On January 22, 2015 hundreds of thousands gathered at the nation’s capitol for the National March for Life. The Archdiocese of Washington and Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities sponsored the Adult and Family Rally and Mass for Life on the morning of January 22 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where I was the main celebrant and homilist. Below is the written text of my homily.
Homily for Adult and Family Mass for Life – St Matthew’s Cathedral
January 22, 2015
We gather here today at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the nation’s Capitol to give thanks to Our Heavenly Father for the great gift of life and the great gift of eternal life; and with this beacon of faith and hope, we will leave this sacred place shortly to stand up for the most basic civil, and human right, of all – the right to life.
I would like to commend all of you here present today for all of your great work in standing up for this most basic right…and standing up for justice.
We can’t begin to speak of women’s right, gay rights, or immigration rights until we first speak about, and protect, the right to life.
To this end, people have come here from all over the nation; from grade schools, high schools, and universities, rural areas and cities; by the hundred of thousands, people have come to the nation’s capitol to march and set the moral compass of our nation straight again and proclaim that every human life is precious.
On January 22, 1974, the first March for Life was held on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol, in protest of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade, U.S. Supreme Court decision that the right to privacy includes the right to destroy the life of a human being in the most vulnerable stages of life – in his/her mother’s womb.
At that first March for Life an estimated 20,000 supporters were in attendance. Since then, numbers of marchers have increased over the years under the brave leadership of Nellie Gray (founder of the March for Life), and in 2013 the March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 supporters, indicating that William Cullen Bryant was right when he said – “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.” This of course was one of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite quotes.
All of this to say that, something new is taking place in the American political consciousness. The eyes of an increasing number of people are gazing behind the lattice of manipulating argumentations and seeing that abortion not only destroys human life but hurts women and men as well.
The Scriptures for today’s March for Life Mass provides us with biblical insights that help point our moral compass north.
In the first reading from the great Prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah tells us that word of the Lord came upon him and spoke to his heart – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
This tells us that a human being is known, and thereby biblically speaking loved, by God before we are even conceived. Each of us exists in the very mind of God, in potentiality, with a plan, intension, and mission even before we are conceived. This speaks to the sacredness and beautiful purpose of human life from the moment it is conceived, no matter what the circumstances.
St. Paul in the second reading tells us that we are not to be conformed to the age but be transformed by the renewal of our mind. This renewal of the mind indicates that we are to interpret things in a new way – through the lens of faith and the light of Christ.
The Church, in even in the first century had to discern what was the will of God under heavy cultural pressure and even martyrdom. The early Church had to reject the culture of death epitomized by the bloody arena culture and hedonism of ancient Rome.
St. Paul called the standing up for what is good and pleasing and perfect our spiritual worship. The Christian doesn’t uphold the right to life for the unborn because that is our opinion of the truth but because that IS the truth as revealed by God and reason.
The Gospel for today is known by the name of the Rich Young Man or the other title the Dangers of Wealth.
Only Matthew tells us that the man who approached Jesus was “young.” As all young people, he is idealistic and enthusiastic about life. He sincerely wants to do, says Matthew, the “good” and desires eternal life for his future.
He wants to be noble, excellent, and pleasing to God but there is one problem. He is has been corrupted by a materialistic worldview filled with possessions. In the Greek text we see this more clearly. His question to Jesus is better rendered – “Teacher, what good must I do to possess eternal life?”
As with anyone who is materially oriented and of means, all desires and passions are obtained through a purchase. In extreme cases, this ‘power of the purse’ is capable of reducing human beings into commodities as Pope Francis has pointed out in his efforts to battle human trafficking.
In this case, the desire for personal fulfillment reaches a point of absolute efficiency where rational moral evaluations become dysfunctional. The good of oneself becomes paramount against the good of the other. Anything can be purchased to increase fulfillment or minimize suffering – even at the cost of another human being. In this nexus of fulfillment-seeking through purchase, the well being of another human life becomes secondary.
Another interesting uniqueness about Matthew is that he is the only one to add Lev 19:18 to his narrative – “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” says Jesus. This law from the Leviticus holiness code is actually key to understanding the narrative. There is no greater love than this – to lay down your life for one’s neighbor.
The young man’s response gives away his inability to properly discern his superficial worldview – “All of these I have observed. What still do I lack?” Notice the desire to solve the problem with a quick purchase. What still do I lack? Just tell me what I need to purchase and I will but it.
This response gives us some insight into the interior life of the young man. First, what honest self-reflective human person can say that they have loved their neighbor as thyself? Second, beneath the text there is an underlying subtext of Ps. 34:10 which reads, “Those who seek the Lord, lack no good thing.” The young man’s words betray them. If he is still lacking something it is because he is not spiritually mature in his seeking the Lord.
The Lord’s suggestion “If you wish to be perfect go, sell what you have and give to the poor” is often misunderstood. Perfection is the fulfillment of God’s will in our life. For the rich young man that perfection can only come through a radical rejection of possessions. For others, that may mean a radical abandonment to the will of God when you find yourself in the great difficulty of a crisis pregnancy.
The Lord ends the proposition of perfection with the words, “Come then, follow me.”
The Lord gives himself in place of all of the young man’s possessions. He offers this promise to each of us – he will always be with us in difficult times.
To be a Christian is not to give everything up without God giving us something greater in return. He gives us the greatest gift in life, which is himself, and also the great joy of walking through life righteous before Him.
In a few moments, the Lord will offer himself to us in the Eucharist. He will offer us his own divine life so that we may do what we ought to do and not what we want to do.
Only Christ knows what is in the human hearts and minds of each one of us and therefore what will fulfill us. He offers himself, as he did to the rich young man and as he did on the Cross. Let us not walk away sad but joyful knowing that with Christ we can live life to the fullest and then inherit eternal life.