by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Editor’s note: Below appears Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s homily for the Vigil Mass of the March for Life at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2019.
Tonight, we gather to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the tragic twin Supreme Court decisions (Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton) that legalized abortion essentially for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy. As a result, since 1973, there have been 61 million innocent American children killed in the wombs of their mothers.
The Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases were based on deception. The late Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, lied about being gang-raped. After her pro-life conversion, Norma acknowledged that she was deceived by her attorneys about the reality of abortion. For the last 20 years of her life Norma McCorvey labored tirelessly to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
Sandra Cano, the Jane Doe of the Doe v. Bolton decision, never wanted an abortion. Her lawyers, whom she had engaged to assist with regaining the custody of her children, used her difficult circumstances to advance their own ideological goal to legalize abortion. She actually fled the state of Georgia, when she feared that her lawyers and family members intended to pressure her to have an abortion.
The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the Founders of NARAL, originally the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and now the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, admitted to inventing statistics about the number of illegal abortions. The claim of the Supreme Court that the United States Constitution contained a right to abortion is absurd.
The late Justice Byron White in his dissent from the Roe and Doe decisions characterized them as “an exercise in raw judicial power.” The late Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 said that he could say with certainty that abortion is not protected by the Constitution “because of two simple facts: 1) the Constitution says nothing about it and 2) the longstanding traditions of American society have permitted it to be legally proscribed.”
We assemble in 2019 with some new hope that the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court may result in a re-examination and an admission by the court of its tragic error 46 years ago. We pray that state legislatures and the people of this country will again have the ability to protect the lives of unborn children.
At the same time, we are sobered by the ferocity and the extremism of the proponents of legalized abortion as evidenced in the recent confirmation process to fill a vacancy on the U. S. Supreme Court. Recently, two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the suitability of a judicial nominee because of his membership in an extremist organization, the Knights of Columbus.
Why are the Knights labelled extremists? Because they embrace and support Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life and marriage! Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a January 1st letter to his brother Knights recounted the vast amount of charitable and humanitarian work that the Order does in our own country and throughout the world. He then noted: “This [same] love also motivates us to stand with the Church on the important issues of life and marriage, precisely because the Church’s teaching reflects and is based on that love. We stand with our Church because we believe that what our faith teaches is consistent with reason, is timeless and transcends the changing sentiments of any particular time or place.”
II: The Beauty and Ecumenical Composition of the Pro-Life Movement
One of the great goods that Our Lord has drawn forth from the terrible tragedy of legalized abortion has been to unite in common cause Christians of different denominations and members of other faith traditions who share a common concern for the defense of the sacredness of all human life. I am particularly grateful for the presence tonight of leaders of the Orthodox Church who honor us by joining us in prayer. The Orthodox Church has been a strong and consistent advocate for the sanctity of life. I personally treasure the friendships that have been forged with Evangelicals, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and many non-denominational Christians through my involvement with the pro-life movement.
I believe that Jesus takes delight in seeing his priestly prayer of the Gospel, in part, being fulfilled: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” [John 17:20]. We are grateful for all the non-Catholics with us tonight who have come to join us in prayer, and we look forward tomorrow to marching with many, many other brothers and sisters in Christ and all those who honor God’s sovereignty over human life.
III: Upholding the Dignity of the Human Person
Sometimes, our opponents criticize pro-lifers for only caring about the unborn. While in such a broad-based movement there are obviously some exceptions, in my experience of the pro-life community this is simply not true.
Millions of pro-life individuals volunteer and financially support the thousands of Birthrights, Pro-life Pregnancy Care centers and Pregnancy Resource centers that provide medical, financial and moral support to parents who often in the midst of difficult circumstances choose life for their child. These centers of love are committed to accompanying parents long after the birth of their child. They are committed not only to the survival of the baby, but to empower mothers and families to thrive for a lifetime.
The pro-life ethic challenges us to care about the sacredness of every human being throughout the life spectrum. We are called always and everywhere to promote the dignity of the human person.
Protecting the life of the unborn children is the pre-eminent human rights issue of our time, not only because of the sheer magnitude of the numbers, but because abortion attacks the sanctuary of life, the family. Abortion advocates pit the welfare of the mother against the life of her child. Every abortion not only destroys the life of an innocent child, but it wounds and scars mothers and fathers who must live with the harsh reality that they hired someone to destroy their daughter or son. In reality, the welfare of parents and their child are always intimately linked.
We are concerned about the life and dignity of the human person wherever it is threatened or diminished. We care about those harmed by economic poverty, by racism, by religious intolerance. We care about the plight of the refugee fleeing persecution and the immigrant seeking a better life for his or her family, of victims of violent crime as well as those imprisoned, of those with intellectual or physical disabilities and the frail elderly, of violence and disrespect against those in law enforcement as well as the victims of police brutality. Anyone whose life is threatened and anyone whose human dignity is disrespected have a claim on our hearts.
For all Catholics, the last several months have been profoundly difficult. We have been devastated by the scandal of sexual misconduct by clergy and of past instances of the failure of bishops to respond with compassion to victims of abuse and to protect adequately the members of their flock. The abuse of children or minors upends the pro-life ethic because it is a grave injustice and an egregious offense against the dignity of the human person. Moreover, the failure to respond effectively to the abuse crisis undermines every other ministry within the Church.
IV: Unique from Day One: Pro-Life Is Pro-Science
The theme for this year’s March for Life, Unique from Day One — Pro-Life is Pro-Science, seeks to dispel the notion that advocacy for the protection of the life within the womb is somehow at odds with modern scientific knowledge. Abortion advocates often seek to portray opposition to abortion as an imposition of religious belief. While our Christian faith definitely speaks to the sanctity of life as the biblical readings for tonight’s Mass illustrate, one does not need religious revelation to know the killing of innocent human life is inhumane.
The advances of scientific knowledge and technology over the past 100 years have confirmed that a unique human life begins at fertilization. The unborn child, beginning as a one celled zygote and throughout its embryonic and fetal stages of development, possesses DNA, a genetic code, distinct from his or her parents. Ultra-sound technology has given us a window into the womb, allowing us to witness the miraculous unfolding of the development of a new and unique human life.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of NARAL and himself an abortionist, became pro-life not because of theology or any religious sentiment, but from his own study of the scientific advancements in embryology and fetology. While it is true that Dr. Nathanson eventually became Catholic, it was long after he had become a pro-life advocate because of science.
It takes much more faith to be an atheist than a Christian. Think about it. An atheist has to believe that the cosmos, the universe, solar system, the complex beauty of the natural world, the miracle of the human body, all happened by chance — against all odds.
There is a reason that the scientific method developed in a Christian culture. There is a reason that the vast majority of scientists until very recent times were devout believers. Unless you believe that there is predictability in the universe, science really makes no sense. This predictability within nature reveals an amazingly intricate design throughout the cosmos down to the tiniest molecule. This design has the finger prints of the designer — God.
V: Made in the Divine Image
In the very first chapter of the Bible, God reveals important theological truths. First, without God there is chaos. Second, all of creation is good. Third, many of the wonders people worshipped as divinities — the sun or moon or certain living creatures — are not gods, but they are creations of the One True God.
Most significantly, the first chapter of the Bible asserts that human beings are the masterpiece of all creation. Men and women are uniquely made in the Divine Image. Psalm 139 reminds us how God knit us together in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully, wonderfully made. Human beings alone amongst all of creation are given the ability to reflect, to understand, to ponder, and, most importantly, the freedom to choose the good and the noble, the freedom to choose to do God’s will or not.
VI: Redemption – God Pursues Us
The choice by our first parents to deny God’s lordship, to refuse to do his will — to seek to be their own god, had disastrous results. It brought back the original chaos — a moral chaos. You want a glimpse of this moral chaos, just read a newspaper, watch the evening news, or observe the nihilism present in much of our art, music, literature, and films. If you want to view a powerful illustration of the tragic consequences of this moral chaos, watch the movie Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.
What a blessing our Christian faith! We not only believe in a God who created the cosmos and made us in his Divine Image, but we believe in a God who pursued us even after we rebelled and attempted to push him out of our world. We believe in a God who loved us so much that he became flesh, he became a human being. Why? So that he could redeem us and make it possible for us to share in his divine and eternal life! We believe in God who not only created us in his image, but a God who died for us so that we might have eternal life in him.
VII: Mercy – the Heart of the Gospel, the Heart of our Pro-Life Work
If you want to know the value God places on every human life, just contemplate the image of our Crucified Lord. Tonight, we heard proclaimed a very small portion of St. Luke’s Passion Narrative. Jesus entered fully into our human condition. Our Lord endured the greatest injustice in human history as a result of our sin. On Calvary, Our Lord does not lash out and curse those who have accused him falsely and plotted his cruel execution. Instead, Jesus begs the Father to forgive the soldiers who nailed him to the Cross.
We read in the Gospel tonight about Christianity’s first deathbed conversion. One of the prisoners crucified with Our Lord joins the crowd in mocking Jesus. The other, sometimes called the Good Thief or Dismas, makes a most beautiful profession of faith. The Good Thief recognizes in the brutally beaten and apparently defeated Jesus, the Lord of Life. Dismas makes a humble, but faith-filled request: “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus canonizes him on the spot, proclaiming “This day you will be with Me in paradise.”
The Gospel is all about mercy. Our Lord’s mission is all about mercy. And we, His disciples, must also be about mercy. Our pro-life ministry is about mercy: 1) mercy for the innocent and defenseless child in the womb, 2) mercy for frightened and overwhelmed mothers in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, 3) mercy for post-abortive mothers or fathers who deeply regret authorizing the killing of their own child; 4) mercy for the abortion advocates who verbally attack us and label us extremists; 5) mercy for those who wish to disqualify from public office members of the Knight of Columbus or anyone else in whom “the dogma lives loudly”; 6) mercy for abortion clinic workers, volunteers and, yes, even abortionists.
Nearly every diocese in the country has an abortion healing ministry, most often called Project Rachel, to bring hope and healing to all those wounded by abortion: the mothers, the fathers, and anyone involved in advocating, assisting or performing abortion. God’s mercy is endless. For all are made in the Divine Image and are of such inestimable worth that God died for them.
IX: Pro-Life Pauls
Ours is a movement that is all about love and mercy. We give thanks for amazing Paul- like conversions of abortion advocates, who have become the powerful pro-life apologists. As we pray through this night and we march tomorrow, let us pray that we can be great and effective witnesses for life, witnesses for love, witnesses for mercy.
If you see only one movie this year, see the movie Unplanned. I warn you — Unplanned is painful, graphic and yet inspiring. The movie depicts the true story of the prayers and compassion of pro-life sidewalk counselors being the human instruments that God used in bringing a former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director, former Employee of the Year, Abby Johnson, out of the abortion clinic into offices of 40 Days For Life. Today, Abby Johnson is devoting her talent and energy to helping others make that journey from the horror of assisting with the killing of the innocent to the joy and peace of God’s mercy and grace.
Pray that through God’s grace there will be many more Norma McCorveys, Bernard Nathansons, Beverly McMillans, Carroll Everetts, Ramona Trevinos, Abby Johnsons, who will come to know they are made in the Divine Image and that they are of such worth that Jesus died for them. May our advocacy awaken the hearts of others to know Jesus’ desire for them to experience abundant life in this world and to share with him eternal life in paradise!
Let us come forward in a few moments filled with faith and awe to receive the Bread of Life who is the Lord of Life. Let us give thanks for the great dignity God has given to us, to be made in his image and even more to be his living temples, his living tabernacles in the world. Let us receive with great joy, devotion and confidence this God who has pursued us and died for us. Let us ask the Lord of Life to help us be His witnesses of merciful love in the world!
Praise be Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life forever and ever!