Basilica of the National Shrine, Washington, DC
January 22, 2006
Cardinal McCarrick, thank you for your welcome to this great
Church, my brother bishops, thank you for coming again in such great numbers
My sisters and brothers, pilgrims all in the cause of life,
thank you for filling once again this great shrine. It is a place of prayer and
hope. You come, all of you, laity, sisters, priests and bishops, with enthusiasm
for a cause that, each year, sees us closer to the goal of asserting in law and
in fact that life is God’s gift.
As chair of the pro-life activities committee of our national
bishops’ conference, I have seen the extraordinary work of so many across our
nation who devote themselves so tirelessly to the great cause of life, and to
the prospect of an end to the saddening curse of legalized abortion. Please let
me begin with deepest thanks to those many who do so much to advance our
Church’s pro-life purpose: to you gathered here, to those who follow us on
television and to those millions of Catholics and others around the country
whose work and prayers contribute so much to the dynamic impetus toward an end
to legalized abortion; to all the many young people dedicated to the pro-life
movement, you are so impressively represented in this congregation and you give
such high hope to the movement; and to those who direct our diocesan pro-life
offices, many of whom met here in Washington today and will be marching with
their people tomorrow; to those in and with our state Catholic conferences, you
carry the bright banner of life into the public square and help us organize for
decisive political action; and to the very committed members and the able and
gifted staff of our national conference’s pro-life activities committee. Your
dedication and faithfulness across the years have been and continue to be a
living testament to a spirit imbued with the Gospel of Life.
We gather in this sacred space to bear witness yet again to
the terrible cloud that has darkened our nation since the Supreme Court declared
33 years ago today that the life of a human being, a life created in God’s
image, may be ended before its birth. We come together to pray that this darkest
of clouds might at last be lifted. We come together again to pray for the
triumph of life.
We gather in the awful knowledge that since that
twenty-second day of January 1973, the lives of no less than 46 million of God’s
children have been summarily denied participation in the human community and
that, each year, they are joined by over a million, three-hundred thousand more.
Consider the horrible magnitude of this slaughter of innocents:
There have been more U.S. abortions in the last 33 years than
there are people living today in both New York City and Los Angeles!
In the last 12 months alone, nearly as many children were
aborted as there are residents of the City of Philadelphia.
In the last 12 months alone, nearly a half-million more
unborn babies were aborted than there are people living in the city of Detroit.
In just the last 12 months, nearly twice as many babies were
aborted in our country as there are residents of San Francisco.
The unholy magnitude of it all is staggering! And so we
come together to remember prayerfully their mothers, their fathers, their
siblings and their grandparents; and we pray for those who face the temptation
of abortion. We come together again to pray for the triumph of life.
As related in our first reading, Jonah’s story teaches us how
God worked in the Judaism of an earlier age, and how God works now. An unwilling
Jonah is sent by God to announce divine retribution to the city of Nineveh. At
first, he refuses God, for Jonah was an Israelite and Nineveh was Israel’s great
enemy. Ultimately, though, he relents and preaches repentance for evil. He is
more than a little surprised when the king and the people repent, and divine
punishment is averted. The story teaches that the call to repentance is
universal, not merely for Israel. And Nineveh’s repentance reminds us of God’s
mercy and all-compassing forgiveness.
We come together here on this annual pilgrimage to answer
God’s call for repentance, in which we engage not only for ourselves, but for a
nation whose laws have been turned against the most vulnerable of God’s
children, and the most innocent. And as we come together to pray for God’s
divine mercy, for the bounty of his forgiveness, we pray too for the triumph of
No better example have we of an utter openness to divine
revelation than the figure of St. Paul, who teaches us in his First Letter to
the Corinthians that we can speak truth to power and do so in love. First
century Corinth was a place of moral depravity, with the devotees of pagan cults
in a commanding position. Yet there was Paul, working tirelessly to preach the
gospel of God’s love for our human family and the prospect of redemption made
possible through the suffering and death of Christ.
Paul took people as they were: his concern was to craft a
message that would strike a responsive chord in their hearts, the message of
God’s love. As today’s pro-life community often is, Paul was regularly
ridiculed: indeed, he suffered far worse than ridicule, for the truth about God,
God’s law, and the natural law makes many uncomfortable. Those who resist God’s
law don’t want to be reminded of its demands. This is no less true in our time
than in Paul’s. And so we pray for the conversion of those whose hearts have
been made hard by the sin of abortion and the sin of its propagation. We pray
for the courage and persistence of St. Paul, as we endeavor to spread the Gospel
of Life. We pray for the triumph of life.
In the selection from Mark’s account of our Savior’s
ministry, we meet Jesus as he makes his way along the Sea of Galilee. What he
does there, at the very start of his public life, marks one of the most
significant events in the history of our Church and is a signal lesson to those
of us in the pro-life community. “Come after me,” he says to Simon and Andrew,
brothers who are casting their nets into the sea, “I will make you fishers of
men.” They abandon their task immediately and so adopt a vocation come from God.
Jesus then beckons to the sons of Zebedee, and they too go off in his company,
leaving their father behind.
Did they know what they were getting into, these first of the
disciples of Jesus? No, probably not. Surely not, for how could they foresee the
future? How could they foresee the hard times they would face, the
disappointments, the ridicule, the abuse, even, in some cases, martyrdom? But
they were moved by the spirit and the incredible dynamism of this man who was a
stranger. They followed him and, in his light, enlightened by his words and
example and touched by the Holy Spirit, they helped change the world for all
We are disciples of Christ, too, and servants to the Gospel
of Life. And in our time, we too are called and challenged to change the world.
We pray for the fortitude of the early disciples, for their courage, for the
inspiration and confidence they drew from their companionship with Jesus.
Knowing he is with us, as well, we pray that we shall be ever open to his
guidance, ever open to the working of the Holy Spirit, ever confident that,
ultimately, his will and our work in the great cause of life shall be done. We
pray for the triumph of life.
And yet we know that our work in the cause of life is not
There are those in the scientific community who deny by their
actions and their advocacy what they know from science and reason – that from
conception onward, a human embryo is a member of the human species, deserving of
the same protections under the law that you and I and even the scientists
themselves enjoy. A New Jersey statute permits the gestation of children
for research in which, prior to birth, they may be destroyed for their organs.
Other states, including my own State of Maryland, are considering similar
legislative proposals. The advocates for such policies – scientists, lawmakers,
and others – seem eager, in their push to create, manipulate and destroy human
life in highly speculative research, to kick aside the Nuremberg and Helsinki
declarations that govern research with human subjects, eager to turn their backs
on the first principle of medical ethics: First, do no harm!
But our cause is not without advances and, in these, we can
take heart. The rate and number of U.S. abortions are now at their lowest levels
since 1975 and, thanks to the decreasing demand and the declining number of
physicians willing to perform the procedure, 87 percent of all U.S. counties are
now abortion-free zones. And, increasingly, physicians are reluctant to
prescribe the lethal RU-486 which the abortion industry hoped would mainstream
the abortion practice, but which has proven fatal in some cases and caused
complications in many others, complications rated by the FDA. between serious
and life-threatening. A recent CBS poll confirmed this diminishing support for
abortion, telling us that a majority of Americans – 55 percent – would ban the
procedure entirely, or restrict its use to situations in which a mother’s life
is endangered, or in cases of rape or incest. Polls also tell us that opposition
to abortion is strongest among the young. All this is most encouraging.
A continued source of encouragement comes from modern
technology: more and more parents, and grandparents, speak proudly of the
sonograms revealing the humanity of developing babies in their mothers’ wombs.
In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a series of posters designed in our Respect
Life office drives home the same lesson in vivid colors, as it follows an unborn
child through pregnancy. The series is now in use internationally, with
translations available in several modern languages.
The outcomes of pro-life advocacy in the states, in which so
many here are involved, are similarly encouraging. In every state that has
considered legalizing assisted suicide, Oregon being the single exception,
legislative proposals and referenda have been defeated. In just the past 12
months, state legislatures have enacted 52 new laws restricting abortion; six
have strengthened laws requiring parental notice; seven have expanded
informed-consent statutes; and eight have approved funding for groups that offer
abortion-alternative pregnancy services. Texas has prohibited the abortion of a
“viable fetus” in the third trimester and a number of states have said that
there will be no abortions once Roe versus Wade is overturned.
And so we make progress toward the day when the dark cloud
that descended upon our nation 33 years ago today will be blown away by the
purifying wind of God’s truth. Our pilgrimage is not over, to be sure, nor can
we rest from its rigors. But we know that we are nearer its end than we have
With Pope John Paul the Great, who gave the world the
encyclical on the Gospel of Life, with Pope Benedict XVI, to the Lord “let us
entrust our aspiration that every person’s dignity as a child of God be
respected.” (Homily of December 31, 2005)
We pray, then, for the strengthening of our resolve and for
the guidance that binds it to God’s will. With Jesus the High Priest in the
Eucharist we pray that the conversion and repentance of Nineveh will be repeated
in our time. We pray for the courage and conviction of St. Paul. We pray that,
like the earliest disciples, we may be worthy of the companionship of Jesus and,
in our time, change the world. In sum, we pray for the triumph of life.