What Would Have Happened?

January 26, 2009

Bishop Baker’s Pro-Life Mass Homily

January 26, 2009

Today is the Feast of Saint Antony of the Desert. Saint Antony was born to wealthy landowners in 251 AD in Lower Egypt. When he was 18 his parents died and left him the care of his younger sister. When he was 34, he had a conversion experience while attending the Divine Liturgy and hearing today’s Gospel. The words that struck him were the words Jesus addressed to the rich young man, ““If you wish to be perfect,  go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Antony took these words to heart, he gave away all of his material possessions, placed his unmarried sister under the care of a group of Christian virgins, and ventured out into the desert to follow Christ.

What we know about Saint Antony, we know from Saint Athanasius who wrote his life story. Saint Antony lived in a tomb, (he is the patron saint of grave diggers for this reason)—and local villagers sustained him by bringing him food. Here he was constantly harassed by the devil, who on one occasion beat him physically and left him unconscious. The villagers finding him in this condition carried him off to a nearby Church. When Antony regained his health, he left to go off to an abandoned Roman fort.

Here the devil came to him under the guise of wild beasts, snakes and scorpions—threatening to attack him and cut him into pieces. Saint Antony laughed at them and said scornfully, “If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me.” As soon as he spoke these words they vanished like smoke and God gave him victory over the devil.

Anyone who sets out to follow Christ more perfectly is going to encounter the evil one. They will experience opposition, criticism, even threats against one’s well-being and life. Our Lord promised his followers that they would be persecuted, and the countless list of martyrs that we reverence as saints reminds all of us of this truth.

 To follow Jesus Christ in our day, one must embrace the cause for the right to life from the moment of conception to natural death.  Those of us who have engaged in this battle have encountered evil along the way in one form or another, and if like Saint Antony we have placed our trust and faith in God we have witnessed the evil vanishing like smoke at the very moment that it seemed to be winning the upper hand.

On this 36th  anniversary of the legalization of abortion in this country, we have seen many battles. These battles have wearied many—some out of fear, others from apathy, still others from guilt. And now we stand at a decisive moment in the history of the Pro-Life movement, but we needn’t  be wiled by the devil into thinking of it as a hopeless moment or moment of defeat.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that what is impossible for humans is possible for God, “for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

In 1963 Lyndon Baines Johnson became the thirty-sixth president of the United States. When he assumed the office of the Presidency, due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Johnson had a record of voting against legislation in congress that would have banned lynching, denied federal funding to segregated schools,  and eliminated poll taxes that effectively kept poor people from being able to vote. At the time it looked as though what ever advances had been made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who had been marching for civil rights throughout this nation were doomed to failure.

But LBJ will forever be linked to the greatest civil rights reversal to occur in this country—when he helped persuade fellow southerners to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in Congress, which he later signed into law.

Please God , we will one day look back at this time and say the same about President –elect Barack Obama when it comes to the issue of Life. We know that during his campaign he vowed to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law—an act that would be devastating to the cause of life, not to mention the future of Catholic hospitals and other charitable organizations within our church.  But we also know that with God “nothing is impossible.”

Saint Antony recognized the feebleness of the devils attempts to dissuade him from following Christ—we must learn from the example of this saint and all the saints that our God is more powerful than anything the devil might throw at us. Toward the end of this Liturgy, we will pray a prayer  that I composed for all of us to say for our soon to be president and all who serve us in the government. We need to have frequent recourse to prayer and implore God to move the hearts of those who govern us.

I have also asked that each parish in the Diocese of Birmingham participate in a letter writing campaign. Some parishes have already carried this out, writing letters to the President –elect, our Alabama senators, and congressional representative. We need to make our voices heard—for those who have no voice to cry out for help!

Later this morning we will March peacefully as a sign of our support for the unborn and their inalienable right to life. Birmingham is a city famous for marches, and this Monday’s holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cannot help but recall to us the famous march from Selma to Montgomery and the  marches that involved school children here in our city. May our march and the march later this week in Washington, D.C. (which many of us will also participate in) be a resounding message to those both here in our community and to the nation that there is unfinished business in the civil rights movement—not all are equal yet, not all are free to live yet!

“What must I do to gain eternal life?” The rich young man asked.

“If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments,” Jesus responded.

“Which ones?” the rich young man continues. Let me close with the first one Jesus mentioned to the rich young man and in this morning’s Gospel to us:

“You shall not kill.”

May Our Lady of Joyful Hope intercede for us as we pray, write letters, march for the cause of life—giving us hope that we will trust as she did when she spoke her fiat, believing that with God all things are possible.