Columns From Bishop Brennan

We Need to Build a Society in Which Abortion is Unthinkable

The following is an abridged version of the homily delivered by Bishop Robert Brennan during the Pro Vita Mass on Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Downtown Brooklyn. 

Thank you one and all for being here. Welcome to the Knights of Columbus from the Long Island Assembly, to the state representatives and representatives of the supreme, and to all the members of our different councils here in Brooklyn and Queens. To Deacon Ron and Father Patterson, thank you for opening the doors of our beautiful cathedral to the people of our diocese. 

I am so glad to stand with you as we celebrate this Pro Vita Mass in celebration of life. Today is a day of celebration, of rejoicing, as we look at some of the shining lights proclaiming life, witnessing to life, in the midst of the darkness that seems to cover the earth. 

Fifty years ago today, we had that awful decision at the Supreme Court level, which instituted abortion as a so-called right. Rights come from God. And for 50 years, we have been standing in witness to overturn that decision. 

How those words of Isaiah that Jesus repeats in the Gospel today ring true to us: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. On those who live in a cloud of darkness, the light has shone.” Indeed, we see some light, and we celebrate it in this Pro Vita Mass. 

It is a great year to be celebrating, but we also recognize that we have an awful lot of work to do. Part of the problem for us is we need to change the law. Legal victories and political victories only go so far. What we really need to do, and what we’ve been working at, is to transform the culture. Change hearts and minds. 

Our task is not to push an agenda but to convert, to make known the dignity of life, and to be a witness to it. And to show people so that others will see it in that same light and recognize the harmful effects of not only abortion but the many crimes against life. Whether it be euthanasia, racism, violence, or the promotion of the drug culture, we want to proclaim with unified voices the dignity of every single human person created in the image and likeness of God. 

On Friday, we had the March for Life in Washington, and a good number of people from Brooklyn and Queens were there, and the Knights of Columbus were very active in organizing the day and providing so many of the things that took place. 

I will always be grateful to all of you, my brother Knights, for what you have been doing over these years and what you continue to do. 

I thank all the groups who made the trip from Brooklyn and Queens to our nation’s capital in witness to life. Thanks also to those who were praying for us back home. It is encouraging to see so many people at the March for Life who share enthusiasm for protecting life, especially the most vulnerable lives! 

The great energy surrounding the respect for life movement was a sight to behold! We know we have a long way to go to build a culture of life, but united in prayer and witness, we will not be discouraged. 

The night before, we had the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of my favorite events. The basilica was packed with people, as it usually is for this vigil. Many of the people there were young, and many of them were veterans who’d been doing this for 50 years, and there were many in between. There is an exuberance always there. It’s a night of tremendous prayer. 

Bishop Burbidge is the new chair of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities, a committee on which I serve. He preached the homily, as is the tradition, and I would like to share with you some of the points that he made. He spoke about the victory that we experienced, seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, but he also spoke about the practical test before us because, as Americans, we have a right and responsibility to contribute to the political debate. We’re exercising responsibility. 

He said the most important work that lies ahead is the work not only of changing laws but of changing hearts, with steadfast faith in the grace and the power of God to do so. 

He marks three steps we must take. One of them is in our witness, constantly bearing witness to the dignity of life with a certain joy but also engaging the science, as this is an age that now cherishes science. We would need to engage the tools of science which show the dignity of life, of human life, from its very first moments, so that we would build a society, through that conversion of heart, where abortions would be not only illegal but also unthinkable. 

The second step is more difficult. We must learn to communicate our views with love. Today this is no small challenge. Social media allows us to disseminate our message widely and efficiently, but it often brings out the worst in those who disagree and dismiss our beliefs and convictions and may not bring out the best in us as we respond. 

This is where our very important work begins; lasting victories will not come from views, hits, or retweets, nor triumphalism, bitterness, or cynicism, but from our sincere efforts to affect the true conversion of mind and heart. They will come from acknowledging the dignity of those with whom you may disagree, engaging in respectful discussion, from efforts to persuade rather than to attack, and from our desire to convert rather than to cancel. 

As the Gospel tells us, the Lord has delivered us from the power of darkness. Indeed, it is His light we are called to radiate, especially to those who are confused or lost. Like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who sought out the lost, we can never tire of seeking those who are lost and are wanted. 

The third step: We accomplish none of this on our own, but we must turn to God. You know, if you look at biblical history, whenever the people of God tried to take things into their own hands, they failed. Whether it be the freedom of slavery from Egypt, the Babylonian captivity, or the Maccabean revolt, all these moments in biblical history show us that when a nation tries to take things into its own hands, things spiral out of control. But when the people of God really turned to God in prayer, He always came through. 

Transformation of culture will take place if we walk in those steps of Jesus, faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and be people of healing, mercy, and unity. God bless you, and thank you for your witness. Amen.