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Homily Given by Fr. Peter West

Bremerton, WA October 10, 2004

Priests for Life is dedicated to preaching about the dignity and sanctity of human life. We believe that each and every human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Each and every human being is unique, precious and unrepeatable.

Some of you may be familiar with Priests for Life due to our Director, Father Frank Pavone. He has a series on the EWTN television network called the "Defending Life" series. Fr. Pavone also received Norma McCorvey into the Catholic Church. Norma McCorvey is the Jane Roe of the Roe vs. Wade decision, she has since repented that of her role in this decision, become pro-life, was baptized as a Christian. Six years ago she entered into the Catholic Church which she calls the mother Church of Christianity and she was received into the Church by Father Frank Pavone, the National Director of Priests For Life.

I tell this story to emphasize that as I travel around the country preaching about the sanctity of life, my message is not meant to condemn anyone. Rather my message is a proclamation of God's mercy, a call to repentance and an invitation, no matter what we have done or have failed to do in the past, to build up a new culture of life and a civilization of love.

Pope John Paul II has said "The Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the human person and the Gospel of Life are one single indivisible Gospel." So then to be unconditionally pro-life is something that all of us are called to believe and proclaim to others. This can not be simply our own private piety.

In the Gospel today, we see Jesus healing the lepers. Jesus always reached out to those who were outcasts in his society. He treated them with kindness and compassion. He healed the sick, the blind, the lame and lepers. He treated women and children who were dehumanized in his society with human dignity and respect. He also reached out to people of other races and religions. The only man to come back and thank Jesus after he had been healed was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were of a different race and religion than the Jewish people to whom Jesus belonged. Several times we see Jesus treat Samaritans with kindness, rebuking his apostles when they wanted Jesus to call down lightning on them, offering salvation to the Samaritan woman at the well and making the Samaritan the hero of his story about the man beaten and robbed on the road to Jericho.

While Jesus expanded the definition of who our neighbor was, unfortunately it is the tendency of the human heart to exclude people. Various vulnerable groups throughout history have been first dehumanized and then deprived of their rights. Today the most vulnerable group in our society are pre-born children in danger of abortion and the elderly, sick and handicapped in danger of euthanasia.

We face a great clash in our society today between a culture of life and a culture of death. This has been a great theme of Pope John Paul II's pontificate. The Pope spoke about this great clash on his last visit to the United States when he visited St. Louis in January of 1999. St. Louis was the place where the Dred Scott case was first tried. The Pope recalled this travesty of justice when he said:

"There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings – people of African descent – outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection."

"After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed."

"America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered "unuseful" – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences for the century whose threshold we are about to cross. My fervent prayer is that through the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life."

In July of 1998, as the debate on partial-birth abortion was going on in Congress, Congressman Henry Hyde reflected on our nation’s history:

"For over two centuries of our national history we have struggled to create a society of inclusion. We keep widening the circle of those for whom we are responsible--the aged, the infirm, the poor. Slaves were free, women were enfranchised, civil rights and voting rights acts were passed, our public spaces made accessible to the handicapped, Social Security for the elderly—all in the name of widening the circle of inclusion and protection. This great trajectory in our national history was shattered by Roe vs. Wade and its progeny. By denying an entire class of human beings the welcome and the protection of our laws we have betrayed what is best in our tradition. We have put at risk every life that someday someone might find inconvenient." http://www.house.gov/judiciary/hr1122.htm

Aren't we seeing this today? A lack of respect for life in its' beginning stages has led to a lack of respect for life in its' end stages. Over 44 million babies have been aborted since 1973. Today in the United States, one out of every four pregnancies ends in abortion. In 1997 Oregon became the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide. Euthanasia is quietly being practiced in many of our hospitals and nursing homes. The Church does make a distinction between extraordinary care which can be withdrawn and ordinary care which is a basic right of every human being. But today the elderly, sick and handicapped are regularly deprived of basic medical care and food and water that everyone needs to survive.

If you think that the abortion issue is of no concern to you, consider that if we can establish the principle in our society that we have a "right to choose" to take a human life, simply because that life is burdensome and unwanted, we may all live long enough where we may become burdensome or unwanted to another and someone may claim a "right to choose" to take our life too.

Sometimes we might feel that we're powerless to overcome the culture of death, but I don't believe that's true. All of us can do something.

Priests for Life is promoting alternatives to abortion. There are more than 3000 centers throughout the United States that where women can go in crisis pregnancy situations where they can get the help they need before and after they give birth for as long as they need it whether it be food, clothing, shelter, medical help, legal help, whatever they might need in order to bring their baby to term. Pregnancy Resource Services in Bremerton is providing this type of assistance to women in your area. I hope you will support them. They need your time, talent and treasure

We also promote adoption - a loving alternative to abortion. Mother Teresa believed this was the best way to fight abortion. There is no such thing as an unwanted child. There is always a family who is willing to love, to care for and adopt a child.

We also promote post-abortion healing and reconciliation. About 40% of the abortions in the United States are repeat abortions. If we can help men and women who have participated in abortion to be healed we can also save the lives of many babies. Norma McCorvey's conversion reminds us what Jesus says in the Gospel that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over the 99 who have no need of repentance. The doors of the Church are always open to the repentant sinner. We promote Project Rachel - the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church and Rachel's Vineyard retreats in order to help both men and women who have had abortions to find healing and peace.

We also have a political responsibility. The Church teaches us that voting is not only our right, it is our duty and we have a duty to use our vote, not to advance our own interests but to advance the cause of human life, especially the cause of God's children who are unborn disabled or are otherwise vulnerable.

(We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially those of God's children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable" (US Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life, 1998, n. 34).)

The separation of Church and State was never meant to be a separation of morality and law, especially in regard to basic human and civil rights, and the right to life is the most basic and civil right that we have. Nor was the First Amendment to the United States meant to be a muzzle on clergy.

Our Founding Father recognized that our rights were from God and that governments are established to secure these rights. John Adams said "You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by any human laws, rights derived from the great Legislator of the Universe." The right to life was not bestowed by the government, nor does the government have the authority to take the right to life of an innocent person away. The Declaration of Independence states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..." There is a reason the Founding Fathers listed life first, because without the right to life all other rights are meaningless.

Sometimes people will say that they are personally opposed to abortion, but think others should have a choice. They say they don't want to impose their morality on others. They tell us they are not pro-abortion but "pro-choice". They say the government should have nothing to do with this very personal decision. Before the Civil War many people made a similar argument about slavery. People said things like "Personally, I'm opposed to slavery. I would never own one myself, but I don't want to impose my morality on anyone else. A person should have a right to choose whether or not to own slaves. I don't think the government should be involved." But once one recognizes the evil of slavery they have a responsibility to make sure no one suffers such a degradation.

This type of thinking is flawed in many respects. First, the right to choose depends on what is being chosen. Abortion is an act of violence that kills another person. No one has a right to take the life of another innocent human being. We all have equal dignity before God no matter what our size, our stage of development, whether in or outside of the womb. God alone is the master of human life. Only God has the power to give life. Only God has a right to take that life to Himself.

When life begins is not a matter of faith. We can show that life begins at the moment of fertilization through science. At the moment of fertilization you have a separate unique human being with a different genetic structure than either the father or the mother. At that moment the sex, eye color, skin color, shoe size, intelligence are all determined by the genetic code in the forty-six human chromosomes. From the moment of fertilization you don't have a potential human being, but a human being with great potential. Also, the sanctity of life ethic is not a religious doctrine, but the basic principle upon which this nation was founded. The Supreme Court did not grant the right to life, nor did it have the right to abolish that right for pre-born children. The American Bishops remind us "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal." (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics (LGL) #24) .

The right to life is not simply one of many issues. Pope John Paul II teaches: "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights - for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture, is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination … " (John Paul II, The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, n.38)

People ask what about the war? What about the death penalty? Priests for Life supports the Church's teachings on the whole range of life issues. We support the Church's teaching on just war as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We are opposed to the use of the death penalty, but there is no moral equivalency between the execution of a convicted criminal and abortion which is the direct killing of an innocent baby. Nor is there any moral equivalency between the accidental killing of a non-combatant during war and the intentional killing of a pre-born child by abortion. The Church teaches that it is sometimes necessary to use force to repel an unjust aggressor. Innocent civilians sometimes are killed as a result of operations directed at killing unjust aggressors, but an innocent child is targeted in every abortion. The operation is not considered successful unless the child dies. There may be legitimate differences of opinion about how to apply just war principles to a particular situation, but not about the rights of pre-born children.

Just before he left the United States in 1987 Pope John Paul II said something I think is prophetic about the right to life and America when he said:

"Every human person-no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society-is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival--yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn. (Pope John Paul II, Address at Detroit Airport, Sept. 19, 1987)

The most important thing we need to do is to pray. Pray for our nation that we will respect life in all stages of development from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Pray for women to choose life for their babies. Pray for men that they'll understand their role to be guardians and defenders of life; that men will be responsible husbands and fathers; that they will understand that fatherhood like motherhood begins at the moment of conception. Pray for doctors and nurses that they will use their skills not to take life, but to serve life. Pray for politicians that they'll stand up for the most basic right we have - the right to life.

All of us are called to imitate the compassion of Jesus, to reach out to the outcasts, to be a voice for the voiceless, to defend the rights of those who have been dehumanized and deprived of their rights. Remember that while no one can do everything we can all do something to build a culture of life and a civilization of love in which each and every human being will be welcomed, protected, nurtured and loved from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

 

Priests for Life
PO Box 141172 • Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. 888-735-3448, (718) 980-4400 • Fax 718-980-6515
mail@priestsforlife.org