‘Civilization of love’ or ‘culture of death’

Following are highlights of the homily Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley delivered at the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. Jan. 22, marking the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

I have read much about a film in the movie theaters today called “Children of Men.” The story is about a world 20 years from now. A demographic winter has set in. A group of people resisting the culture of death form the Human Project. The story line describes a world with no babies, an epidemic of infertility, a hopeless violent world. Finally, one baby is born in secret. During a battle scene, the baby cries and suddenly everyone stops fighting, women want to touch the baby, soldiers kneel and make the sign of the cross. In the midst of the violence and despair, the baby becomes a sign of hope.

A recent article in the British news magazine, The Economist, indicates the present demographic crisis in the West. In the European community there is a 1.4 fertility rate -- that means that in five years deaths will outnumber births. The most prosperous areas have less children. The fertility rate in Italy and Spain is 1.2, that translates into a population in 20 years to half of what it is today. And the typical citizen will have no brothers and sisters, no cousins, no aunts and uncles. The British news magazine went on to say that our situation in the United States is better because Americans are more devout -- we are churchgoers and churchgoers get married and have families. The churches in the United States are family friendly and nurture family life. They even quote Hilary Clinton, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but they added the Church is that village. I like that. I believe it is true. One of the reasons the Church defends marriage in the face of divorce, cohabitation and redefinition of marriage by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is that marriage and family are the sanctuary of life and when that sanctuary is violated, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, real happiness, society itself is at risk.

Church is a bastion of defense against the culture of death. In terms of the film “Children of Men” we are “the human project” -- the alternative is the culture of death. As the populations of the Western world age, we will see that the generation of parents that aborted their own children will be euthanized by the children who survived.

A few years ago I saw a photograph in a newspaper or in a news magazine that I found very chilling. A man bound and gagged was kneeling, with a gun in the hand of a policeman aimed at his head.

The story line was that this was a Chinese prisoner, perhaps a criminal, who was being executed to harvest his organs. I like to think that decent people would be repulsed by this practice, but I do not know. I was horrified to see how American tabloids reported on the execution of Saddam Hussein in a gleeful and jocular manner -- making a joke out of an execution -- calling the condemned man the “king of swing.” Such coarseness is something one would associate with the mobs in the Colosseum thirsty for the sight of blood.

Most of us prefer to be removed from such violence. It is considered more civilized to push a button that will cause a bomb to drop on some distant target that we do not have to see or hear the screams of pain or see the burning flesh. That is why the same decent people who would blanche at the execution of the Chinese prisoner can be the enthusiastic supporters of stem-cell research -- which does not kill a criminal in a far-off land but kills innocent human life in our own country funded by our taxes or the monies of corporations whose products we patronize.

We have come to embrace a new morality that is dehumanizing and dangerous. The new morality is: the ends justify the means. We all want to see a Michael Fox or a Pope John Paul II be cured of Parkinson’s disease. We would all want to see a Christopher Reeve get up out of a wheelchair and walk. We all want to see that, but we do not want to shoot the pickpocket in the head to do it, nor do we want to trample innocent human life to achieve so noble an end.

What is most frustrating is that there are moral, ethical experimentations that can get to the place we all want. I often think of those high-speed chases where many innocent bystanders have been killed, because someone was trying to catch a bank robber. Was it worth it?

The irony of embryonic stem-cell research is that the ethical and moral research that does not destroy human life or stoop to cloning has brought about many successes and cures. The immoral destruction of embryos to this point has achieved nothing despite all the media hype.

We all want the cures, but the end does not justify the means. We need to raise the volume in announcing the Gospel of Life. It must not be a strident and hateful scream but a courageous proclamation of the Gospel of Life by witnesses whose lives are transformed by faith, love and a desire to serve. The most eloquent prophet of the Gospel of Life was Mother Teresa.

We have become complacent -- Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell is always quoting a phrase from Alexander Pope that is very applicable to our modern moral crisis. The English poet wrote: “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

Where is the outrage? As a country we have become callous to the horrors of abortion to human life. The greatest parallel is with slavery in the antebellum period of our history. The people convinced themselves that slavery was necessary, justifiable for economic, social reasons. Today our society is turning a blind eye to abortion and saying that now the ends justify the means. The losers in this sea charge will be those who are elderly, poor, disabled and politically marginalized. None of these pass the utility test; and yet, they at least have a presence. They at least have the possibility of organizing to be heard. Those who are unborn, infirmed and terminally ill have no such advantage. They have no “utility,” and worse, they have no voice. As we tinker with the beginning, the end and even the intimate cell structure of life, we tinker with our own identity as a free nation dedicated to the dignity of the human person. When American political life becomes an experiment on them rather than for and by them, it will no longer be worth conducting.

I thank you for being here today, for defending the Gospel of Life. We must work together to establish a civilization of love where there is room at the table of life for all of our brothers and sisters.

The Eucharist we share is God making a gift of Himself so that we can have the strength to make a gift of ourselves to God and to one another.

The choice is clear, either civilization of love or culture of death. I am hopeful because Love is stronger than death.

The average life span is 25,000 days. We want to live the days we have left on this planet for God and for our brothers and sisters. We are not on a solo flight, we are part of a team, we must work together to fulfill our mission here.

The Eucharist is a special moment in our life. We can miss it if we are too addicted to entertainment. If we gather here in faith to worship the Lord, this Eucharist, the living Word of God, the Bread of Life, and the witness of fellow disciples is where we acquire the strength to do what Jesus did, to love the way He loved, to serve the way He served, to suffer the way He suffered.

And yes, some people will think that we are crazy but even Jesus’ relatives thought that Jesus was out of His mind.