Cardinal O’Connor: “Too many people have sacrificed for too long to give up now”

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The brief quotation from the late John Cardinal O’Connor that I used yesterday prompted me to go back and re-read the complete homily from which it was taken. The Cardinal preached this homily on Epiphany Sunday, a little more than a week after the murder of two abortion facility employees in Boston in 1994. Boston’s Cardinal Law had called for a temporary suspension of peaceful pro-life demonstrations in the wake of those murders (and Bishop O’Neil of New Hampshire followed suit). In New York, Cardinal O’Connor took a different approach.

After the recent shootings that killed three people and wounded nine others at a Colorado abortion facility, Cardinal O’Connor’s words sound as fresh as if they were written today. The complete text of the homily is on the EWTN web site. Here’s an excerpt.

It is this sense of the sacredness of every human life that has prompted my very close friend, His Eminence Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston, to denounce unconditionally the recent killings and woundings that took place in two abortion clinics in his archdiocese. I joined him in that unconditional denunciation and expressed my deep sorrow for the victims and their loved ones, as I have done on previous occasions. Indeed, on this current occasion I have repeated publicly what I have said before and mean, with every fiber of my being: “If anyone has an urge to kill an abortionist, kill me instead.” That’s not a grandstand play. I am prepared to die if my death can save the life of another.

Cardinal Law, one of the strongest pro-life leaders in the United States, knows the situation in Boston as I and others do not, and has called for a moratorium on pro-life demonstrations outside abortion clinics…It is quite possible that were I the archbishop of Boston I would be inclined to call for such a moratorium in the Boston area, at least for a period of time, while trying to sort things out. Indeed, I intend to borrow at least one page from Cardinal Law’s book and ask that every week a different pastor in each of the 19 regions of the Archdiocese of New York schedule a period of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the cause of human life. I would ask, however, that this be in addition to any prayer vigils that responsible individuals or groups believe that they should conduct legally and non-violently within the Archdiocese of New York in the vicinity of abortion clinics.

The rosary vigils led by my brother bishop in Brooklyn, Bishop Thomas Daily, are wonderful examples of peaceful processions and prayers in the vicinity of abortion clinics. I cannot imagine that any people of good will could object to them, and certainly no one would deny their constitutionality. To my knowledge, prayer vigils held here in New York have been equally peaceful and non-violent.

Here in the Archdiocese of New York, however, I too would be prepared to call for a moratorium on these peaceful prayer vigils on condition that a moratorium be called on abortions. The first is within my power, to call a moratorium on prayer vigils, although I would respect those who might disagree with me and carry out such vigils anyway.

The second, a moratorium on abortions, is obviously not within my power, but only within the power of those who operate abortion clinics. Perhaps during a moratorium on both abortions and prayer vigils here in New York, both sides could meet to determine whether there is anything that can legitimately be the subject of dialogue.

…The New York Post of Jan. 5, 1995, editorially asked, “Why the readiness to tie the Boston killings to the pro-life movement?” The Post answered its own question: “To marginalize the movement in the eyes of the general public.” And it concluded: “Thus far, moreover, the effort seems to be working—which is a pity.” I would like to believe, however, that the current outcries against the pro-life movement are a reflection of frustration rather than a concerted effort to marginalize millions of non-violent, peaceful people whose only sin is their love for every human life, the life of every baby, the life of every mother. If there is a concerted effort, however, I cannot believe it will “work” for very long. Too many wonderful people in the pro-life movement have sacrificed too much for too long to give up now.

…I do not pretend to have a monopoly on how best to save human life. Only Jesus is the expert, and he did it only by dying on a cross.

“No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!”

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Pope Francis, a man known for putting aside prepared statements in favor of informal Q&A, did just that on April 30 when he met in Rome with members of two Catholic groups. (See coverage at Zenit and Catholic News Service.) Talk turned to the challenge of bringing faith in Christ to the arena of public policy. From the CNS coverage of the event:

Catholics must get involved in politics even if it may be “dirty,” frustrating and fraught with failure, Pope Francis said. Given today’s “throwaway” culture and so many problems unfolding in the world, “Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony? No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!” he said.

Coverage of the same event by Carol Glatz for NCROnline:

One man asked how to keep strong the link between faith in Jesus and the responsibility of building a more just and caring world.

Christians have a duty to work for the common good in the world of politics, the pope said, adding that that does not mean forming a Catholic political party.

“That is not the way. The church is the community of Christians who adore the Father, follow the way of the Son and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a political party,” he said.

However, individual Catholics must get involved and “embroiled” in politics, he said, because it is one of the “highest forms of charity” since it seeks the common good.

…”When you ask me these questions, the danger — danger for the pope, too, you know — is believing that I can answer all your questions. The only one who can answer every question is the Lord. My job is simply to listen and say what comes to me from within. But [it is] insufficient and too little,” he said.

Not an ex cathedra pronouncement, to be sure. Still, “you can’t watch from the balcony” strikes a chord.

Not just freedom to worship

This quote is from a Catholic man speaking to other Catholic men, but his message is for all of us, regardless of gender or faith or state in life. Remember what kind of freedom we as Americans have been able to enjoy; don’t leave the future to others; know when and how to talk back when conscience rights are threatened.

In the early days of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, some American bishops visited Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict knew about the mandate already. In his formal remarks to the bishops, he said that lay women and men – everyday people – have to step up. That’s not just about Catholics. Did you know the owners of Hobby Lobby identify themselves as evangelical Christians, and the owners of Conestoga Wood Products are Mennonites? They’re the ones who prevailed at the Supreme Court. They knew what Benedict was talking about, even if they never heard him speak.

Pope Benedict to American bishops, January 19, 2012 (emphasis added):

In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience. Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.