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January 24, 2020 — Jesuit Conference President Fr. Tim Kesicki, SJ, presided over the Ignatian Mass for Life today at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C. — organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Here is his homily in full.
A number of years ago, when I was studying theology in Berkeley, California, a human-interest story appeared in a major California newspaper. It may have been apocryphal, but to quote the great preacher Fr. Walter Burghardt, SJ, “All stories are true; some are even based in fact.”
The story recounted an experience of young parents preparing to bring a newborn baby home to meet their four-year-old daughter. Parents go to great lengths to prepare young children for newborns, helping them to understand pregnancy, infancy and how the household will change with a new baby. In this case, the parents were proud of how well they prepared their young daughter to welcome what turned out to be a new baby brother.
When the mom was discharged from the hospital, they brought baby brother home and his sister was waiting. Within their first few minutes together as a family of four, the sister asked her parents for time alone with her baby brother. The parents were perplexed and simply ignored the request. Why would a four-year-old need time alone with an infant? But as the days passed, the little girl persisted in asking for this time. Finally, they gave in to her request and brought her up to the nursery where the baby was in the crib. They went down to the kitchen, and not to be outdone, turned on the baby monitor to hear what this private meeting was all about. For a while there was silence, perhaps the sister was admiring her baby brother, but then she spoke and said to the baby, “Hurry up, tell me what God looks like, I think I forgot!”
We can hear a story like this and say our “oohs” and “aahs” and become somewhat patronizing of the four-year-old, as if to pat her head thinking, “cute but naive, what does an infant know?” But if you think about it, for all its simplicity, for all its plainness, for all its childishness, she proclaims a fundamental truth. We all come from God, God is the author of life, if anyone has intimate knowledge of God, why not an infant?
Our faith teaches us that human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end. As the prophet Job proclaims, “In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind!” (Job 12:10).
I believe that everyone assembled here today already knows this. Why else would you have come all this way? And we also know that this fundamental truth is not now upheld in the United States. The Declaration of Independence’s unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have not been given to all human beings in this land.
We assemble in this city and at this Mass to pray for these rights, to fight for these rights for every human being from conception until natural death.
How we engage this fundamental struggle is important, particularly as students, teachers, pastors and parishioners in Jesuit institutions. We don’t gather to separate ourselves from those who think differently than us, we gather to engage one another, especially those who do not share our beliefs, in the hope that our witness and our beliefs might be transformative.
In September of 2015 Pope Francis visited the U.S.; some of you may know that he was the first pope ever to address both houses of Congress. Interestingly enough, a Jesuit-educated member of Congress chose to boycott the pope’s address because he disagreed with some of what the pope might say. I was offering commentary with CNN on that day and discussed this with one of their senior correspondents, Christiane Amanpour, during a commercial break. As soon as the program resumed, she turned to me and asked, “Now Father, how could a Jesuit-educated member of Congress boycott the first Jesuit pope to address Congress?” (I gained a little insight that day on how news wrap-ups find some of their content). I then shared with her and the viewers that if you found a barricade in the street, you would probably find Jesuits on both sides of it, and that an essential component of Jesuit education is a search for truth — even if that search puts you outside of the mainstream.
On this day we are not so much in search of truth, because since God gave Moses the fifth commandment — through thousands of years of salvation history — the sanctity of human life has held firm. But we are in search of a way forward to protect and defend the least among us. We are in search of way to proclaim that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are in search of a way “to broaden the coalition of individuals interested in shaping our culture to one that respects human life in all its forms” as was written in the Jesuit Conference 2018 Statement “Protecting the Least Among Us.”
This fundamental search for truth, justice and the dignity of all human life requires immense faith. In the end we desire a change of hearts, not pride or vindication. If what we say and do wins us political battles which in the end do not promote the culture of life, what have we won for Christ? If our efforts do not unite but further divide, how do the least among us benefit?
This is why Saint Ignatius Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, always teaches us to desire God’s grace, particularly when addressing life’s greatest challenges. He teaches us to listen, knowing that God works through love and not hate, and that love can conquer all.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us, we must “speak the truth with love” (Eph 4:15). Success will not come through force of will; it will only come by changing hearts. Therefore, we must always keep watch over our own hearts and ensure they are filled with the love and hope needed for this holy work.
This past Monday we celebrated our national holiday in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At his monument, 2.5 miles from here, are memorable quotes from his life. In one of his most famous sermons, Loving Your Enemies, Dr. King preached: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can."
We are called this day to drive out darkness, to drive out hate with the light of Christ and the love of God. We are called to remember that we are all made in the very image and likeness of God and see the face of God in every stage of human life, from conception until death. And we are called, like that little four-year-old girl talking to her baby brother, to uphold the least among us and proclaim “This is what God looks like, in case you forgot!”