Thursday, January 28, 2010

Archbishop Nienstedt's address at the Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral/Shrine of St. Paul last Friday

My dear friends, young, old and in between, it is great to see you here today! Thank you for coming! I wish to begin my remarks by saying that even on a sad day such as today, when we commemorate the tragic 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country, once known for its great moral vision and that led to the hurt, shame, and yes, the death of so many of our brothers and sisters in their mother’s womb, our hearts are yet filled with gratitude. And there’s a very good reason to be grateful, even today, even in these circumstances, even facing the terrible political challenges that we do. Our reason to be grateful lies in the fact that -- you are here. You are here in this beautiful Cathedral to pray for a conversion of hearts, hearts of a society that have grown cold, hearts of a nation that have become insensitive, hearts of a country that have veered off course, hearts that can find no welcome or compassion for the most vulnerable among us, the unborn, living in their mother’s womb. You, my dear friends, are a source of great hope in a world that can seem so very, very hopeless. Thank you for being here!

Last week, a terrible earthquake struck Haiti, a country already submerged in unimaginable poverty. The earthquake, measuring a staggering 7.0 on the Richter scale, devastated that Caribbean island, leaving a nation in ruins. Then, this past Wednesday, another 6.2 aftershock occurred, adding to the mayhem and destruction. We all have been shocked by the images that have accompanied the terrible death tolls, now estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are merely trying to survive in such terrible circumstances.

In the midst of this natural and humanitarian disaster, thousands have felt compelled to act. Tragedies such as these give us all an opportunity, as unwelcome as the circumstances may be, to go beyond ourselves and to serve those who are our brothers and sisters in a shared humanity and a shared faith – to sacrifice our plenty in order to assist the bare sustenance of those who have lost everything! Allow me to take this privileged opportunity to ask each one of you – have you done anything to assist those who have been affected by the disaster afflicting Haiti? Have you made a donation to any of the many worthwhile charities serving the needs of the victims? Equally, if not more important, have you sacrificed your valuable time to pray for those in such dire need?

There have been some commentators who have suggested that this disaster was somehow brought on the Haitian people through their own doing. The earthquake, it is said, was a punishment sent by God. To this claim, bordering on the absurd, I adamantly and forthrightly say this cannot be! God does not desire the death of anyone, and his Sacred Heart burns with compassion for the many victims who search for his presence in the rubble. In the face of such tragedies, we must admit the presence of a mystery, a mystery that cannot be solved this side of heaven, but must rather be confronted with faith and hope. Answers will not be always found, but compassion and generosity must be given.

In many ways, the tragedy of abortion is not unlike this Haitian nightmare. Like that earthquake, the scourge of abortion leaves some victims dead and others severely wounded. How many women, having chosen abortion as the only option available to them, now walk through their lives buried under the rubble of pain, depression and regret? How many fathers of unborn children, realizing the part that they played in an abortion, are now stuck in the aftermath of guilt, self-loathing and shame? And how many children, your potential classmates, colleagues and friends are now no longer with us, having been eliminated by legalized abortion?

But we must admit that unlike natural disasters, the horror that is abortion, and the culture of death that allows it to exist, are, without a doubt, man-made nightmares. And I am afraid we cannot console ourselves with the idea that this evil has been imposed upon us through legislative fiat. We all must be willing to admit, and to grieve, over the fact that yes, we too have had some hand to play in the presence of abortion within our culture.

At its most basic level, the culture of death is a culture of apathy and deep self-centeredness. It is a culture in which the individual is encouraged to proclaim in the presence of poverty, violence and injustice: “It’s not my fault.” It’s a culture that says, “Don’t bother me with your needs or your wants.” It’s a culture that makes the individual, and his or her comfort, the source and summit of all things, even when we can see our neighbor in need. “What’s in it for me?” is the real question that underlies the culture of death.

But my dear brothers and sisters, by committing yourself to the pro-life cause, you are committing yourself to a way of life that is at odds with this debilitating vision of “me first.” This must push you far beyond legislative lobbying and far beyond the comfort of your day-to-day life. The question that I put before you today is, “Are you living a life for others?” How are you caring for those in need? Are you, in fact, your brother’s keeper?

As I have said before, the critique leveled against us by those who support the legalized barbarism of abortion is unfortunately justified when such critics respond to our lobbying with the accusation that we are not completely pro-life, because we are only pro-birth, meaning that once born, we lose interest in the well-being of mother and child. Against this accusation, our lives must witness to our concern and care for all human life, from conception until natural death. In other words, we must be pro-life twenty-four seven!

For us, as Catholics, we are fortunate to have such a witness in Mary who is not only the Mother of God, but she is also the model disciple. She hears the voice of the Lord, delivered through an angel, and she responds in faith. She does not hold back, she does not ask what this will cost her in terms of her reputation or her daily schedule. She responds in loving trust with her “yes” as she commits herself to a life that will be lived totally for others.

In 1531, Catholics believe that our Blessed Mother, this woman of faith, this woman for others, appeared to a simple native convert named Juan Diego and told him of her Son’s love for him and his people. Our Lady of Guadalupe, honored each year by the Church on December 12, is now venerated by the Catholic Church as the patroness of the Americas and, significant in a special way for our service today, the patroness of the unborn. It is into her maternal and loving arms that Catholics have placed the important work of pro-life action and apostolates.

One of the reasons for this patronage lies in the fact that the image, that miraculously appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma, bears witness to the presence of the Christ child within Mary’s womb. Mary’s “baby bump” tells everyone who views that image that she is not alone – she comes bearing the Son of God.

Significantly, at the time of Mary’s appearance on Tepeyac Hill so many years ago, the practice of child sacrifice was widespread. According to some research, at the time of the apparition, as many as one in five children were sacrificed to the Aztec gods. Thus, you see, struggles to protect innocent children from death are not unique to our present day and age.

Like what we experience in our present culture, those Aztec children were sacrificed at the altar of a false religion. But through acceptance of the Gospel, and the culture of life that it demands, this pagan practice brought an end to this cruel practice. Just as the child within Mary’s womb was accepted by the Aztecs, so too was the way of life that He brings, a way of life that leaves no room for the slaughter of the innocent.

But let us be clear: to struggle for the rights of the unborn is not a religious issue. It is not just a cause only for the person of Faith. This is a question of basic human rights, the rights which all people of goodwill and common sense can acknowledge. As we stated last year in this same setting, the Declaration of Independence, that great document proclaiming to all the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is not a religious document. And yet within that most powerful text is found a statement to which we all can agree – a right to life, life in its fullness. The opportunity to flourish as a human being, therefore, is a universal human right.

Finally, I have to share with you the great apprehension that I have with regard to the present health care legislation that is now being so vigorously debated at the federal level of Congress. And I say that despite what happened in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

Our bishops’ conference has asked basically for three very reasonable requests: no federal money for abortion, conscience clauses for doctors and nurses, and a clear prohibition on active or passive euthanasia.

Make no doubt about it – we need health care reform, but not at any price. We are a people of moral principals and what has so far been proposed, especially in the Senate bill, goes strongly against that tide. We need to raise our voices in protest. Health care should be about enhancing life, not destroying it!

My dear brothers and sisters, I challenge you today to get up out of your seats and take a stand for life, to embrace the challenge that is the culture of life and love. Through the intercession of Mary, the mother of Christ and mother of the Church, may we persevere in our struggle to abandon a way of life that is only focused on what is convenient or comfortable and to welcome no, really to embrace all our brothers and sisters, those in our family, those in Haiti, those who are yet to be born.

May God bless each of you for being here today!, may God bless this country’s pro-life movement, and, yes, may God bless America!
Catholic Spirit

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