HOMILY OF BISHOP PAUL S. LOVERDE
Bishop of Arlington
PRO-LIFE MASS, BLESSED SACRAMENT CHURCH
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
(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, "...free our hearts to turn from our sins (especially the sin of
abortion) and receive the life of the gospel." (Alternate Opening Prayer)