The following is the text from the reflection given by Bishop Robert Brennan during a Holy Hour he led at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception ahead of the March For Life.
Good evening one and all and thank you for remaining in prayer. At the last supper, having shared in this sacrificial banquet, this Eucharistic banquet, now like the apostles, spend this hour in prayer with our Lord, thank you for that. I thank Archbishop Lori for the invitation to offer these reflections. My name is Bishop Robert Brennan. I am the Bishop of Brooklyn. I am somewhat newly arrived there in Brooklyn, having served the last three years in Columbus, Ohio, and before that 29 years as a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
I often talk about the nativity scenes that we set up around Christmastime as a powerful tool for evangelization both in the public square and in the home. I myself like to keep at least one out. You put all the other decorations away, simplify things, but keep at least one nativity through the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2.
My parents were married 60 years last August. And the nativity set we grew up with in our home goes back to being an engagement gift that they were given, and it shows every mark and every moment of those 60 years through the curious hands of 22 children, spanning three generations. We got up close. And I confess, yes, baby Jesus did make a few rides in the caboose of the train around the Christmas tree. My bad. Quite honestly, it’s all a good thing, not the train part, but the hands-on, that’s a good thing, because the whole point is to draw close and to know and to love the Lord.
Notice how the scene is always so peaceful as you look at it. So tranquil. Mary and Joseph looking so contemplative and tranquil. The animals reverently bent low. The shepherds offering their homage. All is calm — just like on that first Christmas night!
We know better, don’t we? It was a very different scene. Yes, indeed, there was a deeper peace, and our nativity scenes reflect the deeper peace that the eyes of faith will see. But let’s be honest, that night had to be an absolute mess, right? Just think of it: new and panic-stricken parents after a harrowing journey, and nearly having nowhere to stay at the most crucial moment. Disgusting, smelly, drooling animals looking on. A filthy stable. And let’s just say the shepherds didn’t quite fit the bill of the most fashionable higher echelon of society. But there you have it. Jesus didn’t come into an artificial protected world made of porcelain or of carved wood.
Nor did He live in a remote palace, looking out the window every once in a while to see what was happening. No, He came into the real world, the world of flesh and blood and sweat, a world that was messy and complicated. Life is messy, isn’t it? Life is messy. Born in a stable, Jesus always found a way to meet people at their lowest. And meeting them He didn’t wave a wand, but He engaged them, He spoke to them, He spent time with them. He reached out with a loving touch, and that’s how He healed, by that engagement, bringing them hope, healing, and even life.
Risen from the dead, Jesus lives today, and He lives with us too, the messiness of human life. He wants to be fully involved, deeply immersed in the messiness and the complications of each of our lives and also that of the world and of our very nation. You and I pray before Him, present among us — a tranquil moment in a very, very messy world.
We come with our own needs to sit before Him, seeking to be transformed ourselves. Boy, do we ever need Him now? The world so desperately needs Him. And here He is. Here He is. Our world is a mess. He doesn’t run away, He comes before us.
Friends, we gather here tonight in our nation’s capital to join with people from all around the country in witness to the dignity of human life, of every human life. As Catholic Christians, we see the roots of this profound human dignity in the very beginning of the Bible — God made them in His own image and likeness, male and female, He created them, in His own image and likeness, He created them. Looking deep into the eye of every person, at every stage, from conception to natural death, we see that dignity, that spark of divine life. Sadly, there are too many scourges that undermine that human dignity in the world today. We rightly must reject racism, anti-Semitism, human trafficking, abuse, drug trafficking.
And for sure, we need ever more to be vigilant in rejecting these. These crimes against human dignity are direct assaults against God because that dignity comes from God himself. But seriously, how will we recognize the dignity in one another, unless we can see it in a child in the very first moment of his or her existence? Without the right to life, every other right collapses. It’s like a house of cards.
Indeed, we testify to the truth of the dignity of every human life, and we do so in the midst of the messiness of human life. We know that we need to be courageous and strong in our witness. We know that we must persevere, though it is easy to get discouraged. We realize that we do so in a very messy and complicated world. We seek as American citizens simply to participate in the process of self-government, promoting legislation that respects human dignity. We realize that we will always be at work to bring about a conversion in what Pope Saint John Paul called the culture of death and what Pope Francis calls the throwaway culture.
That will mean always converting hearts and minds. And we realize the messiness of the world around us and we pledge ourselves in humble service to stand with all those who are in need, especially with initiatives like Walking with Moms in Need and so many of the maternal and family services that you represent, all of you here tonight praying. You are not noisemakers on the street, you are following the lead of Jesus. You immerse yourselves in the messiness of the world, engaging people in their need, and now are witnesses to Him and witnesses to life.
So, here we are in this shrine, and thank you sisters for leading us so beautifully in that prayer of the Rosary this night. You teach us so often how to pray. Here we are in this shrine and here He is. We draw strength from Him and yes, we seek to be transformed ourselves, so that we might in turn transform the world. In the tranquility of this moment, we encounter Him, who gives Himself to us in holy Communion as He did this night, so that He might walk with us in the messiness of the world to which He sends us. We are never alone. Never.
On Sunday, we will hear how Jesus begins his public ministry in the Synagogue, telling the crowd that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled right in their hearing. Indeed, He has come to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, freedom to the oppressed. He has come to lift burdens and to breathe life into the listless spirit and hope to those who mourn. He comes in the messiness of the world and He sends His Spirit upon all of us — gathered here, that we might bear His light in this messy world. Friends, God bless you, God bless each and every one of you, for your commitment. May you always know that strength of Jesus Christ.