political, law enforcement, educational and Church. One of the young at risk people, about 14 years old, was asked by one of the people on the advisory board, “Why is it that you act so violently towards other people?” (The young man was in custody for having shot and gravely injured another young person.) His response was, “How come you get to draw the line?” His inference was clear to everybody in the room.
For two generations our culture has been saying it is perfectly alright to kill unborn children, it is perfectly alright to take the life of someone else if that someone is inconvenient to you. His question was, “How come you get to draw the line?”
We are here tonight because we share a very different view of life one that recognizes it as a gift from God. Life is something we embrace and cherish.
During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, one of the most striking images was how the Holy Father’s love radiated whether he was greeting a head of state or a homeless person. His gestures, his words, his actions in every encounter proclaimed the truth that every life is worth living. As a gift from God, every human life from conception to death is sacred. It is this fundamental truth the Pope so convincingly communicates.
Tonight we gather to say that every life is worth living. In a special way, we are invited to reflect on the ways we can give witness to the dignity of every human life. “In many places, quality of life is related primarily to economic means, to ‘well-being,’ to the beauty and enjoyment of the physical, forgetting other more profound dimensions of existence – interpersonal, spiritual and religious,” observes Pope Francis. “In fact, in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always ‘of quality.’ There is no human life that is more sacred than another – every human life is sacred.” (Address of November 15, 2014).
As a sacred gift entrusted to us, we are responsible for working to protect and preserve this life until it ends naturally, until the time that God alone appoints for our departure. Of course, since the time of Cain that gift of life has been brutally violated and violently taken away. Yet never has the responsibility to protect and preserve life been more difficult than in our day, either in our private personal lives or a social scale, given the assaults on life from widespread murder, war, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and more, including the prospect of medicalized death from those whose profession exists to help save life, not take it.
Pope Francis has spoken often about a widespread cultural mentality that enslaves the hearts of so many today, a mindset where what is valued the least is human life, especially if the person is physically or socially weaker. That is why concern for human life in its totality is a real priority for the Church, he told a group of healthcare providers. There is a need to unreservedly say “yes” to life, he said, especially with respect to the most vulnerable – the disabled, the sick, the newborn, children, the elderly, “even if he is ill or at the end of his days, [he] bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”
At a time when many in society tend to judge a person’s worth on an obscure and subjective “quality of life” scale, we are convinced that human dignity is not based on productivity or usefulness, and dignity is not destroyed during times of hardship or even great suffering. Created by God, made in his image, each and every person is endowed with inherent dignity.
Dear brothers and sisters, do not be deceived by the politically correct rhetoric that uses words to hide the true meaning. Those that favor killing the unborn child often speak of, “the product of conception” as opposed to “the unborn child.” They speak about “facilitating the conclusion of the life cycle” instead of “assisting a suicide.” So it is with choice. When you use the word “choice” you have to complete the sentence. What is it you choose?
Are you allowed to choose to smoke in the University cafeteria, are you allowed to choose to park your car wherever you want without consequences, are manufacturers free to present food without telling you its content and especially its calorie count?
The word “choice” is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away.
Do not ever be convinced by the rhetoric of liberation that killing unborn, innocent children is in any way similar to the great social justice struggles that our nation has faced – many times enlightened by the Church’s social teaching. Whether it was the fight against slavery, racial discrimination, or unjust working conditions, the Church’s proclamation of the dignity of all human life was the center.
Do not let anyone reduce for you the greatness of the American dream to the level of free contraceptives.
To realize, respect and foster human life, or any form of goodness, is to glorify the Creator of all persons and to honor his transcendent and creative goodness.
One last image I would like to leave with you as you valiantly continue your support for life in all of its many wonderful manifestations including the unborn child.
Some years ago, I visited one of our mission efforts in South America that included a maternity hospital. In the special section was a two day old baby whose mother had left him with the sisters because she was not able to care for the baby. She said she hoped the sisters would find a good home for the infant. A sister said to me, “You can pick up the baby. You will not hurt it. He is not that fragile.”
It was only when I went to put the baby back into its little crib that I realized how strong even an infant’s grip can be. He had latched on to my finger and was holding on tightly. It was as if he was saying, “Please, do not let me go. Please, do not let me alone. Please, somebody care for me.”
My brothers and sisters, what you are doing this evening is responding to the call of many, many unborn children. Please, be there for me. Please, do not let me go. Please, speak up for me.
May God bless you and remember what the Lord said to you through the Prophet Jeremiah, “To whomever I send you, you shall go and you shall speak.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl is Archbishop of Washington.