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Archbishop Chaput's homily on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

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 Contents - Mar 2014AD2000 March 2014 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Lent 2014 and its practical application - Peter Westmore
Holy See responds to unfounded UN Committee attack - Peter Westmore
News: The Church Around the World
Pope Francis puts indelible mark on College of Cardinals - Peter Westmore
Whither religious education in Australian Catholic schools? - Peter Finlayson
The violence of abortion - Anne Lastman
The McCabe affair in context - Lucy Sullivan
Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Association: a new force for good - Br Barry Coldrey
Private revelations: Are they reliable? - John Young
What Jesus teaches us about prayer - Audrey English
None so blind: refusal to see the obvious - Fr John O'Neill
Books: TEN AFRICAN CARDINALS, by Sally Ninham - Michael Gilchrist (reviewer)
Books: THE WORLD OF ST PAUL, by Joseph M. Callewaert - Michael Daniel (reviewer)
Books: WHERE WE GOT THE BIBLE: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, by Henry G. Graham - Michael E. Daniel (reviewer)
Books: Order books from
Reflection: Archbishop Chaput's homily on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

This is the homily delivered by Archbishop Charles Chaput at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, during the March for Life events. The march commemorated the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion.

Today is the forty-first anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which effectively legalised abortion on demand. It is a time to look back and look ahead.

The abortion struggle of the past four decades teaches a very useful lesson. Evil talks a lot about "tolerance" when it is weak. When evil is strong, real tolerance gets pushed out the door.

And the reason is simple. Evil cannot bear the counter-witness of truth. It will not coexist peacefully with goodness, because evil insists on being seen as right, and worshipped as being right. Therefore, the good must be made to seem hateful and wrong.

The very existence of people who refuse to accept evil and who seek to act virtuously burns the conscience of those who don't.

And so, quite logically, people who march and lobby and speak out to defend the unborn child will be - and are - reviled by leaders and media and abortion activists that turn the right to kill an unborn child into a shrine to personal choice.

Virtue of hope

Seventy years ago, abortion was a crime against humanity. Four decades ago, abortion supporters talked about the "tragedy" of abortion and the need to make it safe and rare. Not any more.

Now abortion is not just a right, but a right that claims positive dignity, the licence to demonise its opponents and the precedence to interfere with constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.

We no longer tolerate abortion. We venerate it as a totem.

People sometimes ask me if we can be optimistic, as believers, about the future of our country.

My answer is always the same. Optimism and pessimism are equally dangerous for Christians because both God and the devil are full of surprises.

But the virtue of hope is another matter. The Church tells us we must live in hope, and hope is a very different creature from optimism.

The great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos defined hope as "despair overcome". Hope is the conviction that the sovereignty, the beauty, and the glory of God remain despite all of our weaknesses and all of our failures.

Hope is the grace to trust that God is who he claims to be, and that in serving him, we do something fertile and precious for the renewal of the world.

Our lives matter to the degree that we give them away to serve God and to help other people.

Our lives matter not because of who we are. They matter because of who God is.

His mercy, his justice, his love - these are the things that move the galaxies and reach into the womb to touch the unborn child with the grandeur of being human. And we become more human ourselves by seeing the humanity in the poor, the weak and the unborn child, and then fighting for it.

Over the past forty-one years, the pro-life movement has been written off as dying too many times to count. Yet here we are, again and again, disappointing our critics and refusing to die.

And why is that? It is because the Word of God and the works of God do not pass away. No court decision, no law, and no political lobby can ever change the truth about when human life begins and the sanctity that God attaches to each and every human life.

The truth about the dignity of the human person is burned into our hearts by the fire of God's love. And we can only deal with the heat of that love in two ways.

We can turn our hearts to stone. Or we can make our hearts and our witness a source of light for the world.

Those of you here today have already made your choice. It is a wonderful irony that despite the cold and snow of January, there is no such thing as winter in this great church. This is God's house.

God's love wins

In this place, there is only the warmth of God's presence and God's people. In this place, there is no room for fear or confusion or despair, because God never abandons his people, and God's love always wins.

We are each of us created and chosen by God for a purpose, just as David was chosen; which is why the words of the Psalmist speak to every one of us here today:

Oh God, I will sing a new song to you
With a ten-stringed lyre I will chant your praise,
You who give victory to kings,
And deliver David, your servant from the sword.

The Psalmist wrote those words not in some magic time of peace and bliss, but in the midst of the Jewish people's struggle to survive and stay faithful to God's covenant surrounded by enemies and divided internally among themselves.

That is the kind of moment we find ourselves in today. All of us are here because we love our country and want it to embody in law and in practice the highest ideals of its founding.

But nations are born and thrive, and then decline and die. And so will ours.

Even a good Caesar is still only Caesar. Only Jesus Christ is Lord, and only God endures.

Our job is to work as hard as we can, as joyfully as we can, for as long as we can to encourage a reverence for human life in our country and to protect the sanctity of the human person, beginning with the unborn child.

We also have one other duty: to live in hope to trust that God sees the weakness of the vain and powerful, and the strength of the pure and weak.

The reading from Samuel today reminds us that David cut down the warrior Goliath with a sling and a smooth, simple stone from the wadi. And what I see here before me today are not "five smooth stones from the wadi" but hundreds and hundreds of them.

Our job is to slay the sin of abortion and to win back the women and men who are captive to the culture of violence it creates.

In the long run, right makes might, not the other way around. In the long run, life is stronger than death, and your courage, your endurance, your compassion, even for those who revile you, serves the God of life.

The Gospel today tells us that Jesus has power over illness and deformity.

But even more radically, it reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath itself - the one day set aside every week to honour the Author of all creation. The Sabbath is for man, as Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, not man for the Sabbath.

In like manner, the state and its courts and its laws were made for man, not man for the state. The human person is the subject of life and the subject of history, immortal and infinitely precious in the eyes of God, not an accident of chemistry, not a bit player, and not a soulless object to be affirmed or disposed of at the whim of the powerful or selfish.

If Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath, he is also the lord of history.

And sooner or later, despite the weaknesses of his friends and the strengths of his enemies, his will will be done - whether the Pharisees and Herodians of our day approve of it or not.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is Archbishop of Philadelphia.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 2 (March 2014), p. 20

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