The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Saturday, November 18, 2006, on the Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, at the monthly Respect Life Mass at St. Agnes Church in Arlington, Virginia.
Many things bind us together as we assemble and begin to celebrate the Dying and Rising of Jesus in this Eucharistic Sacrifice. Surely, our Catholic faith unites us, that treasured faith by which we acknowledge the One God in Three Person; Jesus Christ His Only-Begotten Son, Son of God and Son of Mary, sent to be the Redeemer of the world; the Holy Spirit missioned to be the Source of every grace and pledge of eternal life; the Church founded by Christ to be His Spouse and Our Mother. Also, what links us together is our conviction about the inestimable dignity of every human life, beginning at conception and ending at natural death, and our commitment to be, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "a people of life and for life."
As we look back, we see how difficult has been the struggle to uphold life! Yes, significant steps have been made and for these we thank God, the source of every blessing and good gift. Yet, we see so clearly how much remains to be done. Abortion on demand, partial birth abortion, embryonic stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide: these unjust attacks on life tell us that the victory of life has not yet been won in this country or in the wider society. The risk of becoming discouraged and dismayed runs high!
Coming together this morning for this monthly Respect Life Mass on the Optional Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Rome renews our hope and strengthens our resolve. This celebration focuses our attention on the Apostles Peter and Paul, who never gave up in their efforts to proclaim Jesus as Lord and the Truth of His Gospel. Saint Paul was being sent to Rome to face trial before the Roman emperor. The brothers went out "as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet [him]. On seeing them, Paul gave thanks to God and took courage." Some translations say "renewed courage." Then, when he arrived at Rome and remained there for two full years, "with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." Saint Peter heard Jesus tell him above the roar of the waves, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter then said to Jesus, "If it is you, command me to come to you on the water. [Jesus] said, ‘Come.' Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus." Peter believed in Jesus' word, but he did not believe strongly enough. Taking his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink and cried out, "Lord, save me. Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him."
The Church is struggling to proclaim the Gospel of Life as she encounters the winds of opposition and the waves of denial — so many people are deceived by false arguments and glib rhetoric. Yet, we must not give in to the storms that surround us on all sides. We must find new energy and encouragement within the community of Christ's disciples, His Church. Through prayer, penance, education, persuasion and witness, we must unceasingly proclaim the truth about human life from its first moment at conception all the way to its last moment at natural death. Pointing to genuine research, we must make clear the facts underlying our conviction about the sacredness of human life. Standing by one another, we can give renewed courage to each other as we continue to be heralds of the Gospel of Life. This monthly Respect Life Mass and our praying the Rosary before the abortion facility are tangible signs of our desire to strengthen one another.
Prayer is essential to our efforts. In prayer, both at home and here during the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we meet the Lord Jesus, the Victor over death and sin, and experience His life-giving presence. Especially at Mass, when Jesus comes to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, we hear His voice telling us not to be afraid and experience His hand catching us in our weakness and strengthening us for the ongoing battle for life.
The Church has been a beacon of light in upholding the dignity of every human person and in promoting the culture of life. Because we are members of the Church, we must never give in to discouragement nor give up in our efforts. Yes, the Apostles Peter and Paul urge us to persevere in our mission to proclaim the Gospel of Life, for we, like them, are blessed with the faithful presence of Jesus at our side and of the strengthening help of the Holy Spirit whom He sends, along with God the Father. So then, let us be renewed in our commitment to be heralds of life, persevering in our mission to partner with Christ in bringing about the victory of life. Amen.