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Bishop Barry C. Knestout - Closing Mass, 2019 National Prayer Vigil For Life


Homily of Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout, Bishop of Richmond

7:30 a.m., Friday, January 18, 2019

Closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.


In this beautiful National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in this House of Mary, in this place that is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a Tabernacle of the Holy Eucharist, we take refuge in the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Our Lord, and in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Lady, Pray for Us!

Peace be with you! These are Jesus’s first words the Apostles in the upper room. And they needed to hear them, because they had every reason not to be at peace. They were reeling from the betrayals and crucifixion just two days earlier. They were in hiding, afraid to go outside or be seen, lest they too come under the attack of the Romans or their own community led by the Sanhedrin. During the passion they scattered, each abandoning Christ and breaking from one another. Their hearts were divided, their communion broken. They lost peace and found only confusion, anxiety and fear, isolation from God and abandonment of Christ and one another. Yet, Jesus had not abandoned them-- at the height of their fear and doubt, Jesus appears to them. They were startled and could not believe their eyes. How could he possibly be with them, when they knew he had been taken, he had been scourged and crucified? And yet, there he was. Now Christ stands among them as they try to hide, some are still in hiding, Thomas for example. He comes to restore their union with him and communion with each other in the Holy Spirit. He comes to restore peace within and among them.

We long for peace, we long for it within our hearts and our relationships with family, friends and with the larger community. But, all we often seem to find is contention. Brother against brother, sister against sister, broken people, broken relationships, broken families, a broken world. Contention both outside the church and inside. In the upper room, surrounded by the darkness of sin and death, and burdened by the effects of sin, the disciples struggled to find peace in their hearts. They struggled to find union and communion. And Jesus brought it back to them. The peace of knowing his life and love helps them overcome their fears and doubts and find strength and power in the Holy Spirit. Jesus does this with simple words – “Peace be with you” – and a simple act: being with them, appearing to them. He just reminds them that he is there, he is God who abides with us always. In the upper room Christ sends the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and they draw close to another and to Our Lady. The disciples encounter peace in Christ, the fruit of the restored relationship with God, and communion with one another. With the Gospel, the good news of the encounter with the Resurrection and the Life, comes peace as the fruit of justice, the fruit of right relationships, and with those right relationships restored, forgiveness of sins. With the Gospel, the proclamation and the one sent to proclaim are united and become effective and powerful and fruitful.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there is a passage where Boromir, a lord of Gondor, is tempted by the Ring of Power. He holds it up, while being tempted to use its power to defend his people, and he says: “The Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!”

I heard it said once that our culture has still not adapted to and is not fully conscious of the seismic impact of three technologies dealing with things that are very small: The breaking of the atom, the invention of the silicon micro-chip, and the development of the birth control pill. All are technologies that divide in some way. Unbelievable destructive power is unleashed when the stability and union of the atom is broken. To break it results in destructive power almost beyond imagination.

The silicon microchip has divided information and communication from the human person. We now communicate and interact socially through avatars and mini computers rather than in person. Communication becomes impersonal, anonymous, and sometimes vicious. On the web and in the blogosphere, there is little peace and a lot of disagreement and argument. Before this technology, both communicator and communication were present at the same time, and you had to deal with the person in front of you - not some anonymous, abstract identity.

Artificial contraception: with the pill, life and love, husband and wife are divided. Union and communion with one another and with God are broken. From this is unleashed the destruction of the family and right relationships between human beings. What results are broken families, societies, and cultures. God’s plans for men and women is union with God and communion with one another. Man and woman become cooperators and co-creators with God. This technology has changed the nature of sexual intimacy and disrupted relationships between men and women and families as well as the relationship between church and state.

We celebrate this Mass for Life and the conclusion of this Vigil for Life just a few months after the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Humanae vitae. We celebrate this Mass for Human Life in the City of Washington, the Nation’s Capital, where “the pill” was approved by the FDA in 1960, where the American Humanae vitae crisis was centered in 1968, where the Supreme Court decided that abortion was a Constitutionally protected right in 1973. It is a strange fate that these have all occurred here, but it has a lesson for us. These secular and ecclesial crises can be linked together through a small but challenging teaching.

Saint Paul VI indicated in Humanae vitae that several effects would occur if society came to accept the idea that the unitive and procreative ends of marriage could be separated. There would be the general lowering of morals in society. Verification of this concern is seen in the breakdown of family life, the wide-spread practice of a hook-up culture on college campuses and even in high school and the coarsening of conversation in media and entertainment. There would be the objectification and attacks on the dignity of women. Verification of this can be seen in the causes of the Me-too movement and wide spread availability and addictions to pornography. There would be coercion by the State in matters of reproduction and family life. Verification of this is seen in the HHS mandate, requiring employers to provide birth control as part of health insurance. Accommodation for those who object in conscience to this requirement were under attack again in just the last few days.

Church leaders, teachers, and theologians warned of other effects from the widespread acceptance of the separation of the unitive and procreative ends of marriage. These consequences result logically, if one accepts that these ends are not intrinsically or necessarily linked. The division between the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act unleashed as much disruption to the good of the human person as the atomic bomb did to politics and the microchip did to the economy. From in-vitro fertilization and partial birth abortion to surrogacy, – all flow from this division. Then, resulting from the commodification of human life there is the diminishing of the dignity of the human person, leading as well to genetic manipulation, euthanasia, and human trafficking.

So, what is the remedy? I would offer one possible path for consideration. It is the difficult path, but one assured by Church teaching will lead to life and peace. We must return to the Gospel. We must remember that God is with us, always. And that he lives in each of our hearts in the Holy Spirit. And because of that, each human being has value, and is not a means to an end, is loved by God, and equally treasured. Just as the separation of the unitive and procreative ends of marriage have led to the expansion of the sins that cry out to God for justice, so the remedy is the embrace of the good of the human person and the teachings of Humanae vitae, the embrace of God’s plan for marriage and the martial act.  From this experience of justice, from these right relationships will flow peace, union with God and communion with one another, and peace in our hearts.

The remedy is embracing the face of God in each person and embracing the Church’s teaching about human life. When we do that, we need not fear the dark of night, or the discord of nations. Many courageous, devoted, and faith-filled individuals and families have embraced this teaching and lived it fruitfully, practicing chastity, NFP, and embracing life. They have found the peace that Christ offers. They have heard the Good News and have placed their lives and families in God’s hands, even as we today, by prayer, place our lives and families in the merciful, Sacred Heart of Jesus and in the maternal Immaculate Heart of Mary.


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