Defending Human Life and Dignity, from Generation to Generation

Homily for Mass on the Occasion of the Walk for Life West Coast
January 25, 2014 (Feast of Conversion of St. Paul)
By The Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco


As has happened every year now for a very long time at these events, the gathering of all of you here today bears witness to the youthfulness of the pro-life movement.  Yes, the pro-life movement is young, vibrant and growing in strength.  Thank you, young people, for your witness and your presence here today!

The First Generation
I would invite you, though, to look around and notice those who are your elders here in this church.  Yes, those who are older than you – shall I say, those who are more well-seasoned in life?  They are the first generation of pro-lifers.  It is no understatement to say to you, our beloved young people, that you are here today because of them.

Not all of them share the same story as to how they have arrived at this point in their lives; their lives have taken different paths, but converge here on the truth of the sanctity of human life.  Some have gotten here by way of conversion.  We celebrate today the story of a famous conversion, indeed, the most famous conversion in the history of the Church: that of St. Paul.  St. Paul, of course, is the ideal example of the literal meaning of the word “conversion.”  He turned around, did a 180, and so used his extraordinary gifts of learning, rhetoric, and physical and spiritual stamina to proclaim the Gospel and build up the Church rather than tear it down.  Like him, those of you who have come to the pro-life movement by way of conversion provide an indispensable service to Christ that no one else can.  You champion the cause of human life simply by sharing your stories of how you have been harmed by the culture of death, even participating in it yourself while you still had the scales over your eyes duping you into believing that you were doing good.

Others of you in the more seasoned generation of pro-lifers have remained steadfast in staying the course from the beginning.  My young people, I want you to reflect on what it was like for these elders of yours in those early years of the pro-life movement, those years around the time of the infamous Roe decision.

Those of you who were around and involved then will remember what it was like.  You were told that abortion was inevitable, that while, yes, there are some people who still don’t like it, in a few years it will be calmly accepted by all Americans as just a part of life.  You were told that you were interfering with a woman’s right to privacy, that Church and state should stay out of the way.  But you knew that that was just a deception technique, to deflect attention away from the rights of that baby growing in her womb.  And you were smart enough not to be fooled.  Most of all, you were told that you were anti-woman, that you were standing in the way of women’s progress and full equality in society.

Forty-plus years and nearly sixty-million abortions later, the very painful truth has come to light: yes, abortion does hurt women.  And yet, there are those who wish to silence any talk about the harm that abortion does to women; there are a few who would even go so far as to call it hate speech.  The words “astonished” and “perplexed” do not begin to describe my reaction, and I’m sure that of many of you, to those who still believe, and purport, that abortion helps women.  What they keep overlooking is actually talking to the women who have been harmed by it, letting women who have gone through that experience tell their story without making any judgments in advance on them or on how they think these women should feel about it.  All too  often these women are shamed into silence, intimidated – even if implicitly – not to share their true feelings for fear of rejection, of being shut down and marginalized, or just not trusting that there is anyone who would really understand and listen compassionately.  Instead, they get the message that they are not supposed to have these feelings, because this is something that was supposed to be good for them.

Those of you well-seasoned in the pro-life movement have understood this, too.  You especially did not buy that lie about abortion being good for women.  The pro-life movement is about more than saving the life of the baby, although that already is a very great thing and enough to justify all that we do on behalf of life.  But the movement is also about the mother, and providing her the emotional, spiritual and material support she needs to make a happy and truly human choice – indeed, so that she can truly have a choice at all.  When a woman in a crisis pregnancy feels she has no choice but really wants to choose life, where does she turn?  When a woman has gone through the experience and cannot rid herself of those feelings of guilt and anguish, and desires the relief of healing, where does she turn?  She does not turn to those who claim to be “pro-woman” and advocate for this so-called “choice,” which so often is no choice at all.  No, she turns to those who stand for life, for they are the ones who will welcome her with open arms, love her for who she is, and go to all lengths to give her the support she needs.

My dear young people, I want you to realize that back in those early years of the pro-life movement, these things that I have just said could not be spoken in polite company.  To be known as pro-life, or even to defend the pro-life position when the topic would come up in conversation, would often mean banishment from the ranks of those deemed socially acceptable.

Now, thankfully, that has changed.  Yes, it is still harder in our society today to be pro-life than an abortion rights advocate; yes, for example, once again this year we here in San Francisco and our brothers and sisters who marched in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday will not get the media coverage we deserve based on our sheer numbers alone.  Still, though, it’s not like it was before.  It’s okay now to be known as pro-life; most people who disagree with you will still respect you and treat you with dignity.  This is thanks to the elders in the pro-life movement, who have been steady stalwarts standing for life all of these decades.

The Next Generation
Dear young people, I want you to reflect on this and take it to heart.  The pro-life movement is about more than saving the life of the baby.  It’s about giving that baby all the care, love and nurturing he or she needs to grow up happy and healthy and to achieve his or her total potential in life.  It’s about the mother and a whole network of relationships around that baby that the baby needs in such a vulnerable stage of life.  It’s especially about connecting that baby to where he or she came from: the mother and the father.  And that, my friends, is the whole point of marriage: to connect husbands and wives to each other and to any children they bring into the world.  There is no other institution that does that, that connects children to their mother and father.  Marriage is primarily about the children, not the adults, such that you cannot be consistently pro-life without being pro-marriage: the two go together.  You could say that it’s a package deal.  You see, in God’s design, it all fits perfectly together.  When you tinker with it, even one small part of it, it all starts to unravel.  That’s the big picture.

My young people: your elders in the pro-life movement have stayed the course during some very hostile and dark times, and now the pro-life movement is stronger than it ever has been.  Now it is your turn.  It is this wider picture of the pro-life movement that is now the critical issue of the moment and, yes, I won’t hesitate to say it: it is under attack.  Yes, marriage is under attack, but not just recently; this has been going on in our society for a very long time now, actually, for at least as long as the abortion-rights movement has been in existence.  And it stands to reason, as both are manifestations of what Pope Francis so often refers to as the “throw away” culture.  A baby in the womb is thrown away because at least one of the two people who brought that baby into the world has thrown the other away, has rejected the other as someone worthy of commitment, self-surrender, and unconditional love.  This is what marriage is and is for: not a privileged social status, not a government recognition of people’s love life, not a special relationship one stays in as long as one is deriving some immediate benefit from it, but a self-surrender of husband and wife to each other for the sake of the children they bring into the world – just like Christ and the Church, as St. Paul teaches us.

Now the same contempt, accusations and name-calling are being hurled at those who stand for the truth of marriage as were hurled against those who stood for life a generation and two ago.  But we cannot allow ourselves to be shamed into silence.  The truth needs a voice, and you, my dear young people, are that voice for the next generation.  And your voice must be heard so that – just as you now understand the harm that abortion does to women despite the lies perpetrated by the abortion industry – so future generations will understand that the natural truth of marriage benefits everyone and discriminates against no one; no one is harmed and everyone benefits when government enshrines in the law the right of everyone to have a mother and a father.  But prepare yourselves: it will require heroic virtue, for there is a lot of reverse bullying going on these days.  Yes, there is still a lot of the standard kind, too, and we must deplore that and work to eradicate it as well.  But there is also plenty of reverse bullying, punishing those who would dare to dissent from the secular orthodoxy on this issue.  But, at the same time, take heart: heroic virtue is the recipe for holiness, and holiness is nothing other than the true, deep, abiding happiness that God wants us to have with Him.

 Rooted in Jesus Christ
I know this may seem like a lot, too daunting a task, maybe even impossible.  But think back, not to your elders in the pro-life movement, but to our elders in the Christian faith, that first generation of believers: the apostles.  Think about what they were up against going out into a hostile world to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and fulfill his commission to them to make disciples of all nations.  We are all here today thanks to them.  And look at the promises he makes to them at the end of St. Mark’s Gospel which we just heard proclaimed at this Mass.  They may seem fanciful, all this talk about handling serpents and drinking deadly things without being harmed.  But what he is telling them is that, with him, all things are possible.  And so it was: not in their lifetime, not after a few generations, but after many centuries they and their successors succeeded in evangelizing the whole known world of the time.

So, my dear young people, stay firmly rooted in Jesus Christ.  Stay close to him, and close to his Church.  Cling to him, for he loves you, he wants what is best for you.  He died for you so that you might live with him forever; he will not let any harm come to you, no matter what you have to suffer for him.

We don’t know what the next critical issue threatening human life and dignity will be for the generation that will come after you.  One thing, though, we do know: they will look to you as the ones who bore the brunt of the battle in your generation, as you look to your elders now in the pro-life movement.

Don’t let them down.  Actually, you are already not letting them down, for more of them will be born than would have otherwise thanks to you.  But eventually they will be your age, and will look to you for inspiration in defending human life and dignity.  So know and love Jesus Christ: he will give you the strength, wisdom and virtue you need; be faithful to him, and you will grow in his grace and, yes, grow into holiness yourself, and show others the way there as well.  Then you will attain all that he wants for you: life, peace and happiness with him now, and forever in heaven.  Amen.