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Posted in Archbishop Chaput's column, on January 22nd, 2014

Homily for Mass before March for Life

By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Below is the text of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s homily for the National Prayer Vigil for Life Closing Mass on Jan. 22.  Weather prevented the Archbishop’s travel to Washington. The homily was delivered on his behalf by Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the National Shrine.


First reading: 1 Sm 17: 32-33, 37, 40-51
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 144: 1B, 2, 9-10
Gospel: Mk 3:1-6


Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v Wade, which effectively legalized abortion on demand.  It’s a time to look back and look ahead.  The abortion struggle of the past four decades teaches a very useful lesson.  Evil talks a lot about “tolerance” when it’s weak.  When evil is strong, real tolerance gets pushed out the door.  And the reason is simple.  Evil cannot bear the counter-witness of truth.  It will not co-exist peacefully with goodness, because evil insists on being seen as right, and worshiped as being right.  Therefore, the good must be made to seem hateful and wrong.

The very existence of people who refuse to accept evil and who seek to act virtuously burns the conscience of those who don’t.  And so, quite logically, people who march and lobby and speak out to defend the unborn child will be – and are – reviled by leaders and media and abortion activists that turn the right to kill an unborn child into a shrine to personal choice.

Seventy years ago, abortion was a crime against humanity.  Four decades ago, abortion supporters talked about the “tragedy” of abortion and the need to make it safe and rare.  Not anymore.  Now abortion is not just a right, but a right that claims positive dignity, the license to demonize its opponents and the precedence to interfere with constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly and religion.  We no longer tolerate abortion.  We venerate it as a totem.

People sometimes ask me if we can be optimistic, as believers, about the future of our country.  My answer is always the same.  Optimism and pessimism are equally dangerous for Christians because both God and the devil are full of surprises.  But the virtue of hope is another matter.  The Church tells us we must live in hope, and hope is a very different creature from optimism.  The great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos defined hope as “despair overcome.”  Hope is the conviction that the sovereignty, the beauty and the glory of God remain despite all of our weaknesses and all of our failures.  Hope is the grace to trust that God is who he claims to be, and that in serving him, we do something fertile and precious for the renewal of the world.

Our lives matter to the degree that we give them away to serve God and to help other people.  Our lives matter not because of who we are.  They matter because of who God is.  His mercy, his justice, his love – these are the things that move the galaxies and reach into the womb to touch the unborn child with the grandeur of being human.  And we become more human ourselves by seeing the humanity in the poor, the weak and the unborn child and then fighting for it.

Over the past 41 years, the prolife movement has been written off as dying too many times to count.  Yet here we are, again and again, disappointing our critics and refusing to die.  And why is that?  It’s because the Word of God and the works of God do not pass away.  No court decision, no law and no political lobby can ever change the truth about when human life begins and the sanctity that God attaches to each and every human life.

The truth about the dignity of the human person is burned into our hearts by the fire of God’s love.  And we can only deal with the heat of that love in two ways.  We can turn our hearts to stone.  Or we can make our hearts and our witness a source of light for the world.  Those of you here today have already made your choice.  It’s a wonderful irony that despite the cold and snow of January, there’s no such thing as winter in this great church.  This is God’s house.  In this place, there’s only the warmth of God’s presence and God’s people.  In this place, there’s no room for fear or confusion or despair, because God never abandons his people, and God’s love always wins.

We are each of us created and chosen by God for a purpose, just as David was chosen; which is why the words of the Psalmist speak to every one of us here today:

Oh God, I will sing a new song to you;
With a ten-stringed lyre I will chant your praise,
You who give victory to kings,
And deliver David, your servant from the sword.

The Psalmist wrote those words not in some magic time of peace and bliss, but in the midst of the Jewish people’s struggle to survive and stay faithful to God’s covenant surrounded by enemies and divided internally among themselves.  That’s the kind of moment we find ourselves in today.  All of us are here because we love our country and want it to embody in law and in practice the highest ideals of its founding.  But nations are born and thrive, and then decline and die.  And so will ours.  Even a good Caesar is still only Caesar.  Only Jesus Christ is Lord, and only God endures.  Our job is to work as hard as we can, as joyfully as we can, for as long as we can to encourage a reverence for human life in our country and to protect the sanctity of the human person, beginning with the unborn child.

We also have one other duty: to live in hope; to trust that God sees the weakness of the vain and powerful; and the strength of the pure and weak.  The reading from Samuel today reminds us that David cut down the warrior Goliath with a sling and a smooth, simple stone from the wadi.  And what I see here before me today are not “five smooth stones from the wadi” but hundreds and hundreds of them.  Our job is to slay the sin of abortion and to win back the women and men who are captive to the culture of violence it creates.  In the long run, right makes might, not the other way around.  In the long run, life is stronger than death, and your courage, your endurance, your compassion even for those who revile you, serves the God of life.

The Gospel today tells us that Jesus has power over illness and deformity.  But even more radically, it reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of the sabbath itself – the one day set aside every week to honor the Author of all creation.  The sabbath is for man, as Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, not man for the sabbath.  In like manner, the state and its courts and its laws were made for man, not man for the state.  The human person is the subject of life and the subject of history; immortal and infinitely precious in the eyes of God; not an accident of chemistry, not a bit player, and not a soulless object to be affirmed or disposed of at the whim of the powerful or selfish.

If Jesus is the lord of the sabbath, he is also the lord of history.  And sooner or later, despite the weaknesses of his friends and the strengths of his enemies, his will will be done — whether the Pharisees and Herodians of our day approve of it or not.

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13 Responses

  1. Thank you, your EXCELLENCY, for another breath-takingly powerful and beautiful message to the Children of God!!

    By: susan on January 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm

  2. Your Excellency,
    Thank you. May the Good Lord preserve and strengthen you in your ministry.
    We NEED your voice and your witness. Peace be with you.

    By: Fr William J Kuchinsky on January 23, 2014 at 9:59 am

  3. Thank you so very much for this timely and pointed homily, your Excellency. Those who support the killing of the unborn often do act as you say–lauding it as a positive step for humanity and demonizing those who oppose it as superstitious, intrusive “reactionists”. It is a national tragedy–a scourge on our populace.

    By: Shawnbm on January 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

  4. Thank you sir.
    I thought I’d share a piece written by the 19th Century Lutheran Theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823-1883):

    When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three.

    It begins by asking “toleration”. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.
    Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert “equal rights”. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is “ipso facto” non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them.

    From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert ”supremacy.” Truth started with ”tolerating”; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.

    By: Matthew Mills on January 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm

  5. “The human person is the subject of life and the subject of history; immortal and infinitely precious in the eyes of God; not an accident of chemistry, not a bit player, and not a soulless object to be affirmed or disposed of at the whim of the powerful or selfish.”

    Love this quote. The whole homily is powerful and uplifting. I was with the marchers in spirit praying hear in frigid South Bend at Our Ladies University with all my little children.

    By: Alicia on January 23, 2014 at 2:08 pm

  6. Thank you Archbishop Chaput,
    Your message is wonderfully made and worth sharing with the prolife community. I promise you that Seattle will see your homily, you continue
    to show such confidence (HOPE) and that is encouraging to us that pray in front of the abortion centers. One other thing I wish you would do is let other states know about your RIGHT TO KNOW legislation in Philly.
    Your laws supporting life and the mother are the best in the world, and
    that is why your abortion numbers are reduced in great numbers.
    Share them with other states, thank you again for your always best prolife
    Matt with the Helper’s in seattle

    By: Matt Ulrich on January 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

  7. Wonderful, wonderful comments from Bp. Chaput once again; he never fails to inspire and enlighten and give hope to the faithful. And his brilliant line about how abortion creates (and I would add ‘sustains’) a “culture of violence” that obviously envlopes contemporary American society today, how tragically true that is.It’s written large just about every day throughout the U.S. in the tragic and seemingly senseless random shootings taking place at schools, businesses, sometime even in shopping malls. One might say without reflecting, “what’s going on, is everyone losing their collective minds?” Well, on one level the answer for me is ‘yes’, people today ARE losing their minds, but that’s due to unconsciously collaberating with the evil zitgeist of mindless consumerism, and rank secularism and sensuality, sensuousness run amok, but something deeper’s at play in our societal context; the devil is “roaming through the world, seeing whom he may destroy.” If not enough realize the reality behind this theme from St Michael’s prayer of exorcism, then they need to raise their consciousness from the everyday of the uber mundane trough where many, many feed from. Legalized lethal violence generated through abortion is much at the heart of our milieu; only the constant recitation of the Rosary, sacrifice and penance are really going to get us anywhere in this war being waged by satan, father of lies and murderer from the beginning. God Bless all, markrite

    By: markrite on January 23, 2014 at 6:11 pm

  8. Beautifully written. Thank you so much for this. God bless you.

    By: Robbie J on January 23, 2014 at 8:07 pm

  9. “Evil talks a lot about “tolerance” when it’s weak. When evil is strong, real tolerance gets pushed out the door. And the reason is simple. Evil cannot bear the counter-witness of truth. It will not co-exist peacefully with goodness, because evil insists on being seen as right, and worshiped as being right.”

    By: Desomd K on January 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm

  10. Thank you, Excellency. This homily helps reduce the sting of disappointment from not getting our bus-full to Washington this year, as have other experiences on that day. Please persevere in your leadership on this issue

    By: Bob Reynolds on January 25, 2014 at 7:06 pm

  11. Thank you for this inspiring and somehow simultaneously incriminating piece. You are doing a great work, Archbishop Chaput. You show us the times we live in.

    By: Billy Bean on January 26, 2014 at 3:26 pm

  12. Yes, thank you Archbishop Chaput! While listening to your words being read live from the Basilica on EWTN, I was moved to get up, get ready, and go join the march in spite of the cold. It was the first time I’ve gone and I will now be going every year.

    By: Pete on February 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm

  13. Thank you, Archbishop. Marched just once, late in life. It was a wonderful experience being there among thousands of young people who were expressing their support of life by their presence. There is HOPE.

    By: Rudy Gonzales on January 14, 2015 at 6:23 pm

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