The coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles in the Upper Room at Pentecost was a palpable thing, as the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-3 describes: “There came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,” and then the Holy Spirit came to rest on each of them as tongues of fire.
In Washington each year, we have the special opportunity to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit as tens of thousands of young people from across our area and from throughout the country gather for the Rally and Mass for Life at the Verizon Center downtown and, to accommodate more marchers, a companion Rally and Mass for Life at the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland at College Park. This year, these events will take place on Friday, January 25.
These youth and young adults are truly the next generation of pro-life disciples, bringing Jesus’ Gospel of Life to their community, their nation and their world. As I process into the Verizon Center each year to celebrate the Mass for Life, I experience their faith and their joy and their incredible witness for life and love. Each year, their witness reminds us of the urgency of the moment, the commitment of our young people, and the power of the Eucharist. The Masses and rallies preceding the annual March for Life provide a source of hope for the future and a witness to the vitality of the Church, especially her younger members.
This year, we commemorate with sadness the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s tragic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand through all stages of pregnancy throughout our country. This is not an anniversary we celebrate, but rather, it is an annual observance that requires serious reflection, prayer and action as we stand for the God-given dignity of all human life from conception through natural death. In the four decades since that ruling, an estimated 55 million babies have died through abortion in the United States.
Tragically, legislatures and courts in our country, with the support of much of the information and entertainment industry, have drawn the line and asserted that if a human life is unborn and inconvenient, it can be killed.
As people of faith, as disciples of the Gospel of Life, we shine the light of Christ’s love onto this culture of death. At the annual rallies and Masses for life, our young people help lead the way to a future where someday all human life will be respected. How fitting it is that we gather in the context of a Mass, to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and then to go forth as his witnesses in the world.
While the March for Life and the rallies and Masses preceding it help proclaim the Gospel of Life, we still continue the quiet work of the Church by helping women in crisis pregnancies. Every day, thousands of women receive medical care, financial support and spiritual guidance from our pro-life and family initiatives, Catholic Charities and our Catholic hospitals.
Abortion continues to be the defining human rights issue of our age. Just as the struggle against slavery and racism and its outcome were to determine the soul of our nation, so too, today does the ongoing effort to end abortion lay claim to be the most significant issue we deal with as we forge the character of our country.
Just as people of faith bravely spoke out and marched for an end to slavery and on behalf of civil rights in struggles that lasted for decades, so too, we as people of faith today must continue this march for life. This legacy of people of faith working for the common good highlights the importance of the religious freedom that our founding fathers enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, freedom that is increasingly threatened today by measures like the HHS mandate that would redefine religious institutions and even force them to violate their own teachings on life issues. As people of faith and as Americans, we stand for life and for religious freedom.
Like the young people at the annual rallies and Masses for Life, we are called to be confident in the truth of our faith and share it with others. This is the call of the New Evangelization that Pope Benedict XVI is urging us to take to heart in this Year of Faith.
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, the scourge of abortion is still a part of our land, but the faith, love and witness of our young people is a reminder to all of us that in the end, truth, goodness, life and love will win out. The march and work for life go on, and as people of faith, we know that with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and with our steadfast faith and commitment, the Gospel of Life will continue to change hearts and will ultimately change our nation.