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Pro-Life Mass - Bishop Paul S. Loverde


Bishop of Arlington


JUNE 24, 2000

"John is his name!" (Lk 1:63) These words of Zechariah, announced a few minutes ago in the gospel, identify for us the very special solemnity that we celebrate today, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. There are only three times in the Church calendar that we celebrate the births of holy people: Christmas, the birth of Christ; September 8th, the birth of the Blessed Mother; and today, the birth of John the Baptist. For the remainder of the "festival of saints," we celebrate their entrance into heaven, their birth into eternal life.

How appropriate it is for us today to also celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, asking that all abortions cease and be no more. For John the Baptist brought a message of life into the world. We read in the responsorial psalm, "I praise you for I am wonderfully made." (Ps. 139:14a) In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read about how we were "wonderfully made." "'Being man' or 'being woman' is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator (cf Gen 2:7,22). Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity 'in the image of God.' In their 'being-man' and 'being-woman,' they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness" (CCC 369) The prophet Isaiah in the first reading speaks of the Lord "who formed me as his servant from the womb" (Is 49: 5).

Life is always created by God, not by man. Thus, it cannot be destroyed by man. Although a human person cannot fully reflect the complete glory of God, people can reveal part of that glory when they behave as images of God. We are made in God's image; we are to reflect God to others. How can we best image God? We can love as God loves. St. Cyprian said it another way, "When we call God our Father we ought also to act like sons ...We should live like the temples of God we are, so that it can be seen that God lives in us." (Office of Readings for Tuesday 11th Week of Ordinary Time).

Abortion results from a failure to love as Christ loves. Abortion has taken a traumatic toll on the lives of so many in this country because of a misconstrued idea of love, a self-gratifying love born out of selfishness, and not a sacrificial love, born out of complete self-donation. Additionally, often we hear that by using proper contraception, one can avoid pregnancy and thus reduce the number of abortions in our country. Our Holy Father speaks of the fallacy of this argument in the Gospel of Life. He says, "The Catholic Church is ...accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception." When looked at carefully, "This objection is clearly unfounded." (E. V., 13). "Certainly," he goes on to say, "from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment, 'You shall not kill.' But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected as fruits of the same tree" (E. V. 13).

The contraceptive behavior, whereby one portrays a false love without being open to life, is inherently flawed. This anti-life attitude, which was fostered by Margaret Sanger when she founded the National Birth Control League (the predecessor of Planned Parenthood) around 1914, (Kippley, Sex and the Marriage Covenant, 226), promoted the belief that unlimited sexual pleasure without regarding whom the partner is or without worrying about bringing children into the world would "build marital happiness and stability." (ibid., 277) Oh how that logic is flawed. Look at the divorce statistics in our country today! Look at the rise in child abuse, and in spousal abuse. "Woman and child abuse has multiplied 14 times since abortion became legal." (Nykiel, No One Told me I Could Cry, p. 14) Yes, the anti-life message does not find its home only with abortion, but also with a contraceptive behavior, for as the Holy Father says in the Gospel of Life they are "fruits of the same tree." (E.V., 13) This anti-child attitude which draws people toward using contraceptives or abortifacients to prevent children, is the same attitude which leads to abortion when the methods fail.

But, how does one act in a moral way in today's society? Let me offer some basic suggestions.

(1) The marital act has always been just that, reserved for the state of matrimony. The marital act outside of marriage "destroys the very idea of the family; [and] weakens the sense of fidelity." (cf., CCC 2390) The marital act must be reserved for marriage. Children are a basic gift of marriage to be welcomed, not to be protected against. When a couple has "just reasons" to postpone the births of children, they should not come together during the fertile time. Thus, the couple manifests the true meaning of love, the giving of oneself for the good of the other, by practicing "the virtue of married chastity ...with sincerity of heart." (cf., CCC 2368)

(3) Married and engaged couples should learn the fertility awareness found in Natural Family Planning so that they make decisions on family size based upon knowledge of the wife's fertility and their own ability to be responsible parents for all of their children. Natural Family Planning classes are taught throughout this diocese, including here at Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Today we celebrate the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. As we continue the Eucharistic Sacrifice, let us be reminded also of the Baptist's death -- a death which came about due to his defense of marriage. "Recall that Herod had had John arrested, put in chains, and imprisoned on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. That was because John had told him, 'It is not right for you to live with her."' (Mt 14: 3-4) We all know the rest of the story of how Herodias' daughter was granted her wish from Herod to have the head of John the Baptist on a platter. (Mt. 14: 6-11)

John the Baptist's life and death are centered on the celebration of life itself. As a prophet, he made clear the path for the Lord, announcing the good news of salvation -- our salvation -- our life after death -- in the person of Christ Jesus. As the Opening Prayer puts it, he was raised up "to prepare a perfect people for Christ the Lord." In his death, he continued to show the way to eternal life by teaching moral right and wrong in marriage.

So let us learn from the experience of St. John. Let us proclaim the good news of the gospel when it's easy and when it's difficult; when it is politically correct and when it is not; in season and out of season. May the courage of Saint John the Baptist be with us as we continue to preach and to live the Gospel of Life.

Yes, Lord, " our hearts to turn from our sins (especially the sin of abortion) and receive the life of the gospel." (Alternate Opening Prayer)

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