There are some lessons, learned from family, friends and school that we carry with us throughout the course of our lives. Defining moments that are integral to our country are among them. I do not remember what grade I was in when I learned about Dec. 7, 1941, a day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said would live in infamy. I remember looking up “infamy” in the dictionary and learning that it referred to an extreme, publicly known criminal or evil act. The attack on Pearl Harbor had a profound influence on all Americans and continues to live on in the minds and hearts of many. There have been other days of infamy as well: Nov. 22, 1963 when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s bullet; Sept. 11, 2001 when, in a terrible act of violence, over 3,000 of our fellow human beings lost their lives. New York City will never be quite the same.
Unfortunately, there is another day of infamy whose anniversary we commemorate this week. I refer of course to the Supreme Court decision of Jan. 22, 1973. In the well known Roe vs. Wade case the Supreme Court rendered an infamous judgment that has resulted in the death of more than 45 million Americans.
It is encouraging, however, to note that public opinion is changing with regard to abortion. More and more Americans recognize the baby in the womb as a person. They wish that person to have, in the words of our founding fathers, “the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Abortion on demand is against God’s law. Abortion on demand is contrary to the natural law, “do good and avoid evil.” Abortion on demand does not speak well of our country. Abortion on demand must be stopped.
We will continue to do all that we can in the Diocese of Syracuse and beyond its borders to protect the right to life for every person created in God’s image. It is from this fundamental right that all of our other rights and obligations proceed. In his Encyclical, The Gospel of Life, John Paul II reminded us that “it is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop.”
As Catholics, it is absolutely essential that we are people of life. While our approaches to defend life may vary, all of us, and indeed all people of goodwill, must be willing to stand up and give witness to the sacredness of all human life from conception to natural death. The sanctity and dignity of every human being must be proclaimed, defended and treasured. This is the solemn and consistent teaching of the Church through the centuries. Men and women, young and old, from every walk of life must be living witness is to this teaching of the Church.
The goodness of life is as old as creation itself: “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good,”(Genesis 1: 31). Today, as human life, the pinnacle of God’s creation, is threatened everywhere from the unborn child to the elderly, we must protect and reverence life at each stage of its existence. Life is a gift from God. God alone determines when our life on earth begins and when it should end. The culture of death is becoming all too prevalent. We need to uphold the culture of life.
I am delighted that so many young people from our diocese and so many adults will be making the journey from central New York to Washington, D.C to participate at Masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and at the Verizon Center, to take part in various rallies and to walk in the March for Life. Many of our people will be there representing all of us in our efforts to reverence and respect human life. For those unable to travel to Washington, I will celebrate a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, Jan. 22 at 12:10 p.m. I hope that you will be able to join us in this celebration. If, however, that is not possible please join us in a spirit of prayer and penance on that day. January 22nd is being observed throughout our country as a day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right of life.
The words of the psalmist, “For it was you who created my innermost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being; for the wonders of all your creation,” (Ps. 139: 13-14), have always inspired me. The psalmist appreciates the beauty and mystery of life, especially the unborn child being formed in the mother’s womb. The psalmist also has a profound understanding that God, the author of life, is intimately involved in each tiny detail in the development of the child in the womb. Life, from its beginning in a mother’s womb through every stage thereafter until natural death, is a daily miracle of God’s tenderness. This divine tenderness stands in stark contrast to the infamy, the disgrace and scandal of abortion. Pope Benedict XVI has stated, “the freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.” May we exercise our freedom through choices which cherish every human life as a gift from God that bears His image and likeness.
Respect for life and its connection to proposed health care legislation is a continuing concern for all of us. On Nov. 7, the U.S. House of Representatives passed major health care reform that reaffirms the essential, long-standing and widely supported policy against using federal funds for elective abortion coverage. On Dec. 24, the U.S. Senate rejected this policy and passed health care reform that requires federal funds to help subsidize and promote health plans that cover elective abortions. These two bills must now be combined into one and then both the House and the Senate will vote on its final form. Provisions against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights, affordability and access to health care for immigrants must be part of a fair and just health care reform. The Bishops of the United States strongly oppose abortion funding, while calling for critical improvements in conscience protection, affordability for the poor and vulnerable, and access to health care for immigrants. Please join me in making our Representatives and Senators aware of our desire to support health care reform that will protect the lives, the dignity, the conscience and the health of all. Health care reform should be about saving lives, not destroying them.
May the Lord keep all of us strong in our efforts to protect, defend and reverence human life at every stage of its existence. May God grant success to this work so important to our country and to our Church.
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse