Day of Penance and Prayer, and the March for Life. In remembrance of the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in America, the U.S. Bishops have declared this Thursday, January 22, a particular day of penance for violations against the dignity of human life committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. To this end, three buses will be leaving from St. Raymond’s to join in the annual March for Life on the Mall in Washington. If you haven’t signed up for the buses, I encourage you to do so today. Or perhaps if you work downtown you can come down to the Mall and join us and hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers from all over the country to march for life. For those who can’t make it to the March I invite you to join us at the parish at 10:30 for Holy Mass before the buses depart, and then to remain after Mass to pray, or perhaps make a visit to pray at some other time during the day. And if you can’t make any of these “events,” I strongly urge you to join us by praying the rosary during the day—at your desk, in your home, wherever—and offering various acts of penance. And when the day is over you are invited to join us for a chili dinner in the parish hall after the March, at about 4:30 or 5pm.
The March on Washington—for Life. On August 28, 1963, a 34 year old Black Baptist preacher from Atlanta led 300,000 people in one of the largest public protests in our nation’s history. The sights and sounds of that day that became known as the “March on Washington” are burned into the psyche of many of Americans. Most especially the fiery speech given that day at the Lincoln Memorial by that preacher, as his trembling voice resonantly repeated “I have a dream.”
Largely, though not solely, due to that historic day this Monday, tomorrow, Americans celebrate the birthday of that preacher, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr..
52 years ago America looked on in amazement at that March: for some that amazement was mixed with joy; but for others it was mixed fear, or anger. But I suspect many Americans had one very clear question on their minds that day: in the words of today’s Gospel, “What are you looking for?”
The answer became clear enough, both in their speeches and signs, and in the 5 decades that followed. They came looking for change in the way Black American’s were treated. They were looking for some sign of hope that racial discrimination would finally be buried with its long dead father slavery. And of course, most fundamentally, they were looking for equal justice under the law and among men. All this we remember tomorrow.
But later this week, on this Thursday, there will be still another March on Washington. A crowd just about the same size as MLK’s March in 1963 —another group coming together looking for change, hope and equal justice for a minority group that is very clearly being oppressed now more than ever—again a lot like Martin Luther King’s crowd.
Because Thursday’s crowd will gather to recall the US Supreme Court decision of January 22, 1973, in the case known as Roe v. Wade, establishing a constitutional right to abortion. Just as the 1963 Marchers came looking to protect and defend the trampled civil rights of Black Americans, the Marchers on Thursday will come looking to protect and defend the trampled civil rights of unborn Americans—the most basic civil right: the right to not be killed, the right to life!
If Martin Luther King were alive today, I believe he would be with us on Thursday, because as history shows, he was profoundly pro-life. Sadly, he has never been to the March for Life, because 5 years after King marched on Washington a fellow named James Earl Ray assassinated him in Memphis. Maybe Ray thought King was interfering in his freedom to live as he “chose,” or that his rights were more important than King’s rights, or maybe that King was less than fully human, so what did it matter if someone got rid of him. You see, Ray decided King didn’t have a right to life. And so he chose to “terminate” his life.
And by terminating that foundational right, he also took away every other right King had and was fighting to defend: the right to eat at the lunch counter, or to ride in the front of the bus, to work, to vote, to free speech, to freely assemble…every single civil right.
Every innocent human being has the right to life—no matter how inconvenient their life is for you or anyone else. And no one has the right to kill them—whether it’s by assassination or by abortion. No matter what the color of their skin, or their age, or their size. Whether that person is black or white, embryonic or octogenarian.
“What are you looking for?” 52 years ago people came to the March on Washington looking for change, hope and justice for Black Americans. In many ways these passing decades have brought that justice, thanks be to God. And yet, it seems, we still have some ways to go.
For 42 years people have come to the March for life looking for justice for the unborn. In many ways we’ve made great strides here as well, but in many ways we’ve also still fallen terribly short. And so we March on Thursday to fight that injustice.
And we do so with great and true hope. Because at the pro-life March on Thursday it is not so much a matter of asking “What are you looking for” as it is “who have you found?” In the words of St. Andrew in today’s’ Gospel: “we have found the Messiah.” This week we place our hope in that Messiah, Jesus Christ. Because as Jesus says elsewhere: “What is impossible for man, is not impossible for God.” And placing our hope in Christ let us beg Him to change the hearts and minds of all Americans so that true justice might someday be rendered to all Americans, black and white, young and old…born and unborn.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles