3rd Sunday of ordinary time – A March for Life
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
President Roosevelt, following Japan’s wicked surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in his speech to Congress calling for a Declamation of War began with that memorable line, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy…” What American who heard that speech or studied their American history does not know that famous line by heart? It was indeed a damnably evil act of war against the United States taking the lives of more than 2500 with over 1200 wounded, the 3700 casualties being mainly military, but also including over 100 civilians.
On September 9, 2001, almost 3000 civilians, police and firemen were slaughtered in another surprise attack on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania by radical Islamic terrorists. That too has to be numbered among the dates that will live in infamy in the historical memory of Americans.
But there is another date almost midway between these two days of infamy when an even greater infamy took place in this country and it was not perpetrated by our enemies but by men honored as defenders of justice and the Constitution. This date is not recognized as a day of infamy by most Americans like Pearl Harbor or the Attacks on nine eleven. But for those who value every human life from conception to natural death, January 22, 1973 is a also “a date that will live in infamy.”
On that date, 7 Supreme Court Judges reversed 200 years of legal precedent and found, in the so-called “penumbra” of the substantive due process clause of the 14th Amendment a right to privacy that generates a further right to abort unborn children for virtually any reason, and up to the point of viability, which subsequently was effectively ruled to be the moment of birth. That infamous decision of 7 American Jurists has been the legal basis for the termination of the lives of more than 58 million human beings in their mothers’ wombs. That human death toll makes the terrible losses of the previous mention dates of infamy pale in comparison.
Since 1973, a large number of Congressmen and Senators, sometimes a majority have signed on to that infamous decision and made it their own, which makes them formal cooperators in the deaths of these millions of innocents. No one could rationally argue that those lawmakers who supported the institution of slavery were not themselves responsible as formal cooperators in the evils of slavery. By their moral and legislative support they became a responsible part of the darkness that this evil brought upon this country. The same is true for those who have supported and defended the legal decision that went beyond Dred Scott and denied the very right to life of a whole class of people, the innocent unborn.
The opening reading today speaks of a people sitting in darkness, and while the text obviously refers the gentiles who were living in darkness because they were enslaved by virtue of their ignorance of God’s laws and their entrapment in great evils as a result of their general lack of access to God’s truth and grace. But the prophetic text then speaks of these people living in darkness seeing a great light, the light to be brought to the gentiles and Jews in the Messiah of God. That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ whose light now extends to all the nations.
It’s surely significant that the light of the nations should have first shined among the poor of Israel, but then for several years dwelt among the pagans living in the darkness of Egypt enslaved to idols and immorality. His encounter with the wise men from the East and the pagans from the West was a sign that his light was meant for all men, to rescue all of humanity from the darkness of sin and ignorance of the law and mercy of God.
So today Christians faithful to light of revealed truth must live in the darkness of a world in particular cultures that have allied with the forces of darkness that threaten men’s human dignity and very existence. Recent popes have referred to the culture of death which is implanted itself in the hearts and minds of men and women throughout the world. Human life is no longer understood to be sacred and is no longer protected through all its stages. The most defenseless human beings go unprotected, the innocent children in the womb, the aged, the innocent victims of war and terrorism. Law no longer has its roots and foundation in the higher law of God, and the result our societies that are destabilized by arbitrary political movements.
And yet, we have the consolation from St. John’s Gospel that assures us that the light of Christ cannot be totally suppressed no matter how great the darkness of the world because the light is Eternal and the Eternal Word has become flesh. So while it is true that :the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” it is also true that this light can never be overcome or extinguished, for Christ is the Light and the Truth and the way forever.
Moreover, St. John also tells us why the light is rejected or not comprehended when he says, “And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil.” Men hide from the light to justify and persist in their evil deeds. And thus the light in itself is not extinguished, but it is extinguished in those who withdraw from it freely.
Finally, this light is present in the world in those who bear witness to the light. The light of Christ is present in his faithful members, no matter how small that number may be in comparison to those living in darkness in the world around them. The light shines on in the darkness. This is a great gift to the world, for without this witness to the light of life, the darkness of the world would eventually consume human societies.
I think of this every year around this time when pro-life marchers gather in Washington to mark the day of infamy with a peaceful protest. The marchers are almost all Christians, although there are other good people from other religions and even some nonreligious people who join them. The March for Life usually numbers a few hundred thousand people, but what is that in comparison with the tens of millions who have bought into the darkness of abortion. Their efforts may even seem futile in some respects, especially since the media largely ignores the March. Thus their witness does not reach most of this nation, and one might wonder after 40+ years whether it’s all worth it.
But it is always worth something to bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth involves the defense of innocent human life. Certainly those who rule this country in the three branches of government cannot ignore this witness because it takes place in the capital city from which they rule. The media may refuse to broadcast this witness to the country, even though it will do so for much smaller protest groups on the side of darkness, but those who are ultimately responsible for this carnage, jurists, legislators, members of the executive branch cannot avoid this witness to the sanctity of all human life which their efforts undermine. This external witness is truly a light that shines in the darkness even if those living in darkness cannot yet comprehend it. They also cannot ignore it.
Only God knows to what extent this bearing witness the light will bear fruit for the future of this country. Nonetheless, this peaceful and almost joyful witness must be very pleasing to God, and in the end we can trust that God will give the interior grace for some, perhaps many, to come into the light. That’s always the way of evangelization. Those bearing the light give external witness while the Holy Spirit operates the grace of conversion from within. In a very real way this external witness is ultimately more important for the conversion of this country than all the documents issued by religious leaders condemning this evil.
The leaders responsible for this evil can always ignore the Bishops’ teaching as simply a case of these leaders simply doing their job, just as politicians justify their actions as simply doing their job. But it’s hard to so easily dismiss the witness of the lay men and women, young and old, who come faithfully each year, some at great cost, to bear witness to the truth of the sanctity of all human life. They’re clearly not just doing their job, and what do they “professionally” gain from fighting for the right to life of other people’s children? Theirs is clearly a pure witness to the light, and God will certainly bless them for their efforts, and hopefully God will one day lead this great nation out of its darkness.
Unless this national conversion takes place, it is certain that this terrible darkness of the culture of death, more than any external enemy, will one day bring this nation down. And thus those who bear public witness to the light of life are in the end the truest of American patriots in our history, and the most faithful of Christians.