Last night, on the eve of the US Church's Annual Day of Prayer for the Protection of Unborn Children, I watched the Vigil Mass celebrated at the National Shrine Basilica in Washington, DC. As Chair of the USCCB's Pro-Life Activities, Boston's Sean Cardinal O'Malley celebrated the Mass and preached the homily. And what a splendid homily it was! On a topic that is all too often an opportunity for partisan invective (by both sides), Cardinal O'Malley preached the good news.
He began with Han Christian Anderson's famous fairytale, The Emperor's New Clothes, in which the unfortunate Emperor was conned into believing he had gotten himself the most splendid new attire, when in fact he had been swindled and there was really nothing there at all. I remember well the illustrated children's book I read so many years ago, and the great scene when the Emperor is parading in his supposed new outfit, which everyone is pretending to admire, when suddenly a child speaks the truth: "he has nothing on." In that wonderful tale, the Cardinal saw an important lesson for today's pro-life movement. "The voice of the Church is like the child who declares before the world that the new clothes are a lie, a humbug, a deception. The Church with the candor of a child must call out the uncomfortable truth. Abortion is wrong. Thous shalt not kill!"
The Cardinal continued be reflecting on account in John's Gospel of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). "The feelings of the woman in the Gospel," he suggested, "must be like the young woman caught in a crisis situation of an unwanted pregnancy. She feels overwhelmed, afraid, confused." He then went on to apply the pointed lesson of the Gospel story to today's pro-life movement. "We must never allow that woman to perceive the Pro-Life movement as a bunch of angry self-righteous Pharisees with stones in their hands, looking down on her and judging her." (How fitting it seemed to me this morning when, with this still very much in my mind, I realized that today's Gospel - Mark 3:1-6 - recounts the Pharisees' murderous anger at Jesus healing the man with a withered hand!)
The Cardinal's third theme concerned poverty. At a time when some elements of the pro-life constituency seem to have allied themselves with increasing income inequality, Cardinal O'Malley delivered another pointed lesson for the pro-life movement. "The majority of women who succumb to abortion are poor. Poverty is a dehumanizing force that leads people to feel trapped and to make this horrible choice. The Gospel of Life demands that we work for economic justice in our country and in our world. In a society where the rich are getting ever richer and the poor poorer, abortion looms ever larger."
One wonders if the world had heard more talk like this and seen fewer unworthy political alliances, whether the pro-life cause would perhaps find itself better positioned to speak to today's (and tomorrow's) world!