January 24, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Praying for the legal protection of unborn children

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me’ ” (Mt 18:1-5).

Two days ago, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, the Church in the United States observed a day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children. This liturgical observance has two purposes.

First, because every Mass is a celebration of thanksgiving (which is what the word eucharist means), we give thanks for the gift of life which is always precious and inviolable. Second, because our Lord affirmed the place that children occupy in God’s kingdom, we mourn the loss of all children who have died, and we pray most fervently that all children (especially the unborn) will be protected by laws enacted and enforced by our local, state and federal governments.

The moral principles are clear. When we fail to protect children from all forms of abuse or to safeguard our communities against all forms of violence, we fail in our most sacred duties as members of God’s family. As Pope Francis has repeatedly warned, the sin of indifference weighs heavily on our consciences as missionary disciples because whatever we do (or fail to do) to these brothers and sisters, we do (or fail to do) to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

As we Indiana bishops note in the introduction to our 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana”:

“As bishops who serve the people of God, our concern is for everyone, regardless of their religious affiliation, race, ethnic background, economic or social status. Christ came to save all humankind. As his ministers, we have been given the responsibility to carry on Christ’s work in service to all our sisters and brothers here in the state of Indiana.

“At the same time, we bishops have a particular obligation to care for the most vulnerable members of God’s family. That is why we pay special attention to the unborn, to the sick and the elderly, to prisoners, to those who suffer from various forms of addiction or mental illness, and to the education of people from many different backgrounds and circumstances. That is also why we care, in a very special way, for those brothers and sisters of ours who are poor.”

There is a “consistent ethic” that requires us to safeguard all human life, and it begins with our most vulnerable sisters and brothers: our unborn children, the elderly and infirm, those with severe physical and mental disabilities, and all who are social, political or legal “outcasts” on the margins of our society. No matter who they are, where they came from, or what they have done, their lives are sacred and must be protected absolutely by the laws and customs of our society.

No one is more vulnerable or more worthy of legal protection than a child in his or her mother’s womb. Progress has been made in recent years as many states have passed laws that have increased legal safeguards. Abortion rates have declined in recent years—thanks, in part, to increased awareness of the sanctity of every human life and to the new legal protections. But much more is needed. The loss of even one innocent child is unacceptable to all who believe in the dignity and inviolability of every human life.

When Jesus was asked “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” (Mt 18:1) he didn’t hesitate to answer that children—and those who are childlike—hold the places of honor in God’s realm. Innocence, humility and vulnerability are characteristics that every society should cherish and respect. The alternative is chaos and brutality, whether overt or hidden from view.

This is why once a year, on the anniversary of the U. S. Supreme Court’s fatal decision in Roe v. Wade, our Church observes a special Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. One day of prayer is not nearly enough, of course. We should pray constantly, and we should supplement our prayers with advocacy and action on behalf of all our unborn brothers and sisters.

As Jesus told us (cf. Mt 18:1-5), “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”

Let’s pray for both the humility and the courage to protect our unborn children. Always. †

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