On Jan. 23, 2021 Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles was the homilist at the Requiem Mass for the Unborn presided by Archbishop José H. Gomez at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels following this year's OneLife LA celebration, which was celebrated virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The full text of his homily follows:
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, I would first like to offer a word of gratitude to Archbishop Gomez for his leadership here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and in the Church of the United States, especially in regard to the pro-life cause. Secondly, I would like to thank all of you who have labored for years in the vineyard of the Lord, striving to protect life at all stages. May God bless you and continue to give you strength and courage!
Why do we fight for life? We do so because we are Americans and because we are Catholics. As Catholics we know that God is a God of life. The opening verses of the book of Genesis tell us that the Lord creates life in all of its marvelous abundance and diversity and gives to human life a unique dignity. Furthermore, practically every book of the Old Testament confirms that God seals his covenants with the human race with the injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply!” We know from the prophet Jeremiah that even unborn human life is sacred, for the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”
We know, too, that the lives of sick and elderly matter, for the book of Proverbs tells us, “Do not despise your mother when she is old,” and the book of Sirach says, “My child, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if his mind fails, be patient with him.” We know that the lives of the poor and the forgotten matter for the prophet Isaiah, channeling the voice of the Lord, says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke…to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house.”
The same themes are sounded in the New Testament as well. In the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus himself says, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” And this includes the life of the unborn, for in the story of the Visitation, for we learn that “upon hearing the voice of Mary, John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother’s womb.” Most importantly, at the very center of the Church’s evangelical proclamation is that the crucified Jesus has been, through the power of the Holy Spirit, raised from the dead. So our God is definitively and defiantly a God of life.
And this is why, from its earliest days, the Church has fostered and protected human life. In fact, the ancient Christian community’s radical unwillingness to tolerate assaults on life was a key factor in attracting people to the new movement. This is why, even today, the Church stands against any attempt directly to attack human life at any stage of its development.
But as I said, we are also defenders of life because we are Americans. The great values that undergird our unique political experiment in ordered liberty are ones with which Biblical people find a deep resonance. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” Since our equality comes from being created, we don’t think that the unborn or the elderly or the sick are any less equal than the rest of the population. And since the rights we have are inalienable, they obtain in regard to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.
And what precisely are these rights? Thomas Jefferson tells us: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Again, since they come, not from the state but from God, these privileges inhere in everyone. So who are we to say to an unborn child, “you have forfeited your right to life” or to a sick and elderly person, “your freedom can be abrogated,” or to someone on society’s fringes, “we are indifferent to your happiness.” As Americans, we stand against these assaults on human rights.
And friends, to state clearly what I have already hinted at, our concern for life is wide and deep. As Pope Francis puts it, “sacred are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” Therefore, anyone victimized, anyone alone and afraid, anyone under political oppression, anyone enduring race prejudice, anyone treated with disrespect because of her religion, anyone whose health is endangered because he can’t find sufficient food or clean water comes legitimately under the care and concern of the Church.
Nevertheless, the Church recognizes the need to prioritize among the life issues, raising its voice with particular insistence when human life is directly threatened. This is why euthanasia, capital punishment, and abortion are of paramount concern. And of those three, the issue of abortion remains, as the bishops of the United States have put it, “preeminent,” due to the sheer number of lives that it destroys. Did you know that each year, between 2015 and 2019, 73 million induced abortions occurred worldwide? Did you know that three out of ten pregnancies, in those same years, ended in abortion? In our country alone, more than 800,000 abortions took place last year, and since the passing of Roe v. Wade, in excess of 61 million abortions have occurred in the United States. This is not a minor problem; in fact, there is no more brutal attack on human life than this.
Thus Pope Francis says, “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.” And taking on the culturally trendy defenders of the pro-choice position, Pope Francis asserts, “I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.” And even more bluntly: “It is not right to ‘do away with’ a human being, however small, in order to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hit man to solve a problem.”
Friends, where does this indifference to life come from? It comes from sinful human hearts, to be sure, but also from what St. John Paul II called “the culture of death” and what Pope Francis has memorably called the “throwaway culture.” What is needed, therefore, at both the personal and societal level is repentance. Listen to Jesus from our Gospel reading for this evening. This is his inaugural address, the first words we hear from him in the first Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The kingdom of God is everything that stands athwart the culture of death and the throwaway culture. It is the state of affairs that obtains when God is allowed to reign over every aspect of life. To enter into it, one must undergo “conversion,” metanoia, which has the sense in Greek of “going beyond the mind that you have,” or “seeing in a fresh way.”
St. Augustine’s expression for the throwaway culture and the culture of death is “the earthly city,” by which he means a community centered on self-love. Conversion, for Augustine, is all about moving from the earthly city to what he termed “the City of God,” that community predicated not upon love of self but the love of God. In that city, filled with converted people, the culture of life holds sway; in that city, no one is left behind; in that city, no one is thrown away.
So we are all summoned to a constant and ever deeper repentance. We have to become, ever more fully, citizens of the City of God. But then we have to call the wider world to conversion. Our incomparably rich first reading is taken from the book of the prophet Jonah, who had been ordered by God to preach to the depraved city of Nineveh, the capital of an empire deeply inimical to Israel. Of course, Jonah balked: told to go east by land, he went west by sea, trying to get as far away from the voice of God as possible. But the Lord sent a great fish that swallowed up the reluctant prophet and brought him right back to where God wanted him. Once he undertook his task, he became the greatest prophet of repentance in history. Everyone in pagan Nineveh, from the most ordinary citizen to the King himself put on sackcloth—even the animals, we are told, repented!
We are all Jonahs! God wants us preaching to Nineveh, to our increasingly secularized society, to a throwaway culture—and it’s just as daunting now as it was then. I know that, like the ancient prophet, we are tempted to run away. Given the attitudes and prejudices of our society, we feel that this task is just too daunting. But if we surrender to God, mighty forces will come to our aid!
There is no limit to what the Lord might accomplish through our witness. We preach, to be sure, with our words, through publications, through the Internet, through conversation with friends and enemies, by marching and raising our voices in public protest. But we preach even more powerfully through our actions.
Many years ago, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York said that, as a concrete expression of a pro-life commitment, every parish in his Archdiocese ought to be willing and able to care for a pregnant woman and her baby, no matter what, under any circumstances. Cardinal O’Connor’s successor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan related a story from just a few years ago. At Christmas time, a young mother, a recent Mexican immigrant, gave birth to a child out of wedlock. She had no money; she had no decent place to stay, and no means of caring for her child. So she went to her local parish, where she had felt welcomed, and she placed her baby, the umbilical cord still attached, in the crib in the nativity scene. Soon enough, good people heard the child’s cries and found a way to care for him. That’s a story of the City of God; that’s how converted people behave; that’s the opposite of the throwaway culture. And that story, picked up by papers across the country, truly preached.
And so, my fellow Americans, my fellow Catholics, we fight for life. We gladly accept the daunting mission that God has given us to go into Nineveh and preach repentance—in season and out, when they love us for it and when they hate us for it, despite mockery and discouragement, when the political winds are blowing with us and when they are blowing against us. We fight for life. For there is no limit to what God can accomplish through us when we surrender to his will and purpose.