By Cardinal Justin Rigali
As we join our Holy Father this weekend in a Vigil of Prayer for the unborn, we take this urgent cause as our topic this week.
You probably know that, before becoming the Archbishop of Philadelphia in 2003, I was the Archbishop of St. Louis for over nine years. The city of St. Louis is, of course, in the State of Missouri. As with many other States in the Union, Missouri has an unofficial slogan, which is said to reflect the characteristics of its people: Missouri is known as the “show-me State.” Interestingly, one of the theories as to the origin of this phrase concerns Philadelphia. It is said that a Missouri Congressman was giving a speech at a naval banquet in Philadelphia in 1899, and he said: “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Regardless of the exact origin of the phrase, although it is not used outside of Missouri as frequently as it once was, it has even become a part of our language to say: “I am from Missouri. Show me!”
When we discuss the crucial issue of life within the womb, it seems to go against reason itself that, in our time, when the advances of medical science have made it possible actually to see the activity and development of the child within the womb, we should live in an age which seeks to deny that fact. Many of you either have experienced, or have loved ones and friends who have experienced, the many procedures that are often performed during a pregnancy these days. There are many evaluations and scans, and the images are often given to the parents to take with them. I have even heard that after one of these procedures, photographic “packages” are made available, complete with frames and various sizes of pictures, for the parents to purchase, take with them and show to friends.
In the face of all of this, it is especially disturbing to think that many, after being shown all of this, continue to deny the reality of human life existing in the womb of a child’s mother. We can say: “Show me,” and we can be shown, yet it frequently still results in a complete denial of reality.
Appeal of our Holy Father
At his Angelus Message on 14 November, Pope Benedict XVI announced a Prayer Vigil for all unborn human beings, to be held throughout the world. He said: “On Saturday, 27 November, in St. Peter’s Basilica, I will preside at First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent and a Prayer Vigil for unborn life. This is a joint initiative with the local Churches throughout the world, which I have recommended also be observed in parishes, religious communities, associations and movements. The season of preparation for Holy Christmas is a favorable time to invoke the spanine protection of every human being called into existence and to give thanks to God for the gift of life we have received from our parents.”
This vigil of prayer does not announce a new reality. It is a part of the very nature of man and woman to come together in love, with the intention of manifesting that love within the committed union of marriage, and bringing to that act an openness to one of the great purposes of that act of love: the conception of a child.
Within this reality, God does not impose a “punishment” on a man and woman if they conceive a child, but rather the compliment of asking them to cooperate in His very own role as Creator. We rightfully speak of the procreation of children, because that is exactly what two people become when they conceive a child: procreators with God, the Creator.
Unfortunately, during the past several decades, we have seen from certain quarters a gradual attempt to deny the reality of life within the womb. This is obviously the determined prelude to the trivialization of the horror of abortion. If we anesthetize people to the reality of who and what is in the womb, they will more easily accept the destruction of that reality. This is why Pope Benedict has called upon us to respond to this opportunity, so that we may not only pray for the unborn and those who are responsible for them, but also so that we may “raise awareness,” to use a phrase we hear very often, of the sacred reality we are dealing with. In this way, we can also give our prayerful support to the parents of the unborn, especially those who are being tempted to end the life in the womb.
Why at the beginning of Advent?
We know that our Lord Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, chose to take upon Himself our human nature, without giving up His own eternal spanine nature. “Verbum caro factum est,” the Word became flesh, is my episcopal motto and the title of this weekly column.
These words, from the Gospel of St. John, remind us, not only of the reality of the Incarnation, but also of the fact that there was a “moment” when this action took place. With the generous “yes” of our Blessed Mother, the Word became flesh in her womb. The visit of the angel to Mary; the messages of the angel to St. Joseph; the care of Joseph for Mary during her pregnancy; the greeting of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth; the warning to flee their native place; and the searching for a place to give birth to the Child all give the testimony of the Gospels themselves to the reality of continuous life in the womb, from the moment of Mary’s virginal conception.
It is during the Advent season that we dwell in a special way upon these realities, and this is what makes this liturgical season a time of joyful preparation and expectation.
Therefore, it is a most appropriate time to raise our own awareness, and that of all people, to the reality of unborn life within the womb. Unborn, yes; nonetheless, human life, a human being.
The participation of our local Church
As I indicated earlier, Pope Benedict will preside at a Vigil for All Unborn Human Life, in St. Peter’s Basilica this Saturday, November 27. This will coincide with the celebration of First Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent. Again, a most appropriate time to dwell on the theme of unborn life within the womb.
The Pope has asked the Bishops of the world to encourage the faithful to gather in their parishes on this evening, in order to pray for an ever deepening respect for all the unborn. Since, in many parishes, this Vigil coincides with the celebration of the Vigil Mass for Sunday, I have asked the priests of the Archdiocese to invite the faithful in the parishes to gather one half hour before the celebration of the scheduled Vigil Mass, in order to recite the Rosary for this intention.
It is most appropriate that our participation in this very important initiative take the form of the recitation of the Rosary, most especially with meditation on the Joyful Mysteries. We know that the Rosary has often been called a “school of prayer,” in which we may gain so many lessons for our Christian lives, and by which we can draw ever closer to Jesus and His Mother. When we meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary we “relive,” in a way, the great events of our salvation.
The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary highlight the reality of life within the womb in so many ways. The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to our Lady recalls the very moment when the Word became flesh within Mary’s virginal womb; the Visitation of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist in her womb, recalls that the unborn John “leapt for joy” in his mother’s womb at the arrival of Mary, bearing the Savior in her own womb; the Nativity celebrates the Child being born, after spending nine months in quiet humility and dependance within His Mother’s womb; the Presentation reminds us that even Jesus Himself obeyed the Law of the Jewish People, so much did He value the commands of God, which are also His commands; and, finally, the Finding in the Temple mysteriously reflects the heartache and sacrifice that sometimes accompany the many joys of motherhood and fatherhood.
Yes, we have been “shown,” by nature, by reason, by modern science and by the example of Jesus and Mary, that we are dealing with a child in the womb. How foolish and how tragic to deny this reality! We pray this weekend, in union with Pope Benedict XVI and the whole Church, that the eyes of all people of good will be opened to the truth that has been so clearly shown to us.
25 November 2010