On this day of prayer and penance for life, Catholics across the country mourn with God the death of so many of his children through abortion and recommit ourselves in hope to bringing about a culture of life.
FALL RIVER, MA (Catholic Online) - Today is the 40th anniversary of the legal and moral atrocity that is the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion for basically any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Since that decision, about 56 million children made in God's image and likeness - and their parents' image and likeness - have been massacred in the womb by gruesome techniques that would never be permitted on our pets.
It's a day on which, rightly, the members of the Church, like the ancient inhabitants of Nineveh, make reparation through prayer and penance for life. As the US Bishops decreed several years back, "In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 . shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life."
When we speak of reparation today, many do not know really what we're talking about. It's prayer, fasting and actions of penance meant to try to repair the damage done by our sins, the harm done to our relationship with God, to others and to ourselves. It's a day in which we turn to God and pour out our hearts saying "Sorry!" and "help us!"
Last month, we were all sickened by the terrible bloodbath in Newtown, where 27 people, including 20 beautiful and innocent firsts graders, were each shot multiple times by a deeply disturbed boy with a high-caliber weapon, who then turned the rifle on himself. We all mourned with the parents, the brothers and sisters, and the members of the community. But I began my homily the Sunday after the massacre by talking about a type of reparation and consolation that is often overlooked in such tragedies.
"The first thing we need to focus on, that's important for us all to grasp," I said, "is that the one who is mourning the most today is God the Father. There are many parents in Newtown who likely haven't been able to sleep for the last two nights because of the nightmare they've had to endure after their son or daughter was blown away in school by a madman. It's unimaginable their pain. But there's one parent who is mourning the death of 27 of his children by a 28th who then committed suicide. God has been mourning such tragedies ever since Cain slew his brother Abel."
If it's unimaginable to have to mourn the slaughter of one beautiful son or daughter, imagine mourning 28. And so I urged my parishioners to begin our prayer by looking at things from God the Father's perspective and to do reparation for all the things in our culture that played some part in the brutality that occurred on December 14th.
I don't like to make comparisons between atrocities. The Holocaust, the genocides in the Ukraine, Turkey, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere, the mass murders in Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech and other places are all unique instances of terrible evil. To compare them only serves to relativize, diminish and deaden the moral outrage we should have toward each atrocity.
But I think it is important for us to recognize that even though many in our culture are gradually and sadly becoming habituated to these mass executions - as long as they happen somewhere else, to some other family -Â in every case, it's God the Father who needs once again to mourn the senseless slaughter of Abels by modern Cains with more destructive weapons.
And if we were to look at what happens through abortion in our country, we can begin to perceive what type of prayer and reparation we're called to engage in today.
If more than any parent God mourned most of all on December 14 at the death of 28 children, what must be his reaction to what happens each day by abortion in our country? There are now 1.2 million abortions annually, which translates to 3,288 abortions a day or another Sandy Hook elementary massacre every 8.76 seconds in the United States alone.
For God, every day in our country is 117 Newtowns carried out not by disturbed 20 year olds but by trained medical personnel with the sanction of our courts and the vast majority of our culture.
How can we possibly say to God, "Sorry," "Have mercy," and "Help us" enough?
That's why we come together to pray in our Churches at Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, the Divine Mercy Chapel and so many other means. That's why today we should fast as if thousands of lives depended on it. That's why we're called to do penance, for our own contributions to a culture that permits it, as well as for those who drive a culture celebrating abortion as a civil right. That's why hundreds of thousands will descend on Washington, DC and San Francisco this Friday to March for Life.
Today is a day on which with prayer, fasting and penance, we mourn with God and before God.
It's a day on which we commit ourselves anew to the Lord of Life.
It's a day in which we renew our gratitude to our parents, and their parents, and their grandparents, all the way through the generations that they said yes to life, even in difficult circumstances.
It's a day on which we pray and fast for all those who are presently in difficult pregnancies, being tempted to end the life of their unborn baby, and reach out to them with compassion.
It's a day on which we do penance for all those doctors, nurses, judges, politicians and citizens who support abortion.
It's a day on which we pray that all those who have received abortions may come to recognize what they've done, come to God to receive the mercy he wants to give them, and make a resolution to try to help other women in similar circumstances make the right choice.
It's a day on which we commit ourselves even more to fostering a culture of life in which every human being is welcomed, respected, protected and assisted: a culture in which those who are bigger, stronger, more developed, older, smarter, richer can no longer end the lives of those who are just as humanÂ - in fact just as human as we were when we were their age and size - but simplyÂ smaller, younger and more vulnerable.
That's what we pray for today, together, not only with our lips and hearts but also with our bodies in fasting and penance.
During this Year of Faith, we are called to pray with even greater hope, despite the fact that the last year various developments in the United States' political situationÂ have been discouraging for pro-lifers.
Faith and hope, as Pope Benedict wrote in his 2007 encyclical "Saved in Hope," are almost interchangeable terms in the Bible. Faith in God leads to an awareness that God is with us in the world, the God for whom nothing is impossible, the God who brings good out of evil, the God who is faithful to all his promises.
This type of hope is what the Letter to the Hebrews summons us to live in today's first reading. The words should have a particular resonance for those in the pro-life movement who have been battling discouragement with regard to some recent setbacks.
"God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises."
The letter says that our hope is like an "anchor of the soul, sure and firm" that is thrown into heaven , to keep us properly moored in faith as we encounter the storms of life. It was written to encourage the early Christians in an age of persecution to imitate the great heroes of faith. It's just as relevant to us today, encouraging us to "hold fast to the hope that lies before us."
And so with courage today, we renew our faith and hope in God, the Lord of life, who hasn't abandoned us in this struggle but who is still God-with-us in order to save us and heal us from our sins.
We renew our faith and hope in the power of prayer, fasting, penance and reparation.
We renew our faith and hope in the power of conscience, helping to guide others toward the good, to affirm rather than end it, to see children grow up rather than dead in the womb, to help pregnant women in difficulty become loving mothers rather confused co-conspirators in the deaths of their own children.
We renew our faith and hope that most people, when given the choice between a culture that affirms life and another that pushes death, the culture of life will triumph.
That's the anchor we throw upward today, together with our prayer, penance and fasting.
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com.
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