Pope showing us the way to be pro-life Catholics

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on Jan. 19 for the Mass for Life in Little Rock.

Two months ago, on the feast of Christ the King with which we closed our Year of Faith marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis promulgated his landmark apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). Two things are evident right from the start of this document:

1) It is an apostolic exhortation, which along with encyclical letters, are two of the most authoritative kinds of papal documents. Encyclicals define Church doctrine (“Humanae Vitae” was an encyclical letter) while apostolic exhortations function as a call to action, in this case the missionary transformation of the Church at the service of the New Evangelization, which our world in crisis so desperately needs and to which we therefore are called.

2) Pope Francis issued this apostolic exhortation at the beginning of his papacy — he had been pope for only eight months — to share with us his vision of the mission of the Church in our present circumstances. He emphasizes that the only solid foundation on which the missionary transformation of the Church can be built is on “the Joy of the Gospel” that “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Christ” (1) and “the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.” (213)

In today’s first reading, Isaiah says, “Now the Lord has spoken, who formed me as his servant from the womb,” and who says “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Notice that it is God who formed Isaiah — and by extension, also us — in the womb and that he did so for a purpose. We are not merely the result of our parents’ urge to procreate; God forms us in the womb in order to equip us for our role in his plan, fanning into flame the life sparked at conception so that — like Isaiah, and more to the point, like Jesus — we too can become a light to the nations and messengers of salvation.

I’m sure you heard news reports about Pope Francis saying that our teaching on abortion is so clear and well-known that we don’t have to talk about it all the time. The media distorted his words and made it sound like he might modify Church teaching on this topic. So to correct that misimpression, he wrote the following in “Evangelii Gaudium:” “… Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, ‘every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the creator of the individual.’ (213)

“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. 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 …” (214)

Today you and I have gathered to put our faith in action by giving witness to the intrinsic worth of the human person from the first moment of conception to natural death. We will be sent forth from this Mass as missionaries charged with working for the transformation of the very dark world in which we live. In “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis brings the Gospel of Life to bear on a very broad range of interconnected topics which taken together form the seamless garment of Jesus’ teaching on social issues, including the economy, the preferential option for the poor, homosexuality, immigration, access to health care and so on.

But it all begins with our own personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the consequent “conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.” (213)

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