Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the chairman of the US Bishops’ pro-life office and archbishop of the Galveston-Houston diocese, urged pro-life Catholics gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Thursday to tap into the transformative love of Christ in order to become the "pro-life bread for others."
Catholics had arrived from across the nation for the Vigil Mass for Life at the National Shrine on the eve of the March for Life. The following afternoon, an immense crowed estimated at over 300,000 filled the National Mall to rally and march to the Supreme Court.
In his homily, DiNardo warmly acknowledged the "joyous environment" of the vast sea of young people, who constituted a large part of the crowd that packed itself into every corner of the enormous basilica.
"I know myself to be surrounded by a joyous environment. That’s all of you," he said. "And most especially, so many young people! What an acclamation of praise, and what a spirit of joy."
The Cardinal contemplated the martyrdom of St. Agnes, the young Roman martyr whose feast it was that day, as an example of the Christ-centered love that shapes the Catholic pro-life mission.
"St. Agnes was so small, that the chains intended to bind her hands and wrists slid off," said DiNardo. "Unfortunately in our culture, we have grown into the chains that bind us, and hold us fast in a grip of deadly attitudes about human life, about the human person, especially in the moments of his or her fragile beginnings and in those vulnerable times of old age or illness.
"There are some in our culture … who think that human civil institutions or some given human subject bestow the right to life," he continued. "No, not any of us bestow the right to life. We can only recognize the right to life, uphold it, defend it, and cherish its beauty."
DiNardo quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, in which the pontiff wrote: "Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good."
"This is such a time for our country," said DiNardo. "A time to be renewed in motivation and energy in our openness to life."
"Walking tonight in the procession to the altar, I figured there was enough motivation and energy for a thousand years – so I’m not worried about this particular congregation at all," he added. "It’s the other congregations we have to worry about."
The cardinal emphasized that health care reform "must protect the life, dignity, consciences and health of all, and should not advance the pro-abortion agenda in our country." "Our response must be clear and articulate …. Abortion is not health care. Health care is about saving, preserving, not destroying life," he said.
"Thirty-seven years ago, the Supreme Court wrongly decreed that abortion was the law of the land. Now it seems there is at least one part of Congress that wants to force us to pay for it," DiNardo continued. "This would be the most radical expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade, an attempt to use the power of government to mainstream abortion into our culture, our daily lives."
The cardinal encouraged pro-lifers to rely on the power of God’s love, as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, when the going seems grim for the right to life movement.
"That’s what makes the pro-life cause come alive. Ultimately, it is God’s love. To be suffused with that love changes absolutely everything," he said. "The joy remains even in supreme difficulties, even in the most vociferous disagreements, the love remains even when our resources seem paltry."
It is Christ, said DiNardo, who "invites us to give our meager resources. He transforms them, and then the chains begin to fall off our metaphorical wrists, even as they physically fell off Agnes in her joy for the Bridegroom." "In him, all dark valleys, all hostility, all belittling comments about our pro-life commitments are as nothing. Nothing do we want but Christ Jesus and His love – this is the pro-life commitment’s foundation and boast," he said.
The Houston cardinal encouraged the congregation to nourish their commitment to life through Holy Communion, invoking the example of the early bishop-martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch, who "prayed to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he could become pure bread."
"We partake of the Body and Blood of the Crucified Lord so that we nurture, in that way, the crowd – that we indeed will be the pro-life bread for others," said DiNardo.
The cardinal concluded: "Tomorrow there will be time in the public square for principled statements, action items, or sober analysis, or meetings with those who are in power. This is all very important. But for us tonight … let us simply boast in the Lord Jesus in this liturgical public square.
"Let us gaze only on Jesus, let us receive him so that shouting with joy, we will be instruments for life."