Priests and Abortion
By Fr. Frank A. Pavone
August - September 1994 Homiletic & Pastoral Review
As a priest involved in full-time pro-life ministry, I have been told a
number of times by well meaning friends that they are glad I am happy doing "my
thing," which is fighting abortion. Some of them go on to add that it is not
"their thing." My response to all this is to kindly point out that whether an
activity is or is not "one's thing" has nothing to do with duty or with the
demands of justice. I fight abortion not because I am particularly attracted to
the battle, but because human life is at stake. It is a duty of conscience to
defend it. I do so, furthermore, as a priest. My pro-life work flows from my
priesthood, not as an optional, extra "thing," but as an aspect of the very
meaning of priesthood. Every priest, in fact, though not necessarily called to
full-time pro-life ministry, is called to a full-time, whole-hearted, active
stand for life and against abortion.
Here I briefly examine why that is so, from a consideration of what Scripture
says about Christ and justice, and from a reflection on the Eucharist.
The priest is "another Christ," and as such is a man of salvation, bringing
others the benefits of the Redemption. Yet the priest is also a man of creation,
for Christ not only saved the world, but made it. The earliest New Testament
reference to this is 1 Corinthians 8:6, "For us there is... one Lord, Jesus
Christ through Whom all things are and through Whom we exist." Colossians
reiterates the theme. "All things were created through Him and for Him. He is
before all else that is, and in Him everything continues in being"
(Col.1:16-17). It is the message of John's Prologue. "In the beginning was the
Word.... All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be.
What came to be in Him was life...(John 1:1-3; See also Heb.1:2; Prov.8:30).
Christ is Alpha and Omega (Rev. 22:13); He is the beginning of life and the
purpose of life. He is the answer to the child's question, "Mommy, why are there
stars and mountains and people?" To stand for Christ is to stand for creation
and for life; to minister Christ to the world is to minister life. The pre-born
child exists through Him and for Him. To be silent about that child's
destruction is to betray both the child and Christ. To bring salvation to God's
people is first of all to defend their very existence.
The prophecies of Christ are heavily linked with the word "justice." Psalm 72
declares, "Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace till the moon be
no more," and then specifies what that justice entails: "He shall rescue the
poor man when he has no one to help him.... From fraud and violence he shall
redeem them, and precious shall their blood be in his sight" (v. 7, 12, 14).
"Justice" refers to an act of intervention for the defenseless. God does it for
His people, and His people must do it for one another. If they don't, worship of
God is pointless. This is brought out forcefully through the prophet Amos, when
God says, "I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your
solemnities.... Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of
your harps. But if you would offer me holocausts, then let justice surge like
water, and goodness like an unfailing stream" (Amos 5:21, 23-24. See also Isaiah
Christ preaches and acts in the name of justice, declaring that the Spirit of
the Lord has anointed Him to free the oppressed (Luke 4:18 from Isa. 61). In His
ministry, Christ seeks out those whom society oppresses and rejects: the poor,
the lepers, the lunatics, the tax collectors and sinners, and the children whom
even His apostles considered troublesome.
His justice, ultimately, is "to undo the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
Those works, as Christ declared, are lies and murder (see John 8:44; Psalm 72
said "fraud and violence"). Nowhere is the alliance between lying and murdering
more clear than in the abortion industry. Women are told their child is a "blob
of tissue." They are told the abortion procedure is "safe," whereas in truth it
carries untold burdens of physical and mental anguish. The pro-abortion lies are
an echo of the original lie told to the first woman, "You certainly will not
die" (Gen. 3:4b). Nowhere besides the abortion mills are there larger numbers of
more defenseless people crying out for our intervention. A man of Christ must
intervene; a priest must "make justice his aim" (see Isa. 1:17).
There is a story from the days of the Nazi atrocities that tells of a church
along a road where the trains passed, carrying Jews to execution. When they
passed the church on Sunday mornings, they would cry out in the hope that the
worshipers would hear their cries and rescue them. The noise of the wailing
prompted members of the congregation to ask the pastor, "What are we to do about
this disturbance to our worship?" The pastor paused and then said, "Tell the
people to sing a little louder." Sing a little louder! Avoid the distraction of
human lives in danger! This is the temptation today for Christians, who may
think they are too busy with other things to worry about the abortion
issue...too busy to worry about justice.
The Bread of Life
A priest is a man of the Eucharist, and it is in the Mass that we touch the
definitive victory of life over death. "Dying you destroyed our death, rising
you restored our life." "I am the Bread of Life" (John 6:35). The Eucharist is
the sacrifice of life and the banquet of life, and because the priest officiates
at this sacrificial banquet, he is truly "Father," imparting life to all who
come. The priest guards the Eucharist, which is both a human and a Divine Life,
for it is Christ himself. The priest leads his people to adore the Eucharist and
to see, beyond the appearances, the reality of life. This is why he must stand
powerfully in defense of human life which, in its initial stages, is also hidden
from human sight, yet no less sacred for that reason. Just as the Sacred Host is
"defenseless," so is the pre-born child. Just as the Sacred Host is sacred
because it is God, so is the pre-born child the sacred image of God. If the
priest is the defender of the sacred, then he is such wherever and whenever the
sacred is attacked. "This is my Body." These words are at the heart of
priesthood. They are also at the heart of pro-life. They are the words of
Christ. Are they not also the words of the pre-born child?
The priest, then, as "another Christ," is a man of creation, of justice, and
of the Eucharist. He is, by definition, a man of life. When life is attacked on
such a monstrous scale as in abortion, what is he to do? Here are a few
practical suggestions for busy priests in an age of abortion.
1) Sign up for "Priests for Life," a network of priests who assist one
another regarding how to preach and act on the abortion issue (and other life
issues). Homily hints, bulletin inserts, and much practical help through the
Newsletter is available. Write Priests for Life, PO Box 141172, Staten Island,
2) Put an insert in the bulletin about abortion. One such insert, called
"Abortion, A Choice Against Women," saved at least two lives after I put it in
my parish bulletin. Two women who read it and had been considering abortion
changed their minds. Saving lives can be as easy as that.
3) Within the coming year, read David Reardon's book, Aborted Women Silent No
More (available from Loyola University Press, 3441 North Ashland Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60657). This book will help you address abortion from a very
effective perspective, namely, that it is neither safe nor liberating for women.
It contains numerous direct testimonies from women who have had abortions and
now suffer. It tells of the women who were deceived, forced into abortion and
abandoned afterwards amid physical pain and mental anguish. It contains a
detailed survey of women who have had abortions. To be pro-life is to be
4) Within the coming year, plan to attend at least one pro-life vigil in
front of a nearby abortuary. See for yourself what it is like. Go where some of
your flock is being killed. You will return a different person.
5) Encourage pro-lifers in your parish or school to form an active pro-life
group. They will be ready to do the work. Let them know that you support them.
Several priests I know conducted essay and poster contests in their parish
school on the theme of abortion. One of the winning essays was read by the
student at Sunday Mass, and the winning posters were displayed in the vestibule
of the Church. One of these posters showed two crosses. On one was Jesus, on the
other was a baby. It read, "Jesus did this so we wouldn't do this. Abortion
More and more priests are erecting permanent signs on the Church grounds to
carry a pro-life message to the public. Some of the messages are, "Let the
Pre-Born Babies Live," "Abortion: the Ultimate Child Abuse," and "Abortion Stops
a Beating Heart."
There is no issue more urgent than abortion. If we as priests learn more
about it and engage in the battle against it, we will find ourselves penetrating
more deeply the very mystery of what it means to be a priest.
Reverend Frank A. Pavone serves in full-time pro-life ministry as
International Director of Priests for Life. He received his M.Div. and MA. in
theology from St. Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers, and was ordained in New York in
1988. Fr. Pavone has taught Scripture and Dogma in the Permanent Diaconate
Formation Program and the Institute for Religious Studies in New York. This is
his first article for HOMILETIC & PASTORAL REVIEW.
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