Homily for Pro-Life Vigil Mass
January 21, 2003
Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Washington DC

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua

I greet each of you in the customary greeting of Saint Paul: "Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

We are gathered here this evening from across this great nation as "a people of life and a people for life." (Gospel of Life: N. 78) Tonight, in our witness to the "culture of life," I suggest we do three things: remember, reflect and recommit. Remember the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs Wade, and why you come back each year on its anniversary. Reflect on the good things that have happened since Roe vs Wade and be filled with hope. Recommit yourselves with greater fervor to being people of life and for life.

Tomorrow, January 22, is the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs Wade. Most anniversaries are causes for celebration. This one is not. It is a day of mourning. Mourning for this illogical, unjust and immoral decision.

Two thousand two years ago, as it is written in Saint Matthew"s gospel, Herod "ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years and younger." Thirty years ago, as it is written in the Supreme Court Decision, Roe vs Wade, seven men ordered that all unborn boys and girls in the womb nine months and under may be put to death through abortion. Herod"s order was carried out and mothers mourned the killing of their innocent children. Roe vs Wade"s orders were carried out and in three decades more than 40 million innocent children were put to death, many not mourned by anyone, not even by their own mothers. But tonight and every day we weep and we mourn for them.

In 1965 our country was visited for the first time by the Vicar of Christ, Pope Paul VI. He gave a famous speech to the United Nations. Remember at that time we were involved in the Vietnam War. In strong and unforgettable words, he said: "War no more; war never again." More recently, in 1995, the present Vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul II, reiterated those same words in his visit to the United Nations. Abortion is war on the unborn child. And so, on this 30th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, we paraphrase the words of those two Vicars of Christ, and reiterate in the strongest terms possible the goal for which we will never give up: "ABORTION NO MORE; ABORTION NEVER AGAIN."

As two Popes went to the United Nations and appealed to the leaders of nations never again to resort to the horror of war as a solution to international disagreements, so we come each year to our nation"s capital in order to appeal to the political leaders of our land to end the legal justification of the horror of abortion.

We come here each year because it was in this center of our nation"s political life and power that the national order went out that unborn children had no legal right to be born and we realize that the horrific wrong that was begun here must ultimately end here.

We come here each year to support our nation"s pro-life political leaders and to encourage them to remain firm in their defense of all human life from conception to natural death.

We come here each year to this shrine of Our Lady to pray to the Lord of life and power that all of our nation"s political leaders will act in accord with the truth that you and I know " that all unborn babies are human persons and, therefore, to them also belongs the full protection of the law of this land and the human right to be born.

The great 19th century Catholic Irish political leader, Daniel O"Connell, wrote: "Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong." We lament that in issues of the defense of human life in all of its stages, so many leaders in our American political system have so often flagrantly violated O"Connell"s truism. The result of these violations has been the advancement in our land of a "culture of death." As defenders of all human life, we come here each year to declare openly that we cannot, we may not sit on the sidelines and simply allow others to dictate the future of our society. As Catholics, as defenders of human life, we are called to be conscientious, forthright, faithful Americans working together to build a "culture of life" in our beloved country.

We cannot celebrate the 30th anniversary of Roe vs Wade. But there is much that happened in the past 30 years that we can celebrate:

While Roe vs. Wade still stands as the law of the land, this should not lead to discouragement. In the past 30 years, through prayers, witnessing and peaceful action, the defenders of life have accomplished significant advancements in the cause of life. These good things should fill us with true hope. Listen to some of the highlights of this good news which the United States Bishops listed in their statement, "A Matter of the Heart," on this 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade:

  1. Today fewer abortions are being done each year, and fewer doctors are willing to be involved in abortion.

  2. More Americans identify themselves as pro-life, while the numbers of those saying they are "pro-choice" have declined significantly.

  3. Ultrasound and other medical advances have made possible a greater appreciation of the humanity of the unborn child.

  4. In these three decades thousands of pro-life groups, individual parishes, Catholic social service agencies and pregnancy resource centers have provided practical assistance and support to thousands of women facing difficult pregnancies.

  5. Most state legislatures have enacted measures to restrict or regulate the practice of abortion and reduce its incidence.

  6. Above all, the pro-life movement is brimming with the vibrancy of youth."
As I look out at this enormous congregation, I see young people and those older, black and white, women and men, lay faithful, Religious and clergy. This rich diversity is beautiful to behold. But even more beautiful to behold is that in this diversity there is a wonderful unity, a unity of conviction that life is a gift from God and we must do everything to protect it. To be a pro-life Catholic is a task for us all, but also a great gift because we recognize that life is indeed a pearl of great price given to us from the loving hands of our Creator. Surely anything we have to suffer in being pro-life is nothing compared to this treasure which is ours. And so tonight, strengthened by the Lord"s own sacrifice, we recommit ourselves to this important work. Your convictions about life are absolutely right. My brother bishops and I are not only inspired by your dedication to life, we are one with you as we encourage you to go forward with God"s love brimming in your heart and accompanied by the very presence of Jesus Christ who Himself said: "Fear not; I have overcome the world!"

It is a delight to behold thousands of you here tonight. If this Mass gets any larger, we may need to expand these walls! But since that is not possible, I challenge you instead to:

We need to recall the words of Saint Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: "We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed, always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in the body." (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10)

On September 11, 2002, President Bush in an address delivered on Ellis Island spoke these words: "Our deepest national conviction is that every life is precious, because every life is a gift of a Creator who intended us to live in liberty and equality." It is the task of every president, of every public official, of everyone in this land of ours to witness to that conviction "that every life is precious, because every life is a gift of God." Today, America is the most powerful nation on earth. But being powerful is not the highest and best we are called to be. For we are called to greatness " greatness of heart and soul. Only when our nation lives the national conviction that every life is precious by legally protecting every life, born and unborn, will America be not only a powerful nation, but also the great nation which God calls us to be, a nation of life and liberty " for ALL!