Bishop Barry C. Knestout celebrated a Mass for Respect Life at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, Jan. 28, 2021.
Brothers and sisters,
Last Friday, on the anniversary of the 1972 Supreme Court Decision to give abortion the status of a protected right in this country, the Virginia Senate passed legislation that would infuse the “health benefits exchange” in the commonwealth with abortion for any reason, and that would be funded with tax dollars. On Tuesday, the House passed the bill also.
These two acts, on and just after the date of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, were and are extremely upsetting to all of us who have been working and praying to extend protections to human life in our commonwealth and in our nation.
Both I and the Bishop of Arlington, as those responsible for the oversight for the Church in Virginia – to care for the Church and the teachings of the Church – have both spoken out, strongly, objecting and in opposition to this legislation. Our voices are important but limited in effect without the added influence of constituents, each one of you all those within the commonwealth, making your voices heard among our legislators on behalf of life. And for all those who continue those efforts I’m very grateful.
The Church’s teaching on the sacredness of life has been clear and consistent throughout the ages. Most recently, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in “ The Joy of Love” Amoris Laetitia said in the midst of reflections about family life and the human person, he says, “Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed.”
And he goes on later and says, “So great is the value of human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being.”
In recent days, I and many others who work within the Church have received concerns of many parishioners, sometimes letters, sometimes emails, sometimes angry and frustrated at the ongoing legislative threats to human life. Some feel despair and anger that after so many years in the effort to advocate for the legal protection of the unborn, that we seem to be losing ground.
As the first reading says, “I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength.” That expression of frustration in the first reading.
Some think that ever more severe language or action against those who support abortion is the solution to this frustration. Others are tempted to give up on any possibility of swaying our opponents in this area, through loving, patient admonition or persistent political action.
Despite the understandable frustration, we must and will persevere to seek to convince our neighbors of the rightness of the pro-life cause. To sway the country regarding the dignity of all human life. To mount ongoing advocacy efforts to counter this damage to the dignity of the human person.
I believe that no matter what actions we do take, they always need to be fruit born of the Spirit. Increasingly harsh words and more severe reactions would not serve us well in the cause of human life or bring about the change we seek – in the convictions of others or the laws that govern our nation. As disciples, we are always to act in charity with patience, no matter how understandably frustrated and discouraged we might be.
As Our Lord in the Gospel states, “If anyone wishes to rank first…(in other words to have influence over others)…he must remain the last one of all and the servant of all.” To become like a little child, with gentleness and total dependence on God.
I do not believe that our efforts over 50 years or our continued efforts have been fruitless. As Isaiah in the second reading says to encourage a people who fear that their best efforts have been useless, he says, “Yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompence is with my God.” He’s always looking towards faith in our Lord to assist us.
There is encouraging evidence that we have been swaying the culture and many people’s convictions about the sacredness of human life. Many polls in recent years indicate that significant numbers, especially among the young, have been swayed and are convinced of the importance of and the reverence of life, and they’ve been convinced by the charitable presentation and persistent witness of the pro-life movement represented by people of every faith community and all people of good will.
Again, I refer back to Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis speaks of what he is convinced should be the pastoral response that is needed in confronting sinful situations around us in the context of broken families and a broken world. And he presents this in the section on “The Logic of Pastoral Mercy.”
It says to show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or Church teaching, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being.
“Without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear,” making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best.”
He goes on: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”
Pope Francis likes to use that vivid imagery in terms of examples.
He goes on and completes this section: “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.” Dealing with the human person to help bring them to an awareness of not only sin, but also redemption and life and love.
We point to another saint.
St. John Chrysostom, centuries ago, wrote a reflection on the Christian life and the fact that we so frequently experience being “sheep among wolves,” those who might not respect life. In anger and frustration, we are tempted to act in ways similar to the wolves sometimes, to counter their power and viciousness maybe by using similar tactics. But, this is what St, John Chrysostom wrote:
“As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, ‘we’ are overcome…for we love the shepherd’s help. He, after all, feeds the sheep, not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.”
St. John goes on. What he says is this: “Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. But the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest ‘my’ power.”
This is what he told Paul: “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. I intend,” he says, “to deal in the same way with you.” For, when he says ‘I am sending you out like sheep,’ he implies ‘But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you.’”
And then St. John concludes with this thought: “More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack.”
This is really within the spiritual realm.
The moderation we use is the perseverance in prayer and intercession. The moderation we use is the patience of persistent advocacy. The moderation we use is more than 50 years of witness by hundreds of thousands gathering (even if only virtually this year) in Washington to advocate for life. The moderation we use is the ongoing efforts to counsel women who are in crisis and considering an abortion, offering them help and understanding and practical aid to carry their child to term and to give it life.
We can do no other. We are disciples who imitate Our Lord who gave himself over to those who crucified him. He always responded in gentleness and truthfulness to the evil that he confronted in the world, and so we as his disciples do the same.