Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Homily: Vigil Mass for Life
January 21, 2002
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
My Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
I, and the whole Church, thank you for coming to this Vigil Mass for Life.
You are here tonight to proclaim publicly that you are a pro-life Christian.
I am here tonight to strengthen your desire to be more fully a pro-life
Christian. To be a true pro-life Christian is determined by an intermingling
of two things: what you do and what you are. Or, in different words, it
means to become involved and to be holy.
It was just after 3:00 a.m., March 13, 1964. A red Fiat rolled slowly
through the darkness into a parking lot adjacent to the Long Island Rail
Road station in Queens in New York City. A young woman emerged from her car
and began to walk toward her apartment house. But then she spotted someone
in her path. She changed direction and headed toward a police call box.
Suddenly, the man overtook her. She screamed. The residents of nearby
apartment houses turned on their lights and opened their windows. The woman
screamed again: "Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!" Ignoring her
cries, her neighbors turned out their lights and slammed their windows shut.
Her attacker stabbed her again. "I'm dying!" she cried. This time, he killed
Forty-five minutes later, a neighbor called the police. Officers arrived and
found the body. They identified the victim as Catherine Genovese, 28 years
of age. Neighbors knew her as Kitty.
Kitty Genovese ... it was a name that would stand for Americans who were too
indifferent, frightened or self-absorbed to "get involved" and help a fellow
human being in trouble. Thirty-eight neighbors witnessed the attacks, but
did not come to her aid or even call the police. Over the years, there have
been studies of what is now called "the Genovese syndrome." Commenting on
this incident, one psychologist wrote: "If we need help, will those around
us let us be destroyed or will they come to our aid? Are we there to help
sustain life and values, or are we individual flecks of dust just floating
around in a vacuum?"
Why have I told you this story? I tell you this story, my sisters and
brothers, because, when we are not vigilant, and do not act in time of
crisis, history repeats itself. Yes, you are here because you believe in the
sanctity of life and the rights of every human person, including unborn
persons. You hear their silent screams, and you act. Many of you will march
for life tomorrow. For that also, I am grateful. And so is the Church.
Today, however, I am asking you to reflect even more deeply about what it
means to be a pro-life Christian. But are these words not redundant? To be
Christian should mean we are pro-life. This is so important at this critical
time. Because we are disciples of Jesus, we respect human life at every
stage of its existence and in every condition of its being. To be Christian
means that no disciple of Christ can responsibly take a "pro-choice" stand
when the "choice" involves the taking of innocent human life. In more direct
language, it must be said that no one can consider himself or herself a true
Christian who consciously supports abortion or euthanasia.
Yes, the battlefront is abortion and euthanasia. Yes, our unborn sisters and
brothers need our help; we cannot let them be destroyed. We must continue to
work and pray to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But being a pro-life Christian is not only what we do, but who we are. Every
thought and every action must be pro-life. What does this mean practically?
Recall what I said a moment ago. Being a pro-life Christian means that we
respect human life at every stage of its existence and in every condition of
its being. Today there are many threats to the sanctity of human life,
especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to poverty,
hunger, disease, violence and war, new threats are emerging on a
disturbingly large scale, as became horrendously real last September 11. We
must be deeply concerned about all the forces that threaten the well being
of all of God's children.
Being pro-life begins in your heart and in your soul. It is not only a
banner you carry, but a spirit that emerges from deep within your being.
This means striving to be holy and prayerful people. Others must see these
qualities first. And from your holiness and prayerfulness there emerges a
deep and abiding respect on the part of others for God's presence in every
other living person. And from your holiness and prayerfulness there can
emerge a deep and abiding respect on the part of others for God’s presence
Today we celebrate the memorial of the virgin and martyr, St. Agnes. Agnes
lived in Rome during the fourth century. She refused all invitations to
compromise her virginity. As a result, she was brutally murdered.
Today she is recognized as the patron of Christian virtue confronted by
political and social violence. She tells us it is noble to live a virtuous
life, to give oneself completely to God, to live a life worthy of a
Christian and to speak out against what is opposed to God's law. Will we be
like those people who turned out their lights and slammed their windows shut
when they heard the cries of dying Kitty Genovese? What is at stake is not
the life of one person, precious as that one life is, but of millions. Where
is the outcry?
My sisters and brothers, I am asking you to cry out. I am asking you to take
up the pro-life banner by living pro-life lives every day and doing
everything in your power to promote a pro-life lifestyle. This means living
chaste and virtuous lives. This means promoting family values and
co-creating families when you are married. Do not be afraid to speak up for
life. Do not be afraid to speak up against whatever threatens life. If the
weak and marginalized continue to be exploited, by our silence we betray not
only our Christianity, but our humanity.
Yes, proclaiming the truth of pro-life may cost you, may cost you severely.
But suffering is part of being a disciple of Jesus. Remember John the
Baptist. He was persecuted and put to death by King Herod not because Herod
asked him to deny Jesus. Herod only asked John the Baptist to remain silent.
The assault on human life in our age has become a crisis of culture, even
more, a crisis of civilization. True Christians may not, must not remain
silent. In this crisis in the defense of human life, neutrality is not an
option; silence is not a choice. In this crisis, let there be no doubt in
the minds of anyone where we stand.
Let your entire life be a burning desire to promote the sanctity of life.
And do not become discouraged. A candle is not diminished by the dark. Hope
overcomes the darkness of doubt, skepticism and despair. We must keep these
issues burning before the eyes of the public in our conversations and
letters, but especially by our lives, which, of course, speak the loudest.
History will judge us on this issue. What will be the verdict? Will we be
known as the generation that killed its young? And will those who survive
grow up to kill their parents through euthanasia? Will we be like those who
kept silent and watched Kitty Genovese die or will they call us true
pro-life Christians, who did not keep silent, but spoke up for the sanctity
of life and Christian values? Those assaulted by our culture of death have
nobody to speak up for them ... nobody, that is, except us. Are we Christian
enough to recognize their needs and to speak up, and even shout, on their
Jesus invites us today to pour new wine into new wineskins. It is time for
us all, but especially you, my young sisters and brothers, to pour your new
wine into the new wineskin of this new millennium. The Eucharist binds us
together as God's family and sends us forth, challenged and changed to live
our faith in a very real way in the very real world. May God help you to
meet this challenge as true pro-life Christians.