The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on August 3, during Mass at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Pro-Life Directors' Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Arlington.
Today's first reading from the book of Leviticus describes for us the festivals of the Lord, which the chosen people were to celebrate each year. Chief among them was the Passover, which relived their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, so that they could live freely as God's people in the Promised Land, ultimately so that they relish in the gift of life, free from false gods, cruelty and slavery. We now are God's People, chosen by Him to believe in His Son, Christ Jesus, Lord and Savior, Who came that we might have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). Gathered in His name, we are taking part in His Passover from death to life, as He makes present in our midst this day His dying and rising: the Paschal Mystery.
In today's Gospel account, we hear Jesus say: "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house." How often do we feel like that in doing our pro-life work? We feel like we are offering the same prophetic message over and over again to a world that often does not want to be convinced. Just look at the agenda for today's conference — the stem cell debate, the contraceptive mentality, the struggles of women facing difficult pregnancies, and treating fertility and children as commodities. Clearly, the prophet's voice is not very popular or very heeded in our culture.
The crowd responded to Jesus with: "‘Where did this man get all this?' And they took offense at him." How often do we hear a similar refrain in our pro-life work? "Who are you to tell me how to live?" "My rights, my body." "Stop forcing your morality on others." And they take offense at us.
Yes, this is tough work. Prophetic work is always challenging and rarely appreciated. Our Lord suffered the same, so we are often in His company. Let us never feel alone, for our Lord is with us every step of the way.
Once a month, I have the privilege to lead a rosary outside a local abortion facility. There, the prophet's voice is even more despised, yet all the more needed. Even in the seeming hopelessness outside the abortion chamber, there are always hope and opportunities for miracles. As you know, lives are saved even at that last moment. I treasure those times when one of our pro-life people was able to speak with the occupants of a car pulling into the driveway of the abortion facility. As a result, the occupants took the literature being offered with the promise to call one of our workers for further conversation and assistance. The follow-up visit then resulted in the child being saved. Yes, those encounters, at the last minute, are so precious and life-giving!
At the close of today's Gospel account, we hear: "And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith." In our pro-life work, let us never be the ones who might get in the way of God's miracles because of our lack of faith. There are, thank God, encouraging signs: lives are being saved just outside the doors of abortion chambers; the Supreme Court can uphold the constitutionality of a ban on infanticide; young people are embracing the pro-life cause with great energy and determination; morally appropriate, adult stem cell treatments are healing and saving lives to the utter dismay of the "cloners;" and a culture of life will replace the current culture of death.
Each day, we must go to the Lord of Life, to our beloved Jesus, asking: "Lord, deepen my faith," that is, "deepen my union with You in obedient faith." Faith is not only the assent of our mind and heart to the truth. Faith is also the personal surrender of our total self to the Lord, our personal "yes" to His Word and His Will, our "I am yours completely."
Through this act of faith, we acquire vision and strength. We are given the vision to see the same reality everyone else sees, yet differently through God's eyes. So, we see the "gift of life from conception to natural death" as God Himself sees it and gives it to us to treasure, to protect, to enhance and to defend with all our being. This is why any attack on human life is so heinous and cries out for our efforts to eliminate such evils from our society. We are also given strength — the ability to persevere, to remain encouraged despite the setbacks, to stand in joyful hope — because, in the end, the Lord of Life will bring about the complete victory of life, crowning our humble efforts with divine success.
During this Mass, our focus is on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart of Christ is the fountain of compassion and mercy, of forgiveness and perseverance, gifts we must bring to our pro-life apostolate. The more we are one with His heart, the more we can see through His eyes, love with His heart and will with His will. Yes, through the Sacred Heart, we truly acquire the vision and strength that are rooted in and lead to authentic Christian faith.
Thank you for your continued faith, and dedicated and unrelenting commitment to life! Thank you for trusting in the Lord's providence. It is truly a privilege for the Arlington Diocese to be able to host this conference. But it is our special gift to you to be able to provide these liturgies and the adoration chapel here in the hotel, as well as the prayerful support of local Catholics who are staffing the chapel and interceding for the success of this conference and for your ministries.
I urge you to stop in and visit with the Lord of Life who will strengthen your faith and recharge your energy for the prophetic work ahead. Hear the beating of His Sacred Heart and unite your heart to His. United with Him, day in and day out, we can proclaim and live Pope John Paul II's words in "The Gospel of Life:" "We are the people of life and for life, and that is how we present ourselves to everyone," ("Evangelium Vitae," No. 78). Amen.