See Every Human Person as Light

February 22, 2011

Cardinal DiNardo, who is chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the celebrant at the Opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 23. 

Here is the text of his homily from the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Sunday, January 23, 2011. A copy of this homily is also published in today's Texas Catholic Herald.

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!" (Isaiah 11)

Last month on December 24th at midnight, we heard these words of Isaiah proclaimed at Midnight Mass. Amidst obscurity, listlessness, slavery and nothingness, a promise is made of an eruption of joy. At the time of Isaiah the prophet, the reference about darkness is one that unmistakably highlights the hosts of Gentiles and foreigners who have come upon the Northern Kingdom and rendered it a shadow land, a non observant region of a lacerated Israel. The birth of the child will undo that nihilism. No wonder we read it on Christmas Night.

When St. Matthew utilizes the same passage to highlight the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, he has further concerns. A geographical detail quoted in modified form from Isaiah becomes a theological epiphany. The degraded land of Zebulon and Naphtali, (now the whole territory is called Galilee), has experienced a reversal. Pagan rebellious Galilee has experienced a true Messianic jolt. Not in Jerusalem or Judea, not even in the desert, no, the first flowering of the true genuine Christ, the Messiah, now fully grown happens in the outposts! The Baptism of Jesus Christ has been accomplished; his days in the desert in fasting and encountering temptations have readied him in his heart. He changes residence from Nazareth to Capernaum not as a real estate transaction but as a transaction of the deepest resonances of his Father's will already directing his mission. The beautiful and fragile messiah of Bethlehem, the anxiety and obedience of Joseph about his espoused wife, Mary, the journey of the Magi and their gifts, Magi stalked by Herod, the horror of the Holy Innocents and the flight to Egypt, all these holy happenings have anticipated this new action: the people that walked in darkness have seen the light of Jesus the Christ. And the place of this happening is a marginal outpost of Israel! Jesus' bold proclamation distills, in fact, his whole demeanor, his humble obedience and his love of his Father's will. God is taking charge: the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Change your mind, turn towards God through my preaching and healing word! Believe the good news. The mysteries of the public life of Jesus are not (simply) past occurrences for they are enfolded by and into the direction of his life already signed by the Father, the pascha, death and resurrection. In this wondrous movement of Jesus the Nazarene, prophet and Teacher, Son of Abraham, Son of David, but most of all THE Son of God, St. Matthew has invited every reader to turn again and follow the light, enter the light as a response to the invitation, and change for God in Christ. Change for the better! Change for Life!

In our own cultural shadows today, shadows cast by the terrible reality of legal abortion on demand, how important the light of Christ is that calls for renewed conversion.

Just as startling as the outpost setting of the appearance of the Light in Galilee is the action of Jesus calling the first disciples and apostles. In those days rabbis and doctors of the law attracted hearers and those followers attached themselves to the star on their own volition. As recorded in St. Matthew's Gospel today, Jesus, the Christ, was different. He actively sought out the apostles and disciples. His invitation and call were primary as they will always be. Saint Matthew even goes so far as to presume that Jesus gave his first followers no immediate preparation before calling them where they were. The creative and life giving Word of God from the Word made Flesh Himself met them, called them, and changed them forever. They left all and followed him. (I sometimes wonder in humor what marketing agents, development directors or personnel boards would make of this amazing action of Christ.)

Sisters and Brothers, we have been changed by Christ. His light has poured out new life to all of us. His light and life have made us aware of the dignity of each human person and invited us to witness. I thank all of you for your presence here, my brother bishops, the priests from everywhere in this country, the deacons, permanent and transitional, the many women and men religious, the many adults who come as guides and chaperones, the staff of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the great staff of the Bishops' pro-Life Office with whom I collaborate as Chair of the Pro-Life Committee and whose work is so much a labor of love, the various pro-life groups throughout the country, the resources of EWTN Television network. I thank all of these groups and all of you here.

But now, like the wedding feast at Cana, I save the best wine of thanks till last. I want to thank all the young people here, the seminarians, postulants and novices, the children, youth in high schools, the university students and young adults. You have been, have become and remain the genuine leaders and pioneers of this March for Life and this Vigil Liturgy. To the astonishment of nature, of the chattering classes and of disinterested and jaded media, you have continuously come forward here and throughout the places where you live to be unflagging witnesses to the inestimable worth of each human person. The sad anniversary recalled each year on January 22 has become an invitation to you, one that calls for prayer and vigil, marching and testifying, and a joyous love for human life that is unable to be defeated. We your elders become exhausted just watching you! May you never cease to give your beautiful witness to the gift of human life.

Almost 16 years ago a marvelous word from Rome came to the attention of the world, an encyclical "The Gospel of Life." Pope John Paul II proclaimed the good news of the dignity of personal human life with boldness and candor in that encyclical. He minced no words when he wrote of a disturbing state of affairs that keeps expanding: new attacks on the dignity of the human being by way of scientific and technological progress. He wrote of broad sectors of public opinion justifying certain crimes against life in the name of individuals and the rights of individual freedom claiming not only exemption from punishment but even authorization by the state done in freedom and with assistance of health care systems. He particularly mentioned the great multitude of weak and defenseless human beings, the unborn children, whose fundamental right to life has been trampled. His diagnosis endures as relevant as ever today. But we are blessed with the recent announcement in Rome that he will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on May 1st. His teaching and witness is now continued by his assistance with his prayers! That is a pro-life plus! It is a sign of light in our darkness.

Pope John Paul also called on us to be a luminous conscience for many whose conscience on the dignity of the human person is distorted and lives in shadows. I trust that in your witness tomorrow and meetings with government officials you are able to make clear the threats against the rights of conscience that are present today. The seemingly daily attempts to deny nurses and pharmacists their conscience rights are disquieting. A further violation takes place when taxpayers are forced to fund abortions. The blindness against the rights of the unborn seems to move to an inability to respect the rights of those of us who respect and fight for the rights of the unborn