Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vigil for Life

Last night, as I try to do each year, I watched the first part of the Mass at the National Shrine opening the annual Vigil for Life, as we once again observe the sad anniversary of the calamitous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. This year again the principal celebrant of the Mass was Boston's Sean Cardinal O'Malley, who once again spoke eloquently about our mission as people of faith to witness to human dignity. He rebutted the dominant mythology that the majority of women and young people are pro-abortion - a mythology undercut visibly by the predominantly young crowd filling the Basilica. 

The annual Vigil for Life Mass is one of those mega-events that are inherently uplifting by virtue of the turnout and participation. The Basilica was full, of course, and the entrance procession took more than half an hour, as seminarians from all over solemnly walked through the nave to the sanctuary, followed by numerous deacons, concelebrating priests, bishops, and cardinals. If nothing else, the parade of seminarians certainly should give some hope that we may somehow make our way out of the current vocations crisis, while the capacity congregation - perhaps one of the largest gatherings of young people in the year - should do something at least to raise our hopes about the Church in America's future that is otherwise so often forecasted as so bleak.

The Gospel for the Mass was the familiar story of the Rich Young Man, whom Jesus invited to embrace a life of complete commitment, over and above the minimum requirements of the commandments, and who went away sad because he had so many possessions. Commenting on that, Cardinal O'Malley said: How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master.

Jesus in that same Gospel story also famously said: "How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." In regard to that,  O'Malley recalled how  Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles! 

The Pro-Life movement in the Church, O'Malley insisted, must be about overcoming indifference. In particular, he reminded us, the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country. The Cardinal also cited Pope Francis on our need to say No to an economy of exclusion and inequality, the kind of economy that is at the root of so much of what Pope Francis calls our "throwaway culture."

As Pope Francis reminds us: “When St. Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was running or had run in vain”, the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor. This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered life style of the pagans, remains timely today when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”

And then this timely reminder: An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples' attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy.
One can only wonder how much more effective the pro-life movement might have been over the years had such counsels always been kept in focus!

We must work tirelessly to change the unjust laws, the Cardinal reminded us near the end of his homily, but we must work even harder to change hearts, to build a civilization of love. Solidarity and community are the antidotes to the individualism and alienation that lead people on the path of abortion and euthanasia.

Solidarity and community! How often does it come back to these basic, foundational themes! Decades ago, when I studied and taught political philosophy, I used to ruminate how capitalism crushes our capacity to care. The recovery of the foundational human need for community and the foundational moral value of solidarity are at the heart of the healing of our society that has gone so wrong in so many ways. The fight against the legalized murder of unborn millions is one necessary step in any recovery of those foundational commitments.

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