Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Mass for Archdiocese of Philadelphia Participants in the March for Life
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Praised be Jesus Christ!
I warmly greet all of you, brother Bishops, dear priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, seminarians, so many of the lay faithful, and, in a special way, the many young people who have traveled from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to participate in the Annual March for Life. Your presence is an eloquent witness to your commitment to protect the God-given right to life, from the moment of conception to natural death. I thank you for your efforts and I express as well my deep gratitude to all in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who, although unable to make this journey to Washington, are united with us in prayer and fasting. Together, we raise to heaven our urgent appeal for all whose lives are threatened by abortion and other assaults against the dignity and sanctity of human life.
In the name of all who are gathered here for this Mass, I express heartfelt gratitude to the Rector and Staff of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for their cordial welcome and wonderful accommodation. Each time we come to this magnificent shrine, we are made to feel at home. We look forward to our return to the shrine for our Philadelphia Pilgrimage in May.
Today, before we peacefully and prayerfully march for the cause of life, we turn for strength to Jesus through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Formed by the word of God and nourished by the Body of Christ, we are indeed fortified for the task at hand: to give bold witness to the Gospel of Life in the daunting face of the culture of death. We know that no matter how relentless the assaults on the dignity of life seem, the strength which comes from God is far stronger and offers immense hope.
The Church today celebrates the memorial of a third-century martyr, Saint Vincent of Saragossa. As a deacon, he was a minister of the Word and of the Precious Blood, and an administrator of charity. The tradition of the Church relates to us the ferocious tortures which were inflicted upon this young man for his refusal to deny Christ. His courage and resistance served to infuriate the Roman governor. However, the steadfast faith, serenity and joy with which he accepted and embraced his suffering deeply moved his tormentors. According to tradition, they converted to faith in Christ.
Saint Augustine, who is the greatest source of information about the martyrdom of Saint Vincent, speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Hours on this day, saying: "There is no need to wonder … that Vincent conquered in him who conquered the world. Christ said: In this world you will suffer persecution, but in such wise that the persecution will not overwhelm, and the attack will not overcome you. Against Christ’s army the world arrays a twofold battle line. It offers temptation to lead us astray; it strikes terror into us to break our spirit. Hence if our personal pleasures do not hold us captive, and if we are not frightened by brutality, then the world is overcome. At both of these approaches Christ rushes to our aid, and the Christian is not conquered. If you were to consider in Vincent’s martyrdom only human endurance, then his act is unbelievable from the outset. But first recognize the power to be from God, and he ceases to be a source of wonder" (Office of Readings, January 22).
The Liturgy of the Word on this memorial instructs us in the words of Saint Paul: "We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in our body the dying of Jesus" (2 Cor 4: 8-10). Affliction and perplexity certainly arise as we ponder how in our world the gift of life, the beautiful gift of a child, could be viewed as a burden - or even as an aggressor. In the face of the many new and frightening challenges to life, especially the proposed "Freedom of Choice Act," many could fall into a sense of defeat and despair. However, our strength is in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Saint Paul emphasizes that the "one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus" (2 Cor 4:14). God’s plan is for victory and, in the strength which comes from God, ultimately we will be victorious in Christ.
The words of the Gospel, too, serve to allay our fears. Jesus commands us: "...do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Mt 10:19-20). The eloquence of the presence of so many hundreds of thousands united in the cause of life demonstrates that, with power from above, we will walk in virtue, and the cause of truth—which is the cause of life itself—will be exalted.
For this effort, we need the great gift of perseverance. In spite of the misunderstandings of many, the onslaught of efforts from those opposed to the gift of life, and the setbacks that may be on the horizon, we will not surrender. We will continue to ask God for the great gift of perseverance in our own lives, in our every effort in defense of the beautiful gift of life—all human life.
Today, as we unite ourselves with people of many faiths to give common witness to the cause of life, with the Psalmist we pray: "Let us together extol his name. I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears" (Ps 34:4-5). We are calling upon the Lord for what is taking place today. At the same time, we must realize that what is taking place today is in response to prayer. Truly, God is stirring more and more hearts to reject the culture of death and to embrace the Gospel of Life. The multitudes we will walk with today are only a small representation of the millions who are united with us in prayer, in hope, in perseverance for the cause of life.
Once again, we derive inspiration from the example of Saint Vincent of Saragossa. As Saint Vincent did not waver in his witness to the truth, so we remain unwavering in our commitment to the truth that all life is sacred, all life has value, all life must be protected. We are engaged in a battle against a false mind set that "choice" and "freedom" mean that people need not accept responsibility for their actions and that anything—or anyone—that is an inconvenience can be disregarded and discarded. Ours is the task to inform, to enlighten and to encourage people of good will that genuine freedom involves a selfless mind set and a true reliance on God.
Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed these words to us last April during the Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York: "Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth which makes us free (cf. John 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on ‘the mind of Christ’ (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us! In the light of faith, within the communion of the Church, we also find the inspiration and strength to become a leaven of the Gospel in the world. We become the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14), entrusted with the ‘apostolate’ of making our own lives, and the world in which we live, conform ever more fully to God’s saving plan" (Homily, April 20, 2008).
Dear friends: the urgency of our mission has led us to our Nation’s Capital. In our minds and in our hearts are all the unborn children, all of the infirm and the suffering. In each human person for whom we march today we recognize and honor the presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Son of God made man. For Jesus and his truth we march today. With Jesus in our hearts, we show our nation that life is a gift, and no child—no person—can be identified as a burden. We entrust humbly and lovingly all of our efforts to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the New Eve and the Mother of Life. By her prayers, may Jesus be formed in us all and may we, like Mary, always bear the love and the presence of Jesus in all that we do and to everyone whom we meet. By the grace and mercy of God and through our efforts may the Gospel of Life be proclaimed throughout our land. Amen!