Pro-Life Homily


Cardinal Justin Rigali


Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC

Dear Friends in Christ,

We gather this morning in search of light. We assemble to search for that light of which St. Paul speaks in today’s reading: “to bring to light … the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things …” (Eph 3:9).

The light and the plan of God is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14).  Today, around this magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the light of Christ is gathering.  We see it reflected here today in the many priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians.  We see the light of Jesus Christ reflected in the members of parish-based pro-life organizations, married couples and families, single persons, teachers and catechists.  In a particular way we see the light of Jesus reflected in the young people who are here with us: university students, members of Newman Centers, high school students, and elementary school students.  And we see the light reflected in the many children who are here today.  How resplendent is the radiance of the light of Jesus Christ!  In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI teaches that “life itself was made visible in Christ” (VD 2).

The brilliance of the light of Christ is reflected in every human life, and in a most magnificent way even from the womb.  God testifies, through the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5).  The psalmist likewise witnesses this same profound truth:  “From my mother’s womb you have been my help” (Ps 71:6).  Elsewhere, the psalmist proclaims:  “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb … my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret … ” (Ps 139:13, 15). 

Painfully and tragically, the law of the land has failed to recognize, for the past 38 years, the light of that truth that was so convincingly evident to Jeremiah and to the psalmist.  We gather today to give personal witness to the light of truth, the light of conscience and the light of faith.

We witness to the light of truth because the objective truth is that no one, anywhere, has any right, let alone a fundamental right, to murder an unborn child. Ever. Under any circumstances. We know from science that the moment of conception is a moment unlike any other.  An amazing event takes place at the moment of conception.  The union at the moment of conception constitutes an absolutely new and utterly exceptional moment of creation, the moment when a new, unrepeatable and irreplaceable human being comes to exist.  This new human being has emerged, a vulnerable and unique self-directing self that never before was.  It needs nothing but a safe place?the mother’s womb?to grow and develop.  After the moment of conception, this new human life will go through many stages and phases, none of which are as monumental as the one it has just emerged from:  the moment of conception, the moment in which it began to exist.  The science speaks for itself.  The light of reason is clear.  Those on both sides of the pro-life battle know that the child in the womb is a human being.  The science is in and the word is out.  Abortion, partial-birth abortion, illicit reproductive technologies and human embryonic stem cell research are intrinsically evil actions that have nothing to do with the light of right reason.  The same truth that witnesses to the inviolable dignity of human life in the womb witnesses to the sanctity of human life throughout the life span, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.  Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, any unjust application of the death sentence and human cloning have no place in society or culture.  The light of reason always defends the right to life. The Second Vatican Council taught that “the procreation and education” of children, is the “crowning glory” of marriage (GS 48).  This is clear also from the light of reason.  Therefore, with all of our pro-life energies we declare and insist that marriage is and can only be the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman.  Contemporary attempts to redefine the legal definition of marriage are gravely injurious.

We gather today to witness to the light of the truth of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.  The cornerstone of all our cherished freedoms is the right of every American to form appropriately and to follow freely the dictates of conscience in a way which does not infringe the rights of others.  We cannot permit this cornerstone to be dismantled by attempts to force all medical providers to provide and perform abortions regardless of personal objections on the part of the hospital’s doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and administrators.  Generations of Americans have recognized freedom of religion as the unifying element in the social fabric of our democracy.  It is respect for the religion of another which has always facilitated the demanding process of self-government.  We cannot allow the unity built upon religious liberty to be unraveled.

We gather today to testify to the light of faith. This light shows us that all human life is sacred, and that God alone is the Lord of Life. From the Decalogue of the Old Testament (Ex20:13; Deut 5:17), to the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament (Mt 5:21-22), we learn, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the first moment of conception” (no.2270).  Sacred Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church do not contradict right reason: namely, that a procured abortion is always and everywhere a grave moral evil.

The light of reason, the light of conscience and the light of faith all converge today to illumine the timeless truth of the sanctity of all human life.  The light of reason, the light of conscience, and the light of faith guide each step we take today as we march in defense of the right to life.  We, as Catholics and as citizens, have a duty to raise our voice peacefully to advance the Culture of Life.  As we march, we do so peacefully, with the words of St. Francis de Sales as our guide:  “Nothing is so strong as gentleness?nothing so loving and gentle as strength” (as in The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, IV, 9).  When we walk in peace, each step we take is a sacred step, a step closer to a world without abortion.  Beginning as we do in this great Basilica, we entrust each step today, and every day of our lives, to our Blessed Mother Mary.  May she guide us through the light of reason, the light of conscience and the light of faith, so that we may turn more fully to her Son, to the light eternal, and give living witness to the plan of life, “the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past” (Eph 3: 9), the plan made know by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.