Archdiocese joins pope and world in praying for human life during prayer vigils
by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — A pro-life vigil might seem like a strange start to the Advent season.
But this year, Pope Benedict himself called on dioceses around the world to join him in opening the new liturgical year by praying for the protection of all nascent human life.
The archdiocese responded with two separate prayer events — one led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at Mater Dei-Holy Name Church in Topeka; the other by Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.
The vigils featured vespers, adoration, a rosary, Benediction, and a homily by the presider.
In his comments, Archbishop Nau- mann discussed the meaning of the word “nascent” and the many threats to early life in our society, including abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and artificial fertility techniques that often result in the destruction of extra embryos.
“Nascent is not a word that is used frequently in ordinary conversation,” he said. “It is derived from the Latin word ‘nasci’ — meaning ‘to be born.’ It is defined as: ‘coming into being’ or ‘being born’ or ‘beginning to form, start, grow or develop.’”
“The Holy Father has chosen to focus the prayer of the entire church on the worldwide need to renew the respect for the sanctity of human life from its very beginning — its earliest stages,” he continued. “The very fact that Pope Benedict XVI recognized a need for such an outpouring of prayer underlines the many threats to the sanctity of human life in our time.”
Elsewhere in his homily, Archbishop Naumann reflected on the timing of the Holy Father’s request.
“We might ask ourselves why the Holy Father summoned us to prayer for this intention at the beginning of Advent,” he said. “I think that the Holy Father has asked us to pray for nascent human life at the beginning of Advent because of the nature of this season and the events so central to our salvation that we remember at this time.”
During the vigil in Shawnee, Archbishop Keleher reflected on the threat to human life both within the United States and around the world.
“Jesus once said, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full,’” said the archbishop. “That meant the full human life — from the tiniest human embryonic cell to the last breath we take. It also means that he would give up his life on the cross so that we might someday enjoy eternal life.”
“This truth is affirmed from the beginning by the church,” he continued. “But it is not just a Catholic thing — it is a grand human reality.
“Even our forefathers, who penned the beautiful Declaration of Independence, could glimpse it as they proclaimed that it was an inalienable right to have life. . . . ‘Inalienable’ means that it is a right that is inherent in the very nature of being human — it is not a right that the state gives us.
“And it cannot be taken from us, either. We have it from on high — from the God who created us and breathed into us an immortal soul.”
Later in his homily, Archbishop Keleher expressed his concern for the United States and how it seems to straying more and more from God’s ways.
“Isaiah once spoke of his people who were straying from God’s way as if they were living beneath a dark cloud which blinded them from the truth,” he said. “I think much of America and the Western world now walk beneath that same cloud that darkens their minds and hardens their hearts — so much so that they justify denying the inalienable right to human life and do so to the most innocent of God’s creatures: the nascent unborn.”
“I think many factors have made this situation so common in our culture today,” continued the archbishop. “I single out only one unfortunate fact that cannot be denied: Our society has so trivialized sexual activity and so successfully separated it from its natural companion — i.e., wholesome married life — that it has led to millions of abortions and to the experimentation with the very beginnings of life.”
The archbishop concluded his remarks with a prayer that all might grow in awareness of the great beauty of human life.
“And so on this Advent night and through the intercession of his Blessed Mother,” he prayed, “we beg for his Holy Spirit, who brought life to her womb, that he might enlighten our world to the beauty of all human life and give it the respect it deserves.”