Published February 3, 2011
Editor’s Note: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory gave the following homily at the annual archdiocesan Mass for the Unborn, celebrated Friday, Jan. 21, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta.
When St. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians a portion of which just provided today’s second reading, he was somewhere in a prison—yet even from his confinement he wrote about an inner peace that was intended to strengthen and inspire his listening audience as it sustained him: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Even in prison, Paul could write about peace and hope. You see there are some prisons that are far more noteworthy and confining than those that are constructed of stone and steel. There are prisons that are more damaging to the human spirit than those that merely restrain the human body. There are other types of prisons that capture the heart and soul of a person, and they are far more deadly than even the maximum security penitentiaries that we have fashioned in our own world of today.
Some of the truly great pieces of literature that we now possess were penned by people who were imprisoned. Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” are just two examples of writings by people who were in physical confinement but whose spirits were supremely free. The soul of our nation has been imprisoned for almost 38 years as we have allowed for the killing of innocent human life within the womb. The sadness is compounded because we have labeled this horrible activity as an expression of freedom of choice. We have enshrined this captivity of the human heart and soul in terrible laws that have expanded its availability and sanctioned its legal protection. For nearly four decades we have allowed this activity to shred the moral conscience of our nation hoping that opposing voices will be silenced and established ethical principles will simply melt away. Yet each year, thousands upon thousands of people gather throughout this great nation of ours to remember that dreadful day and to pray that the decisions and laws that have compounded its impact will be withdrawn. Some people are amazed at the tenacity of our resolve, and I hope also at the gentle character of our insistence that we shall overcome.
The heart and spirit of a people have been imprisoned by a foreign and incongruous judgment that distinguishes between the value of human life based upon age and condition. The innocent unborn are considered inconsequential, yet all of us here at Mass once existed in that very same circumstance. When then did we finally become valuable? Was it at six months of intrauterine existence or seven or eight? Could we lose our life’s worth if we become old, sick and dependent? Are those now in prison like some of the great literary authors of the world or the Apostle Paul himself or those who now live without legal documents worthless? The logic that fuels this decision holds peril for all of us.
No, the person within the womb is sacred we believe, as are all those who having since been born may find themselves in difficult and adverse conditions.
There are prisons, and then there are prisons. Paul wrote as a free man even though he was in chains at that moment. He reminded the Philippians and all of us that we are called to freedom of mind and heart. May his words and his wisdom succeed in helping all of us to free the hearts and souls of those who may think themselves to be free but who are chained by a reasoning that is far more damaging than any bars in any prison made by human hands. Some prisons are far deadlier than any others, especially those that are made to hold captive and confuse the human heart and mind.