Unity in Obeying Church Teaching

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Sept. 16, 2006, the Memorial of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, at the Respect Life Mass at St. Louis Parish in Alexandria.

How appropriate and fitting it is for us to celebrate this monthly Respect Life Mass on a day dedicated liturgically to the martyrs St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian! Why do I say this? Because the word "martyr" in Greek means "witness" and our monthly Respect Life Masses strengthen us to give witness to the Gospel of Life, to the truth that every human life is sacred and must be protected and defended from its first moment at conception to its last moment at natural death.

Today's martyrs Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, although separated geographically " Cornelius in Italy and Cyprian in North Africa " were nonetheless united in their witness to the truth despite persecution and eventual death. They struggled against heresies, that is, destructive distortions of the truth. They willingly gave their lives to foster unity within the Church, a true one-ness in faith and love. As the Opening Prayer reminds us, in them we are given "an inspiring example of dedication to the pastoral ministry and constant witness to Christ in their suffering."

A similar challenge faces us today, namely, to foster true unity within the Church we love so dearly. The Church's unity is at stake; not all those who call themselves Catholic accept and obey the Church's authentic teachings, especially in the arena of moral living. We see clear evidence of this before us every day. For example, many legislators, at both the congressional and state levels, call themselves Catholic, but do not support legislation which would protect and defend human life from conception to natural death. They neglect, ignore and sometimes oppose the absolute truth that all human life is sacred from conception to natural death.

Another example, an organization claiming to be Catholic and entitled "Catholics for a Free Choice" advocates as morally acceptable the choice which results in the deliberate death of the unborn child. Indeed, there is an entire arena of issues where Catholics around us " in our parishes and neighborhood, within the workplace and sadly even within our families " dismiss the Church's teaching about the life issues with the inevitable result of growing disunity within the Church.

When we Catholics lose our rootedness in the truth as proclaimed by Christ, enriched by the Living Tradition of the Church and taught clearly by the Church's Teaching Office, then disunity results within the Church as well as in society. That is why we asked the Lord moments ago in the Opening Prayer for "courage to work for the unity of your Church" through the prayers and faith of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian.

Recently, another issue inviting a moral evaluation and decision surfaced clearly before us: "the morning after pill" or "Plan B." On Aug. 24th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration succumbed to the increasing pressure of abortion advocates and approved the sale of "Plan B" to adult women and men without a prescription. This means that anyone over 18 years of age will soon be able to buy these pills over the counter.

Now, the advocates claim that this pill will reduce the number of abortions. So many people, including Catholics, will be taken in by this assertion. But is this assertion accurate and true? Let me share with you some brief quotations from an article written by Deindre McQuade.

"Is Plan B a contraceptive? It can be, but it can also cause an early abortion. Depending on when in her menstrual cycle a woman takes it, the drug can have any one of three effects: (a) it can have no effect because the woman is already naturally infertile three weeks out of four; (b) it can act as a contraceptive by preventing fertilization; or (c) it can cause an early abortion by preventing the embryo from implanting in her uterine lining.

"Those hailing Plan B's availability say that it 'prevents pregnancy' and so isn't an abortifacient. But that depends on what your definition of 'isn't' is. They define abortion as the termination of a pregnancy, and say that a woman is pregnant only after the embryo implants in her uterus.

"But prior to the embryo's nesting in the womb, while still 'free floating' in the woman's reproductive tract, she is already 'with child.' If the growing embryo is caught in the fallopian tube too long or expelled from the woman's body due to an abortifacient drug, he or she dies, whether the mother is aware of it or not. Abortion is the destruction of unborn human life, not just the interruption of pregnancy after implantation. So in addition to being a contraceptive, Plan B may cause drug-induced abortions.

"Will Plan B reduce abortions generally? The answer is still no. According to research in Europe and the U.S., increased access to 'emergency contraception' has a negligible effect on the rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Technologies, admitted: 'the experts had estimated that we would see a drop by up to half in the rates of unintended pregnancy and the rate of abortion. And in fact in the real world we're not seeing that.'

"So 'emergency contraception' is a euphemistic misnomer; and this drug will not reduce abortions. When you include the possible abortifacient effect, it may even increase them."

Once again, unless we Catholics seek the truth, we will be divided, caught up in the rhetoric of the advocates of "Plan B."

In today's gospel account, Jesus uses two familiar images: a good tree bears only good fruit and a house built on a rock foundation cannot be destroyed. Our evaluation of "Plan B" must be guided by the Truth. If we do that, we will be solidly founded. And because we will be solidly founded on the rock of Truth, we will then produce good fruit, the fruit of right living. Moreover, we will then say the great Amen/Yes to life in all its stages: the great Amen/Yes to the life of the unborn child, the great Amen/Yes to the dignity of the human person even in the embryonic stage, the great Amen/Yes to the troubled teens and frightened parents, the great Amen/Yes to chastity education which speaks to the noblest capacities of the human person, the great Amen/Yes to the fact that "Plan B" is more than an artificial contraceptive since it can be, at times, an abortifacient, the great Amen/Yes to preserving the dignity of the elderly and assisting them to die a natural death with care and true comfort.

The martyrs we honor today, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian, gave their great Amen/Yes through faithful witness. In upholding, defending and sustaining the gift of human life from conception to natural death, we can do no less! We must be like them and do the same. Amen!

Bishop Paul S. Loverde


Bp. Paul S. Loverde is the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia.

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