January 22, 2013 Phoenix Rally for Life Speech, Sandra Day O'Connor Plaza
Faith, Hope, Love & Memory
“At every moment, do what love requires”. These are the often-quoted words of St. Therese of Lisieux. And they are appropriate words of commemoration this afternoon as we gather to remember…to commemorate… the 55 million souls lost over 40 years to abortion.
Memory is an important root of the word commemorate. Memory is not only key to helping recall who we are and where we’ve come from, but it is essential also to our healing. Love requires that we be here today accompanied by faith and hope and because our unborn brothers and sisters did not die in vain. Their lives, as short as they were, are priceless and eternal and we honor them today as members of our own body.
But how do we commemorate 55 million souls? This was the question I was asking myself as I considered today’s historic importance. We have many examples of commemorations in our culture: the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial, the Berlin Jewish Holocaust Memorial, the Viet Nam War Memorial; the Twin Tower remembrances. Each year, thousands gather to pay their respects to our fallen dead. To remember them is to honor their memory and respect their personhood. These rituals are vital to the integrity of our culture and help us to draw strength from one another; to find meaning in the midst of woe. But even these important remembrances pale in significance to the sheer numbers lost to abortion. Where is the memorial to our unborn? And how do we account for the staggering number of dead?
Further confounding us is the identity of the “bad guy”. In war time it is easy for us to recognize the villain. Not so easy with abortion. In the cultural evil of abortion the enemy is us; it is mother or father against child. Self turned inward against self. Society still sits in the shadows of denial spouting the toxic platitudes of reproductive freedom and misunderstood biology. Most do not fully comprehend the radical holocaust of the unborn, taking place in our midst. But you understand this. You are awakened. You are doing what love requires… remembering the Michaels, Nathans, Matthews and Marys who are gone but not forgotten. We are on holy ground.
Our imaginations and our memories provide only the thought-material of our lost children. There are no baby shoes, blankets or lockets of hair. Who was my baby? Was it a boy or girl? What color eyes would they have had? What did his voice sound like? What might he have become had he been given the chance to live? Some of us get lost in that drab, gray loss of what never will be: In my son, Michael’s case: I can only imagine a first day of school, band concerts, baseball games, picnics and proms; A wedding or an ordination, perhaps…..I can only imagine….. My abortion in January, 25 years ago reminds me of the stark reality that behind every procedure is a person, a being, who had a future.
I have the special privilege today of working with post-abortive moms and dads in the beautiful odyssey of healing. We eventually arrive at this conclusion: that our babies were a WHO, not a what. Our children were unique, beautiful, sacred gifts from God. Trying to accept that terrible sense of loss can paralyze us if we do not take bold steps to reconcile with God, with our communities and with our past. Ironically, it is this same recognition of our children’s personhood that also gives us great hope. God reminds us to have hope because in God’s economy nothing is ever lost. It is redeemed.
This hope now, a generation later, must be a catching force within our wounded community; A time and a place that you and I are part of not by any coincidence. We are all in this together. The culture of death didn’t just happen spontaneously from nothing; it evolved across generations of pride and selfishness. We are all post-abortive when you think about it. We collectively bear the scars of the society that has permitted it. It will be defeated through God’s grace and the virtues of honesty and courage across generations, starting with ours: Honesty by those who have had abortions and speak out about them, and courage for each one of us to take their passion for life to a new level. I notice that when I sometimes shed tears about my unborn son, so do you. That’s a beautiful human thing to do. If we have become so wounded and blind by abortion in society then isn’t it reasonable to think we can heal as a society as well? I would like to hope so. Death is not the final victor; love is. That is why we join in commemorations. We allow love, hope, memories & faith in God to be the shared elements that glue us back together.
In the movie Les Miserables, the protagonist, Jean Valjean struggled with his tattered identity. Wounded by a marred past, he lived a half-life until he encountered a man who believed in him and ransomed him from a wayward path. As a society, we are like Valjean at this crossroads. We stand heavy under the weight of what we have allowed since 1973. We are left with the profound reality of who we are. Though we have, at times, wandered far astray; we are never beyond God’s mercy. We have new opportunities every day to change our world, to change our lives. To turn back to our Lord and His saving grace. We are a people redeemed. We are a people who have been given a chance to live and to hope. We are a people who are free.
As we commemorate our lost loved ones today may we offer special prayers to those who suffer with the trauma of abortion. May we continue to shine the brilliant light of hope so that they, too, may someday be free and embrace the new life that God has in store for them.
And let us always remember our beloved dead. Their lives are not in vain. Thank you for honoring and respecting them with your presence here today. May their prayers for us sustain our hope and strengthen our resolve to fight with all our hearts for a culture of life. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon them.