The mission of Priests For Life is to proclaim the truth that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Each and every human being is unique, precious and unrepeatable. God alone is the Master of Life. Only God has the power to give a human life, only God has a right to choose to take an innocent human life to himself.
Today is the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul. I would like to speak of the message of the sanctity of human life in relation to this Solemnity that we celebrate today.
The Church has always considered St. Peter and St. Paul as inseparable. Both were born as Jews. They had different gifts and different personalities, but both were called by Jesus Christ for the foundation and building up of his Church. Like Romulus and Remus who, according to legend, founded the City of Rome. St. Peter and St. Paul are considered to be the founders of the Church in Rome. Both of them made the supreme sacrifice of their lives in the service of the Gospel. St. Peter was crucified upside down and St. Paul, since he was born as a Roman citizen, was beheaded with a sword.
According to a tradition which dates back to the first century, Peter and Paul met for the last time shortly before their martyrdom, which took place not far from the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome. It is said that they embraced and blessed each other before St. Peter was led off to be crucified.
St. Peter was the first to profess his faith in Christ; St. Paul helped us to understand the depth of the riches of this faith. Peter sought out the lost sheep of the House of Israel (cf. Mat 10, 5-6); Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter professes his faith in Christ. Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. (Mt. 16, 19) The keys are a symbol of authority. Thus Peter is given full, supreme authority over the whole Church. Because the Church will last until the end of time, this authority will be passed on to Peter’s successors throughout history. Since Peter died while leading the Church in Rome, it is the Bishop of Rome who is Peter’s successor.
The scene of the Gospel is Caesarea Philippi. This is significant since it is there that from a massive rock a spring flows. This spring is the beginning of the Jordan River giving life to the valley below. It is symbolic of the teaching that comes from St. Peter giving instruction and life to the Church.
In the Gospel of John Jesus tells Peter three times to feed his sheep or lambs. (John 21, 15-19) He also appoints other shepherds to help in the task. Thus we can see that the hierarchy of the Church is not an invention of man, but part of God’s plan for his Church throughout time.
The First Vatican Council taught that it was divinely revealed teaching that the Pope “when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person of St. Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith and morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore irreformable because of their nature…”
In recent years, the Church's Magisterium has spoken more frequently in defense of the sacredness of human life. This is because many consciences have been darkened. Many in our society have lost a sense of the magnitude of the sin of the direct taking of all innocent human life, especially at its beginning and at its end.
In his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II used his authority as the Successor of St. Peter to declare “by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”
The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action".
Pope Benedict XVI has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors St. Peter and Pope John Paul II as he did recently when he addressed our country at Yankee Stadium in New York and urged us to “respect the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world --- including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb.”
Pope Benedict XVI has declared a special Jubilee Year to be dedicated to St. Paul beginning June 28, 2008 to last until June 29, 2009, to celebrate 2000 years since his birth which historians have placed between the years 7 and 10 A.D.
The Pope wants to encourage penitential pilgrimages to St. Paul’s tomb at the Basilica of St. Paul’s, study conventions and special publications on Pauline texts will also be promoted in order to make ever more widely known wealth of his teaching. Similar initiatives will be implemented in the dioceses, shrines and other places of worship, by Religious and by the educational institutions and social-assistance centers which are named after St Paul or inspired by his teaching.
At the beginning of the Letter to the Romans, St Paul called himself "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle" (1: 1). St. Paul did not decide on his own to become an apostle, rather he was called to be an apostle by Christ himself.
In Galatians 1, 15, St. Paul says that God, from my mother's womb, set me apart and called me through his grace, revealed his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles.
From his Letters, we know that Paul was far from being a good speaker; on the contrary, like Moses and Jeremiah, he lacked oratorical skill. His enemies sneered "His bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account" (II Cor. 10: 10).
Thus the success of his apostolic missions cannot be attributed to his skills as a speaker or his human intelligence. The success of his apostolate depended above all on his total dedication to Christ; a dedication that feared neither risk, difficulty nor persecution.
"Neither death, nor life", he wrote to the Romans, "nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8: 38-39).
From this we can draw a particularly important lesson for every Christian. Our lives as Christians are credible only to the extent to which we are prepared to make sacrifices for Christ and the sake of his Gospel. In order to transform our society we need courage to be witnesses and make sacrifices like St. Peter and St. Paul.
In many ways, Christians face the same challenges as the early Christians confronted with immorality and a lack of respect for human life in the days of the Roman Empire in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Today we face a conflict between a culture of life and a culture of death. Pope John Paul II spoke of this conflict the last time he came to the United States, when he visited St. Louis in 1999. He spoke of a conflict “between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered "unuseful" – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection.”
Since the unjust Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade which deprived pre-born children of their rights 49 million abortions children have been aborted. In fact, one out of every five pregnancies ends in abortion in the United States today. A lack of respect for life in its beginning stages has led to a lack of respect for life in its end stages. Oregon became the first state in 1997 to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Here, just as in the case of abortion, doctors are using the skills God gave them to serve life to take life. But through faith, courage and sacrifice I believe we can defeat the culture of death and build a culture of life.
A great victory for life was won Friday June 27, 2008 in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals when the Court vacated a temporary injunction of a lower court in the case of Planned Parenthood et al. v Rounds et al, Intervenors. The court’s decision allows South Dakota to enforce its 2005 Informed Consent Law.
The Court found that statement “abortion will terminate the life of a whole separate, unique living human being” is truthful, non-misleading and relevant to the woman’s decision to obtain an abortion. The Court ruled that Planned Parenthood had “submitted no evidence” that this claim was false, misleading, or irrelevant.
Planned Parenthood opposes a woman’s right to know the truth about what abortion is. They believe in a doctor’s right to hide facts from women, supposedly for their own good.
It is a matter of public record that South Dakota women receive no protection of their most important rights under the law, existing before the new Informed Consent Statute, and the practices of the abortion facility in Sioux Falls. If a woman calls Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls inquiring about an abortion, an employee with no medical training schedules the surgical procedure. When the woman arrives, she is required to sign a consent to an abortion and pay for it before receiving any counseling. When she sees a "patient educator" she receives no information about the child, no information about fetal development, or what it is that is being removed. The "educators" all admit they know nothing (or little) about human embryology, human genetics or molecular biology. Some of them do not know when an embryo's heart first starts to beat or how many chromosomes the human embryo has. In many cases, women cry during the session with the "educator," but the doctors do the abortion anyway. There is no true patient-physician relationship and the out-of-state doctor who flies into Sioux Falls for six hours most often only sees the woman for the four to seven minutes it takes to perform the surgery scheduled by the lay person who takes the woman's call. (See, U.S. District Court Record, Intervenors' Statement of Material Facts; Pacer document 183.)
The Court Decision will now require Planned Parenthood to tell the truth to women. The victory in South Dakota and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was a significant one but much more needs to be done.
Please see the pamphlet You Can Save Someone’s Life Today from Priests For Life. It gives information about pregnancy resource centers where women who are pregnant and in need can get the help they need before and after they give birth for as long as they need it whether it be food, clothing, shelter, medical help, legal help, whatever they might need in order to bring their baby to term.
We also need to promote adoption, which is a loving alternative to the violence of abortion. Recently, I was speaking in my native New Jersey. A man came up to me to thank me for speaking about adoption. He then turned to his children and told them that it was because of people like this that you have a daddy. It was one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my life. You see he himself was adopted and realized that he too could have been a victim of abortion.
We also need to promote the virtue of chastity. The Church teaches that sex is something beautiful and created by God, to be shared between a husband and a wife who are committed for life and open to transmission of new life.
We also promote post-abortion healing and reconciliation. Norma McCorvey, the former Jane Roe of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision was received into the Catholic Church in 1998 by Fr. Frank Pavone, the National Director of Priests For Life. The conversion of Norma McCorvey reminds us of St. Paul, who before his conversion persecuted Christians, until Our Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Then, without hesitation, he dedicated his life to the service of Jesus Christ and the spread of the Gospel. We promote Project Rachel - the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church and Rachel's Vineyard retreats in order to help both men and women who have had abortions to find healing and peace.
We also have a political responsibility. The Church teaches us that voting is not only our right, it is our duty and we have a duty to use our vote, not to advance our own interests but to advance the cause of human life, especially the cause of God's children who are unborn disabled or are otherwise vulnerable.
In November the people of South Dakota will have an opportunity to win another great victory for life. I urge you vote Yes on Initiated Measure 11. This is not a perfect bill. It has some exceptions we are not happy with, but the bill is the best we can achieve at this time. On February 20, 2008 Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, South Dakota released a Statement Regarding the Abortion Ban Petition Drive giving permission for volunteers to collect signatures for this measure.
He explained, quoting the Bishops’ document Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship “Sometimes morally flawed laws already exist. In this situation, the process of framing legislation to protect life is subject to prudential judgment and “the art of the possible.” At times this process may restore justice only partially or gradually.”
Thus he said a Catholic may “support this referendum under the principle of gradualism as long as he or she does not accept the exceptions as a good, and as Pope John Paul II taught “never to abandon the moral requirement to seek the full protection for all human life.” One’s intention would be to reduce the number of abortions and to eliminate the exceptions when it is possible.”
It would be an abandonment of our responsibility not to save the majority of the approximately 800 babies a year who are killed by abortion every year in South Dakota because we couldn’t save all of them. To use our vote to reduce evil is in fact to do good. Imagine a burning building with 100 people inside. This abortion bill effectively goes into that burning building and gets 95% of the people out right now. The next bill goes back in for the remaining five. This is a strategy to save 100% of unborn children from abortion!! It is immoral to do nothing, and even more immoral to oppose an attempt to save hundreds of human lives. I urge you to vote Yes on 11, to do so will be to move closer to the day that every child is welcomed in life and protected by law.
I would just like to close with a poem called Dear Sara written by a grandmother from Arizona I met on one of my travels with Priests For Life. She is writing about the loss of her own little baby granddaughter by abortion.
I truly believe that prayer is the most powerful and effective thing that any of us can do to build a culture of life. But if our prayer is sincere God will inspire us to act. Let’s ask the intercession of St. Peter and St. Paul that we will be faithful to the teaching and grace handed down by them and to find a way in which we can build a culture of life in which each and every human being will be welcomed, protected, nurtured and loved from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.