My dear friends,
I take this occasion to once again express gratitude to the Apostolate for Family Consecration, and especially to Jerry and Gwen Coniker, for organizing this Conference and for inviting my participation.
We have already reflected on the privileged duty which the family has of handing on the Gospel through family catechesis and prayer. Your multi-faceted work likewise emphasizes how the family is called to evangelize society. You give special emphasis, especially in the Be Not Afraid Holy Hours, on the role of the Eucharist in uniting and strengthening the family as an evangelizing community, and on the role of the family in restoring respect for life in society. You seek to give hope to the family when it encounters difficulties in its vocation of handing on the Gospel. Let us therefore spend some time reflecting together on these themes.
The Family and the Defense of Life
Humanity today, despite all its technical and scientific progress, appears more cruel and inhuman than ever.
Today, as you already know, there are more than 50 million innocent children eliminated by the crime of abortion each year. It is as if each year entire the population of Italy were liquidated, in the worse and cruelest war.
It is a war against the most defenseless and innocent, who have a right to live. It is a fundamental right that nobody can deny.
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is an important occasion to defend the life that is threatened and at risk.
The bottom line of the problem is the denial of the rights of the human being. From the moment of conception the "nascitino," the conceived, is an image of God and is called to be, through Baptism, a child of God.
The Holy Father teaches that there are two inseparable Gospels: The Gospel of the Family, the Good News for everybody, the spouses, the children and the society! And there is also the Gospel of Life: Human life is a gift from God that only belongs to the Creator. Human life is sacred. The human being is not a thing, is not an instrument that one can use, manipulate and throw away. Nobody can have at one's disposal the life of an innocent human being. John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae is a great and historic defense of human life.
The Church defends human life with love and with courage, and announces this wonderful gift that the family must also proclaim, announce and defend. There is no greater wealth, dear parents, than your children! The Church defends the life of everybody, especially the poorest, the weakest and the most in need, the children not yet born, the sick, the life of the elderly. Today there is the temptation to get rid of all of them because they are seen as a burden for society and for the family itself.
The Church reminds us that as persons they have been redeemed by Christ and also for them He has given His life. He loved me and He gave His life for me! He also did so for the sick, for the despised one. What is the key and the reason for the prominent value of the human being? The key is that he/she is a person loved by God…so much loved and in such measure that Jesus redeemed him/her in the cross.
Nobody, no authority, no human power, no Parliament, no government, can arrogate to oneself the authority and the right to treat people as things and decide that they don't have a right to live.
It is a scandal not only for the believers but also for any person, to hear about the increase in the crimes against the poorest and the most in need.
A Great Campaign on Behalf of Life
The defense of life, the culture of life, finds its biggest support in families. The family institution has as a mission to defend life, the educate it and to bring it to its fullness.
You are very aware of the call which the Church has given us through Evangelium Vitae, to engage in "a great campaign on behalf of life." This Encyclical calls on the family in a particular way to be the means through which the restoration of the Culture of Life takes place. Indeed, the Holy Father points out that one of the reasons that abortion and euthanasia are particularly terrible crimes is that they occur within the family, which is the sanctuary of life. He therefore goes on to assert, "Within the ‘people of life and the people for life,’ the family has a decisive responsibility. This responsibility flows from its very nature as a community of life and love…As the domestic church, the family is summoned to proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of Life"(EV n.92).
The Eucharist and the Defense of Life
The Eucharist teaches the families and moves them to the defense of life. Let's look at some points in this regard.
In a particular way, you who are present at this Conference know how families are strenghtened in this call by worshiping the Eucharist together. Such worship draws the members closer to each other in the bonds of charity which constitute the essence of strong families. The practice of family holy hours, promoted by this Apostolate, inserts the family into the daily mission of the Church to advance the Gospel of Life.
The Church could not exist without the Eucharist. Likewise for the Christian family. Its sustenance comes from the Body and Blood of the Lord. Its mission, also, to be the Domestic Church, is founded upon the Eucharist and leads back to the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of all the life and activity of the Church.
The commitment of the family to advance the Culture of Life receives its form and sustenance from the Eucharist as a sacrament of faith, unity, life, worship, and love.
The Eucharist is a sacrament of faith. The Consecrated Host looks no different after the consecration than before. It looks, smells, feels, and tastes like bread. Only one of the five senses gets to the truth. As St. Thomas' Adoro Te Devote expresses, "Seeing, touching, tasting are in Thee deceived. What says trusty hearing, that shall be believed?" The ears hear His words, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," and faith takes us beyond the veil of appearances.
Christians are used to looking beyond appearances. The baby in the manger does not look like God; nor for that matter does the man on the cross. Yet by faith we know He is no mere man. The Bible does not have a particular glow setting it off from other books, yet by faith we know it is uniquely the Word of God. The Eucharist seems to be bread and wine, and yet by faith we say, "My Lord and My God!" as we kneel in adoration.
The same dynamic of faith that enables us to see beyond appearances in these mysteries enables us to see beyond appearances in our neighbor. We can look at the persons around us, at the annoying person or the ugly person or the person who is unconscious in a hospital bed, and we can say, "Christ is there as well. There is my bother, my sister, made in the very image of God!" By the same dynamic we can look at the pre-born child and say, "There, too, is my brother, my sister, equal in dignity and just as worthy of protection as anyone else!" Some people will say the child in the womb, especially in the earliest stages, is too small to be the subject of Constitutional rights. Is the Sacred Host too small to be God, too unlike Him in appearance to be worshipped? The slightest particle of the Host is fully Christ. Eucharistic Faith is a powerful antidote to the dangerous notion that value depends on size, or power, or any other quality. To be, and not to have, is the source of dignity.
Imagine all the people, in every part of the world, who are receiving Communion today. Are they each receiving something different? Are they not rather each receiving the one and only Christ? Through this sacrament, Christ the Lord, gloriously enthroned in heaven, is drawing all people to Himself. If He is drawing us to Himself, then He is drawing us to one another. St. Paul comments on this, "We, many though we are, are one body, since we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor. 10:17). When we call each other "brothers and sisters," we are not merely using a metaphor that dimly reflects the unity between children of the same parents. The unity we have in Christ is even stronger than the unity of blood brothers and sisters, because we do have common blood: the blood of Christ! The result of the Eucharist is that we become one, and this obliges us to be as concerned for each other as we are for our own bodies.
This is the unity of the family: we have found that we are children of God. We can cry out, "Abba," that is, "Father!" The Spirit Himself gives witness with our Spirit that we are children of God (see Rom.8:16). All are children.
Imagine a person who receives Communion, accepts the Host, but then breaks off a piece of it and returns it to the priest. This represents what happens if someone rejects other people whom Christ has redeemed! In receiving Christ, we are to receive the whole Christ, in all his members, our brothers and sisters, whether convenient or inconvenient, wanted or unwanted.
As St. John remarks, Christ was to die "to gather into one all the scattered children of God." Sin scatters. Christ unites. The word "diabolical" means "to split asunder." Christ came "to destroy the works of the devil" (1Jn.3:8). The Eucharist builds up the human family in Christ who says, "Come to me, feed on My Body, become My Body." Abortion, in a reverse dynamic, says, "Go away! We have no room for you, no time for you, no desire for you, no responsibility for you. Get out of our way!" Abortion attacks the unity of the human family by splitting asunder the most fundamental relationship between any two persons: mother and child. The Eucharist, as a Sacrament of Unity, reverses the dynamic of abortion.
The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Life. "I am the Bread of Life. He who eats this bread will live forever. I will raise Him up on the last day." (See Jn.6:47-58) The Eucharistic sacrifice is the very action of Christ by which He destroyed our death and restored our life. Whenever we gather for this sacrifice we are celebrating the victory of life over death, and therefore over abortion. The pro-life movement is not simply working "for" victory; we are working "from" victory. As the Holy Father said in Denver in 1993, "Have no fear. The outcome of the battle for life is already decided." Our work is to apply the already established victory to every facet of our society. Celebrating the Eucharist is the source and summit of such work.
The Eucharist is the Supreme act of Worship of God. Two lessons each person needs to learn are, "1.There is a God. 2. It isn't me." The Eucharist, as the perfect sacrifice, acknowledges that God is God, and that "it is [His] right to receive the obedience of all creation." (Sacramentary, Preface for Weekdays III). Abortion, on the contrary, proclaims that a mother's choice is supreme. "Freedom of choice" is considered enough to justify even the dismemberment of a baby. Choice divorced from truth is idolatry. It is the opposite of true worship. It pretends the creature is God. Real freedom is found only in submission to the truth and will of God. Real freedom is not the ability to do whatever one pleases, but the power to do what is right.
The Eucharist is, finally, The Sacrament of Love. St. John explains, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us" (1Jn.3:16). Christ teaches, "Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends" (Jn.15:13). The best symbol of love is not the heart, but rather the crucifix.
Abortion is the exact opposite of love. Love says, "I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. Abortion says, "I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself." In the Eucharist we see the meaning of love and receive the power to live it. The very same words, furthermore, that the Lord uses to teach us the meaning of love are also used by those who promote abortion: "This is my body." These four little words are spoken from opposite ends of the universe, with totally opposite results. Christ gives His body away so others might live; abortion supporters cling to their own bodies so others might die. Christ says "This is My Body given up for you; This is My Blood shed for you." These are the words of sacrifice; these are the words of love.
In Washington in 1994 Mother Teresa said that we fight abortion by teaching the mother what love really means: "to be willing to give until it hurts...So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child."
Gustave Thibon has said that the true God transforms violence into suffering, while the false god transforms suffering into violence. The woman tempted to have an abortion will transform her suffering into violence unless she allows love to transform her, and make her willing to give herself away. The Eucharist gives both the lesson and the power. Mom is to say "This is my body, my blood, my life, given up for you my child."
Normally, the women are rather victims of the evil conscience of society.
Everyone who wants to fight abortion needs to say the same. We need to exercise the same generosity we ask the mothers to exercise. We need to imitate the mysteries we celebrate. "Do this in memory of me" applies to all of us in the sense that we are to lovingly suffer with Christ so others may live. We are to be like lightning rods in the midst of this terrible storm of violence and destruction, and say, "Yes, Lord, I am willing to absorb some of this violence and transform it by love into personal suffering, so that others may live."
Indeed, the Eucharist gives the pro-life movement its marching orders. It also provides the source of its energy, which is love. Indeed, if the pro-life movement is not a movement of love, then it is nothing at all. But if it is a movement of love, then nothing will stop it, for "Love is stronger than death, more powerful even than hell" (Song of Songs 8:6).
My brothers and sisters, strong families are the hope of our world, and we must therefore build those strong families with a great sense of hope. To see the evils in the world must not cause us to flee the world, but rather to actively engage it in the dialogue of salvation.
As a stimulus to that hope, may I conclude by turning your attention to the Third World Meeting of the Holy Father with Families in Rome, which the Pontifical Council for the Family will sponsor in the Fall of the Jubilee Year 2000. This encounter, marked by a Theological-Pastoral Congress, by a celebration of the Word of God and festive praise with the Successor of Peter, and by a Papal Eucharistic Liturgy, is a moment of great grace which can serve to deepen understanding, commitment, and unity among those who work for the cause of life and family. Such was the case with the previous two encounters, the first held in Rome in the International Year of the Family (1994), and the second held just last year in Rio de Janeiro. It is my fervent hope that many of you, joined by many others throughout the United States, will be able to make this pilgrimage of faith to Rome in the year 2000, to gather in prayer with other families from around the world.
May the Lord abundantly bless you, your families, and this most crucial work that you do for His Kingdom!