By Cardinal Justin Rigali
One of the most beautiful gifts that God has bestowed upon us as creatures made in His image and likeness, is the gift of memory. Only we possess this marvelous ability to remember. We make use of this ability in a special way when we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries of special occasions. On the anniversary of a special event, we delight in recalling that great day and all the blessings it has brought us. For this reason, we sometimes have a celebration in connection with this pleasant recollection.
This week, however, we recall the anniversary of a very tragic event. We use our memory not to delight in the thought of the blessings that an event has brought to us over the years but to recall with sorrow and shame an infamous day in the history of our country: January 22, 1973. On that tragic day, the United States Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion in our country.
At that moment, this aspect of our civil law, which was once based upon natural and spanine law, spanorced itself from those firm foundations. On that day, a human court gave to itself a right which no court can ever possess: the right to make laws that transgress both the spanine commandment of “Thou shalt not kill” and the law placed within the heart of every human person telling us that it is wrong to take the life of another unjustly.
There is something in our human nature that does not want to remember what is unpleasant. However, the anniversary of this tragic event cannot be forgotten. This is why for thirty-five years, hundreds of thousands of people have traveled to Washington, D.C., often in the bitter cold, to remember this tragic anniversary, not with joy, but with profound sorrow. This is why the Bishops of the United States have designated this day as one of prayer and penance to make atonement for the events commemorated on this sad anniversary. We do this because the effects of this infamous abuse of law continue to be with us like an open wound on the body politic of our nation.
Since that day in January, 1973, some 50 million children have been denied the most basic right of all: the right to life. Perhaps among those would have been someone who would have discovered a cure for cancer. Perhaps there would have been sons and daughters to console their parents in sickness or old age. Surely there would have been young men and young women who would have been wonderful wives and husbands, mothers and fathers. Surely, among those not permitted to be born there would have been those who, through kindness and generosity, would have brought great joy to the world. For all these reasons, this anniversary is by no means a happy one but one of profound sadness.
Pope John Paul II wrote in this way about the prayer and penance needed to atone for this blot on our nation and to bring about a change of heart in those responsible for it: “A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that the power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many the evil practices and laws which are hostile to life” (Evangelium Vitae, 100).
Postcard campaign to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)
This year, we face yet another challenge, which threatens to widen even further the so-called rights to an abortion in our country. It is the Freedom of Choice Act which will, if passed into law and signed by the new President, as he promised, eliminate all national and state restrictions on abortions enacted over the past thirty years. In a letter I recently sent to all the Pastors in the Archdiocese, I summarized this Act’s intentions in this way: “It will require all states to allow partial-birth and late-term abortions, taxpayer funding for abortion, and will eliminate conscience clauses for religious beliefs.” I went on to say that “although some political commentators have suggested that FOCA may never be reintroduced or voted on, we cannot afford to be unprepared for the possibility that it may be. Now, more than ever, it is important to be pro-active.”
The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA), in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, has developed a postcard campaign to oppose passage of the Freedom of Choice Act. These postcards will urge our United States legislators not to give their support to FOCA or to similar legislation, even if presented under a different name. I have given my full support to this campaign and I have encouraged every parish to be active in educating their parishioners about this issue and to participate fully in this campaign. This weekend, you will no doubt see these materials in your parish Church and I ask you to take the time to fill out these postcards expressing your views.
Truths which transcend what is material and passing
We have heard a great deal about the financial challenges facing us at this time. They are indeed a source of great concern. This crisis in things that are material and transitory should also present us with the opportunity to dwell more than ever on those things which are eternal.
The gift of truth and eternal life, which Jesus came to earth to bring us, is not determined by the financial condition of the world or of the inspanidual. It is not controlled by others and we are not powerless in receiving and acting upon it. It is precisely in the area of those truths which are eternal that we are not only called upon at this time to take a firm stand but also the area in which we ourselves determine what our response will be. Saint Paul tells us: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Our responsibilities while living in this “earthly city”
The Second Vatican Council reminds us that this does not mean that we can neglect our duties in this “earthly city.” In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Council teaches: “Christians, as citizens of both cities, are called to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come (cf. Hebrews 13:14), we are entitled to shirk our responsibilities; this is to forget that, by our faith, we are bound all the more to fulfill these responsibilities according to the vocation of each one (cf. Thess. 3:6-13; Eph. 4:28). The Christian who shirks his or her temporal duties shirks the duties towards one’s neighbor, neglects God himself and endangers his or her eternal salvation” (Gaudium et Spes, 43).
The Gospels remind us that we cannot say that we love God if we do not love our neighbor. When Jesus is asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He responds by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped the man who had been attacked by robbers and left for dead. The Samaritan took pity on the man, even though many others who should have known better passed him right by. There are many ways in which we are called to show love of neighbor. We are especially conscious of showing this love towards the poor, as indeed we should be.
Let us remember what Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said in this context, in the presence of President and Mrs. Clinton and over four thousand others at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in 1994: “Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today – abortion which brings people to such blindness.”
Our prayer, in the face of this blindness, must be that of the blind man in the Gospel: “Master, I want to see” (Mark 10:51).
22 January 2009