Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
More than 1,500 people attended Mass at the Richmond Convention Center, Thursday, Feb. 13, prior to the second annual Virginia March for Life at the state capitol. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond concelebrated the Mass with more than a dozen priests from the two dioceses.
In his homily, Bishop Knestout noted that in the Commonwealth the “laws and the political culture ensured life was protected in a greater way than in many other states.”
But, he said, “the political winds can change rapidly and the threat to life reemerge with brutal ferocity,” noting that the 60 million lives lost to abortion since the Supreme Court legalized it in 1973 is “eight times as many lives as the entire population of (Virginia).”
Bishop Knestout said that while people grieve the loss of so many lives, “There is hope.”
He praised the Knights of Columbus councils that raise money to purchase ultrasound machines, the outreach of Hope4Life in Portsmouth, volunteers at pregnancy centers and those who stand near abortion centers and pray for the transformation of hearts and lives.
“If you haven’t already supported their efforts and work, I urge you to do so,” the bishop said.
Noting that while the gift of new life is always to be celebrated, Bishop Knestout continued, “We must also recognize that a pregnancy, especially when unexpected, can bring with it many challenges. Mothers too often find themselves afraid, vulnerable, abandoned, and in need. And God calls us to respond in love.”
Referencing Luke 1:39-45, Bishop Knestout said Mary’s visit to Elizabeth should be the model for helping a woman with an unexpected pregnancy.
“We are called to go without delay, to go ‘in haste’ as the Blessed Mother did, to offer expectant mothers the support, encouragement, and love that they need,” he said. “Mary’s example of visiting her cousin Elizabeth at the time of both of their unexpected pregnancies should inspire us to serve mothers and families — even amidst our own conflicting needs.”
Following Mass, Father Daniel Beeman, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Newport News, told the crowd about Courtney, the girl his cousin, Jake, met online. They had much in common, but Jake wanted to know more. The priest advised him, “Ask her if she’s pro-life, because in some ways that will tell you so much about her heart.”
Father Beeman related the story the woman told Jake. It was 1963, and her biological grandmother was a 17-year-old, pregnant immigrant in New York City. With no family support, she went to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity who took her in and then kept her daughter, Courtney’s mom, in the orphanage. She ended up in a foster home where the parents eventually adopted her.
Courtney’s message to Jake: “I’m pro-life, always. Because I wouldn’t be here otherwise. And I can’t imagine any situation where a life isn’t worth saving, where a baby would be better off dying than being given life and love.”
The priest said his response to his cousin was, “You date that girl, you date that girl now!”
Father Beeman said stories like Courtney’s need to become “part of the moral fiber and framework” of the United States and Virginia.
“You and I as pro-life people, as people who know each life was created by God to be sacred, have been dealt some very difficult and sad news in the Commonwealth over the last few months,” he said. “With the turn of the General Assembly in Virginia last November and the current administration in our governor’s mansion, the Commonwealth of Virginia is now represented in all of our houses of government by people who do not share our reverence for life.”
The priest said the representative majority’s “false application of the word ‘choice’” has replaced the dignity and honor of human life.
“They have taken what we know by our religious teaching and also what you never have to be religious to know – that every life is sacred and that the vulnerable life is the one most worth protecting – and they have turned it upside down in the name of choice,” he said. “This turn has been swift, and their efforts have been unrelenting.”
Father Beeman delineated the legislation that is making its way into Virginia law, e.g., allowing people other than doctors to perform abortions, removal of informed consent, removal of the requirement for an abortion facility to provide the mother with an ultrasound and elimination of the 24-hour waiting period.
He said Gov. Ralph Northam signing these bills presents a “serious challenge” to pro-lifers.
“Perhaps the scariest part is that once this passes, they will not relent,” the priest said. “Many of our pro-abortion delegates and senators and our governor have stated that they would continue to support additional pro-abortion legislation in the future.”
Father Beeman said pro-lifers should not despair nor see the situation as hopeless.
“We join our pro-life stance across the board as a people of faith, demonstrating our willingness to fight for every life, not just in the womb, but through every stage to a natural death,” he said. “We stand against dismissing anyone, regardless of their background, age or status, and we love and support every human.”
The priest noted the consistency of the Church’s teaching regarding assisted suicide, the death penalty, “or taking away the dignity of any human life in how they are treated.”
“With that consistency, with the growing sentiments of pro-life Americans, and most especially, with the Light and Truth of Jesus Christ, this is a fight that can be won, and this is a fight worth fighting in order to win,” he said.
This story will be updated in the Feb. 24, 2020 issue of The Catholic Virginian.
Bishop Knestout’s homily from the Virginia Mass for Life, Feb. 13, 2020
Today we gather for the second annual Virginia March for Life. Just a few years ago, it was not thought that there would ever be a need for such a march here in the commonwealth. The laws and the political culture ensured life was protected in a greater way than maybe in other states, although always in danger of being undermined.
How quickly things can change. The threat seems always to be there, just under the surface, the threat against life even in places that seemed secure in protecting the right to life. The political winds can change rapidly and the threat to life reemerge with brutal ferocity.
Since the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion throughout our nation, over 60 million lives have been lost. That’s eight times as many lives as the entire population of the commonwealth. Now our commonwealth is passing laws which will add tragically to that number.
So, on this day, we join as the local Churches of Arlington and Richmond in fervent and urgent prayer.
Today, we set aside a day of prayer and advocacy for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right of life in Virginia. It is appropriate that this day, like January’s annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, be a day of penance for violations to human dignity, for the dignity of the human life, the human person, that are committed through acts of abortion.
Many will observe this day not just as a day to march and voice our alarm and our advocacy for the unborn, but also a day with penitential practices of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, as is appropriate for people of God who are pleading for this recognition of human life.
Today’s first reading speaks of God’s forming each of us in the womb of our mother. God fashioned human beings in his own image and likeness, and this endows each of us, from the moment of conception with a dignity that no other creature can claim.
God has chosen us to be recipients of his unending love. He has chosen us, in response to that love to be a light to the nations, that we can be that light as Christians, as Catholics, and that starts here within our own homes and lives in this commonwealth.
God elevated the dignity of the human person through the Incarnation of His Son, through which he united himself to all men and women. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God becomes one of us — taking on our humanity and sharing fully in our human condition with all of its struggles, its anxieties, its trials and its sufferings.
Christ came to the earth through the womb of a woman that he might lead us to salvation, that he might accompany us in our challenges in this life and lead us to the fullness of life and love in his presence. God loved humanity into existence. All of us, our being, is because of God’s love. He created us in his image and likeness.
But the Gospel reveals how we should respond to the gift of new life. In the story of the Visitation, we see Mary, an unmarried woman who is newly pregnant with the Infant Jesus, going in haste to the aid of her cousin Elizabeth, who is herself six months pregnant.
Luke tells us that at the very moment that Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. From the womb of his own mother, John the Baptist recognizes the presence of Jesus, hidden within the womb of Mary.
Elizabeth responds with those familiar and beautiful words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Both John and Elizabeth recognize the life hidden in Mary’s womb, the one who is their Savior. In this we recognize the dignity of the human person that God would become one with us and take life, take flesh, in the womb of Mary. And we ask Our Lady to intercede for us constantly.
This Gospel passage tenderly illustrates the humanity of the unborn child, created in God’s image and likeness. Every new life should be greeted with the same joyful enthusiasm that led John the Baptist to leap in the womb of Elizabeth.
We know that the act of abortion rejects God’s gift of life. Abortion destroys the life of a child that was lovingly knit together in the mother’s womb.
As a human and Christian family, we grieve the loss of so many lives. And yet, even in our grief, we know there is hope. This hope is seen in many people and pro-life groups who act with compassion and practical help to women within Virginia, like Hope4Life in Portsmouth, the Knights of Columbus throughout the commonwealth with ultrasound initiatives, hundreds of parishioners who volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers throughout the commonwealth.
We pray for transformed hearts and lives with 40 Days for Life and prayer vigils that are outside of abortion centers. These good works in turn inspire so many others to action. If you haven’t supported any of these efforts in their work, I urge you to do so, at least by prayer and other ways of support.
While God’s gift of new life is always something to be celebrated, we must also recognize that a pregnancy, especially ones when unexpected, can bring with it many challenges. Mothers too often find themselves afraid, vulnerable, abandoned and in need. And God calls us to respond in love.
We are called to go without delay, to go “in haste” as the Blessed Mother did, to offer expectant mothers the support, encouragement and love that they need.
Mary’s example of visiting her cousin Elizabeth at the time of both of their unexpected pregnancies should inspire us to serve mothers and families, even amidst our own conflicting needs and demands of our times and efforts.
May we recommit ourselves to supporting all expectant mothers. May we never fail to set out in haste, in charity, and in advocacy through this March for Life and in other ways.
May we offer penance for all violations against the dignity of human life, and in a special way, may we also pray for all women and men who suffer from participating in abortion, that they may find healing, peace and reconciliation with God. As the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy, so may our hearts leap with joy at the wonders of new life in every expectant mother.
I will conclude with a paragraph from a homily that St. John Paul gave many years ago, in 1999, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. And it’s a message that still resonates, that speaks to all of us:
“Dear brothers and sisters, the time has come to banish once and for all from the continent (the American continent) every attack against life.
“We must rouse the consciences of men and women with the Gospel, in order to highlight their sublime vocation as children of God. This will inspire them to build a better America. As a matter of urgency, we must stir up a new springtime of holiness on the continent so that action and contemplation will go hand in hand.”
So may our prayer and contemplation and action and advocacy go hand in hand as we march for life and advocate for the unborn.