Following is the homily given October 14 by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on the occasion of the Marian Pilgrimage for Life and Liberty.
On this beautiful autumn Sunday in which the Scripture readings speak to us about the wisdom of God, we have gathered from near and far on pilgrimage to this august basilica, dedicated to Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, the Seat of Wisdom.
With Mary’s loving encouragement, we have come together to pray to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of divine wisdom and for prudence, that we may have the understanding, the creativity and the courage to defend the God-given gifts of life and liberty in the context of our times.
For some time now, both life and liberty have been under assault by an overarching, Godless secularism, replete with power and money, but sadly lacking in wisdom, both human and divine: a secularism that relentlessly seeks to marginalize the place of faith in our society.
In rejecting the wisdom of religious faith, in seeking to contain and diminish it, secularism has, at the same time, foolishly devalued human life. When man and woman are no longer perceived to be created in the image of God, then, sooner or later, their lives and their liberties become dispensable.
Asserting its power over what reason, science and faith tell us about the humanity of the unborn child, secular culture for the past 40 years has assailed innocent human life through abortion, made legal by the infamous 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, a decision which Justice Byron White called “an exercise of raw judicial power.”
Since then, over 50 million unborn children have lost their lives through abortion, and now the secularist assault on human life threatens the chronically and terminally ill and the frail elderly by the promotion of laws in various states to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
Human life is further undermined by the dismantling of the most fundamental unit of society, the family, by seeking to upend marriage as a God-given institution that is unique for a reason, namely, as a relationship of love between one man and one woman whereby children are welcomed into the world and nurtured.
All these things have been done in the name of freedom of choice, the “right to choose.”
It was said that those who want an abortion should have the right to do so and that such a choice would not affect those who conscientiously object to abortion. But now that is changing, and the HHS preventive-services rule is a harbinger for that change.
Increasingly, anti-life and anti-family rules are being imposed on people of faith.
Our “right to choose”—our right to choose to practice the faith we profess—a right guaranteed by the First Amendment—seems to mean little or nothing to many who wield power.
As all of us know, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that will require most private and religious employers to fund and facilitate abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraception against their convictions if they engage in hiring or offer services deemed by the government to be “secular.”
Indeed, many of the secularist threats to religious liberty seem to hinge on the Church’s teaching with regard to the sanctity of human life—whether it’s the Church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion, or the obligation of couples to be open to the gift of new human life, or marriage as between one man and one woman as the unique relationship that begets new human life and is meant to be the matrix in which it is nurtured.
The God Who Gave Us Life Gave Us Liberty
Whatever his religious or philosophical leanings, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote these words of wisdom in 1774: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them.”
His words affirm that the God-given gifts of life and liberty are linked, morally, intellectually and legally.
Our country was founded on this tradition: a tradition of rights to life and liberty “endowed by our Creator.” Such rights exist independent of the state, and the state has no legitimate power to deny or undermine those rights.
Once the humanity of any group of human beings is denied, then the rights of all, including our most precious freedom, the freedom of religion, are imperiled.
This is the drama that is now unfolding before us.
This is why, during a time of national decision and at the outset of a Year of Faith, we have gathered to seek the prayers of Mary our Mother, the Seat of Wisdom, so that we might have the wisdom we need to defend God’s gifts of life and liberty.
Indeed, wisdom tells us that the decisions facing us these days aren’t just economic; rather, they go to the very heart of who we are and our freedom to put into practice what we know to be true.
But where does such wisdom come from?
The Letter of St. James speaks of “wisdom from on high,” a God-given wisdom. In contrast to worldly wisdom, wisdom from on high is “peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” (James 3:17).
It is the wisdom which Jesus imparts to the rich man in the Gospel when he tells him not only to continue keeping the commandments but also to dedicate his possessions to the needs of the poor and then to follow him, to stand with him in faith.
Yes, the wisdom we seek comes from the word of God, “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), a Divine wisdom that reveals fully the truth about our humanity, the truth about the inherent dignity of human life and the truth about human freedom.
And how beautiful it is that God’s wisdom does not obliterate human reason, but, rather, elevates and purifies our reason, making us sharers in Divine wisdom.
Introducing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Faith opens our eyes to human life in all its grandeur and beauty” (Porta Fidei). He also said: “A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him” (10). Faith is the key to wisdom and to the right use of human reason.
Mary is the Seat of Wisdom because she is first and foremost the woman of faith, the one who believed like no other that God’s word to her would be fulfilled. With her prayers, we seek to have the fire of our faith rekindled—our faith in the person of Christ, our faith in all the Church believes and teaches, our confidence in the Church’s teachings, our courage in sharing those teachings, not just with family and friends, but also in the public square—with our elected and appointed leaders and with those who influence public opinion.
Yet, dear friends, secularism is able to make such inroads against life and liberty primarily because so many people have set aside their religious faith by ceasing to practice their faith or by compartmentalizing it in their lives, like elected officials who say they are personally opposed to intrinsic evils such as abortion while doing everything in their power to promote them.
If we want to turn back the powerful incursions of secularism against the dignity of human life and the freedom to practice our faith … then we must heed the call of Pope Benedict XVI to engage in the New Evangelization, to stand with Christ, to know our faith, to love our faith, to share our faith, to invite those who have stopped practicing the faith to return home to the Church and to reach out in truth and love to those who are searching for truth and love.
Engaging in the New Evangelization for the Cause of Life and Liberty
In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning” and that “freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good” (Spe Salvi, 24).
The freedom that wisdom prompts us to advocate for is the most fundamental of human goods and rights, namely, the right to life and the right of individuals not only to profess their faith but also to live their faith, to allow it to influence their daily decisions at home and at work.
The freedom for which we are advocating is the freedom of churches to go about their mission of serving the needs of society in accord with their teaching, a mission of educating the young, building up family life, serving the poor, providing good health care and much, much more.
With charity, civility and persistence, “whether in season or out of season,” we must insist on the Church’s right and the rights of individuals to put our God-given liberties at the service of human life without the government forcing us to disobey our own teaching by fining our institutions or by taking away their accreditation, by penalizing private employers with conscientious objections or any other means the government has at its disposal.
As believers and as citizens we must robustly engage in the political process by voting with a properly formed conscience and by continually letting our elected officials know that we expect them to protect the God-given rights of life and liberty.
Yes wisdom tells us that the decisions facing us these days aren’t just economic.
By wisely using our freedom for the good, by placing our most precious freedom, religious liberty, at the service of life, we are recognizing that a culture of life is also a culture of freedom and that a culture of death is a culture of oppression, indeed a dictatorship of relativism.
Mary is the new Eve, the new Mother of all the living because she is the Mother of Wisdom Incarnate, the Lord Jesus, who in revealing the Father’s love has revealed us to ourselves.
Through her intercession, may we be given the wisdom, courage and strength we need to employ our God-given liberty to protect life, to strengthen the family and to continue contributing mightily to the common good of society for the good of our nation, for the up-building of the Church and for the salvation of souls.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!