A contingent of more than 400 people from our diocese traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the March for Life on January 22. Prior to the March, I celebrated Mass with them and thousands of other pilgrims in the Great Upper Church in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester; Bishop John Folda of Fargo, N.D.; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb. concelebrated with me. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below.
Why are we here? I thought about this question as I traveled to Washington for the annual March for Life. Why are we here?
Perhaps you are thinking, “Obviously, Bishop, we are here to stand up for life. We are here to stand firm in our determination to protect life, especially the life of the most vulnerable, the child in the mother’s womb. We are here to remind our elected officials that the laws of this land should protect all human life, including the unborn child in the womb.”
But why do we stand up for life? Why are we determined to protect life, especially the life of the most vulnerable?
I am here because I believe that every human life from the moment of conception until natural death is a child of God. The unborn child in the womb is made in the image and likeness of God. In the divine plan, God, out of His goodness and love, created the human person to share in His divine life. I believe that at all times and in every place God draws close to the human person. He calls every human person to seek Him, to know Him and to love Him with all their strength (cf. CCC, # 1, and # 356).
I am here because the answer to Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a resounding “yes.” In his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis reminded us, “Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother” (World Day of Peace, January 1, 2014). The child in the womb is my brother or sister. And what I do for him or her I do for Christ. And conversely what I fail to do for him or her I fail to do for Christ.
I am here because I believe God has a fatherly concern for everyone and wills that all people should constitute one family and treat one another as brothers and sisters. Love of God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. The love of God and neighbor cannot be separated. When Jesus prayed “that all may be one . . . as we are one” (Jn 17:21-22), He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine persons and the unity among God’s sons and daughters (cf. The Church in the Modern World, # 24).
I am here because I believe every generation needs to be reminded about the truth of the human person fashioned in the image and likeness of God to share in His life. Every generation needs to be reminded that every person has a special role as a steward, a custodian over all creation and the inherent responsibility to remain constant and steadfast in their efforts to safeguard, nurture and sustain the precious gift of life.
My dear young people, young adults and people of all ages who gather for this liturgy, how essential it is for us to reflect on why we are here. How essential for us to reflect on the precious and beautiful gift of human life. How critical it is that we safeguard the dignity of every human life. God has blessed each of you with many gifts and talents. Know what you believe and why you believe. The First Epistle of Peter urges us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope . . . “(1Pt 3:15).
On this forty-first anniversary of legalized abortion in the United States let us recommit ourselves to the teachings of our faith regarding the human person. Christ is calling each of us to work with Him and to transform our society so that it becomes a civilization of love which supports the life and dignity of each and every person.
Let me remind you, however, that our efforts and commitment cannot be relegated to one day of the year or to one event, as significant as our communal witness, prayer and penance today may be. A civilization of love needs to be promoted each day of the year. So I ask you to pray often, even daily, that one heart at a time, one person at a time, our homes, cities, state and nation will recognize the sanctity of human life and leave no stone unturned to safeguard and protect it.
Thank you for joining us in our commitment to life. Thank you for making this trip to Washington, for marching for life, for praying with us. Let us embrace our mission of promoting life in all its stages by being radiant examples of Christ’s love and mercy.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.