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On the march for life


By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

January 23, 2013

Reflection for Plattsburgh March for Life, Jan. 20

As we gather this Year of Faith to mark that tragic decision of Roe v Wade some 40 years ago, it is right that our commitment to the promotion and proclamation of life’s value and dignity receive a new shot in the arm. 
This Year of Faith we are determined to seek God’s grace for a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.  This is an apt occasion to pay particular attention to being credible witnesses of life, reflecting our own personal ongoing conversion.  We can never be content with the status quo.  We must not get stuck in the past or comfortable with the way we have always done things.

This is especially urgent today because we must be alert to and respond to the changing social context in which we find ourselves.  We need to pay closer attention to a world today where some human behavior is so very difficult to understand.  It takes greater effort and patience on our part to try to listen and comprehend.  As Pope Paul VI noted in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi (n.20), back in 1975 “there is a rupture between the Gospel and culture.”

How do we become better, more effective instruments of Jesus’ life-giving love to a world that is often deaf to the Good News and, at times, seems hell-bent on embracing a culture of death, constructing and living in a world as if God is a disinterested spectator or a world that believes that God does not exist at all?  My own faith must be strong.  My soul needs constant tending to.  Instead of pointing an accusatory finger, which is so very easy for every one of us to do, bishops included, we must focus on being a sign of holiness, tending to what’s going on inside of here (my heart).

As we continue this Year of Faith, the Holy Father has asked for a new ardor, a new energy in following Jesus.  I see this as applicable to our pro-life efforts, as well.  We begin with self-reflection, a daily examine of conscience, regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, Holy Eucharist and a forgiving disposition so that our witness to life may be credible and life-affirming. 

In his letter on evangelization, Pope Paul VI stated that “The world requires and expects of us simplicity of life, a spirit of prayer, charity towards all and especially towards the little ones and the poor, obedience and humility, self-detachment and sacrifice.  Without this sign of holiness, our word will find it difficult to open up the way to the hearts of the people of our time, but will risk being vain and fruitless.” (n.76)

However good and valuable the work we do as pro-lifers, a renewed commitment is required which involves the First Person, i.e., ME.   The Gospel has the power to open up hardened hearts and bring enthusiasm and power into places where weariness, discouragement, frustration, and confusion insinuate themselves. 

We must be a people of the Word.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)  The Good News is a creative force, challenging people, penetrating our hearts. 

All those who receive the Gospel become missionaries so that the joy which has been communicated to us and which has transformed our lives may allow others to encounter the same Source of love and of salvation.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the new President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization observes, “In recent decades Christian values have become oxidized and risk being exposed to a painful wear and tear not due to the passing of the years, but to the corrosion brought about by cultural and legislative phenomena undermining the fabric of society.  Having thrown open the doors to presumed individual rights have not led to greater social cohesion and even less to a greater sense of responsibility.  What has come about, instead, is a worrying tendency for people to barricade themselves into an individualism which is a dead-end, which sooner or later will suffocate individuals and society.” (Responding to the Challenge of Indifference, p.38)
With the embrace of a woman’s unfettered right to an abortion, compliments of Roe v Wade, a culture has emerged whose consequences continue to be absolutely devastating. 

We ask ourselves:  Is society better off?  Has the family become strengthened where respect is taught and lived?  Is the vulnerable and weak person respected or regarded as a burden on future plans and budgets?  
The road of following Jesus is not an easy one.  Our baptism has charged us to take up the journey and our Church equips us for the mission.  We cannot and do not walk alone.  As Christians, we walk alongside one another to offer fellow pilgrims the company and support of our faith.  We desire to speak to all, even though we know that not everyone wishes to converse with us.  It is only by means of a deep and reciprocal respect, will we be able to travel together fruitfully along a stretch of the road.  As our Church leaders have reminded us many times, we do not wish to impose anything, but only to propose.   

Our way of life must stimulate others.   A renewed commitment on our part to proclaim the dignity of all human life must be done with respect and meekness.  Remember what Paul wrote Timothy:  “a servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels, but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient.  He or she has to be gentle when correcting people who dispute, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they may recognize the truth.” (2Tim 2:24-25)  God knows, that isn’t always easy.  So much is at stake that often we want to respond in kind to get people’s attention. Sometimes we want to outshout or out yell those who seem so deaf. Such an “in your face response,” (frankly one that I sometimes am tempted to display) is a “dis”graceful response.  That’s when our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ should guide us.

In a culture in which secularism has created a situation of profound crisis in the faith, with behavior in clear contradiction to the faith, a rediscovery of the foundation of our faith is crucial so that we might become credible instruments of conversion and holiness in others.  We cannot give what we do not possess.

It’s time for a cultural revolution!  Here, during this Year of Faith, the Lord is calling you and me to look inward, to re-energize our own relationship with Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church.  We cannot allow ourselves to live with the illusion that our language of faith can be understood and accepted to the same extent as it always was and by repeating the same things over and over.  It doesn’t work.  Our pro-life proclamation and witness must never become routine and automatic.  It risks becoming stale and ineffective.  Again, with a renewed focus on our personal faith and re-commitment to the body of believers of the Church, new creative and life-giving energies can be discovered that can speak the language of the secular society in which we live today and touch hearts with a language that is understandable and potentially life-changing.

Gatherings such as this not only give important public witness to life, but also serve to energize us in our personal commitment to personal holiness.  I thank God for your persevering love and participation in this cultural revolution.  May God be praised…forever may God be praised!

Bishop LaValley is shown above with young adults from the Diocese of Ogdensburg during the 2012 March for Life in Washington, DC. On Sunday, he delivered the message on this page to participants of the 2013 March for Life in Plattsburgh.

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