Archbishop Cordileone: ‘The Solution to Building a Culture of Life is Being True Christians’
‘The new secular religion of our own time takes on this practice in an almost sacramental way: indeed, abortion has become, for them, their blessed sacrament, what they hold most sacred, the doctrine and practice upon which their whole belief system is built.’
Editor's Note: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco offered this homily during his Mass before the Walk for Life West Coast Jan. 22, 2022. It is reprinted here in its entirety with permission from the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
There is an old saying, a question really, that is a sort of a self-assessment of faith, a way of gauging where one is at in terms of walking with the Lord Jesus: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Just what is that evidence? The readings we just heard proclaimed in our Mass today give us the answer: the Beatitudes. A simplistic way of looking at the Beatitudes might see them merely as a list of efforts with corresponding rewards. But that’s not really the point. It is better to see the Beatitudes as the hallmarks of the Christian life, very similar to what St. James tells us about true wisdom, and its opposite, false wisdom. Let’s ponder that for a moment.
The false wisdom, he says, is not from above but earthly; he calls it unspiritual, and most notably, demonic. What are the signs of this demonic influence? Jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and “every foul practice” – that is to say, all that is evil and wrong. Disorder and evil are demonic, and the devil uses tactics such as jealousy and selfish ambition to get there. “Selfish ambition” here means the attitude of doing something only for what you can get out of it, seeking any means possible to gain what you want for yourself only. And jealousy, of course, focuses one in on oneself and alienates one from others. So this brings us back to the beginning.
Remember, in creating the universe, God created order out of chaos. Order is reflective of God, and God gave us the power to create order out of chaos, thus creating us in His image and likeness. And then, of course, that harmony was disrupted with the fall of our first parents, when the human race alienated itself from God. The devil is the great divider, dividing us from God and from one another. To get his way and drag us to hell with him, he uses the classic strategy of war: divide and conquer. But he does it very cleverly, because he knows that if we were to see evil for what it is we would be repulsed by it.
In our own time, this has all become a sort of religion of its own, one that takes the form of a hyper-aggressive, anti-Christian kind of a secularism. This is all around us nowadays, and this kind of secularism has all the marks of a religion: infallible dogmas, rituals, saints, creedal statements and condemnation of heretical teachings along with punishment of the heretics who hold them and dare to speak them in public, index of forbidden books, even sacraments. On this last point this new religion mirrors the pagan, which is to say demonic, religions of the ancient biblical world, religious practices to which even God’s Chosen People succumbed.
“They sacrificed to demons their own sons and daughters, shedding innocent blood, the blood of their own sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,” we read in Psalm 106. The words “demons” and “idols” here are the same word in the Hebrew language: idols, that is, false gods, are demons. And what is meant by “the idols of Canaan”?
The Lord warns His people in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall not offer any of your offspring for immolation to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord” (Lev 18:21). Molech was the god of the ancient Canaanites, inhabitants of the same land as the Israelites, to whom they sacrificed their children. Later on in the Book of Leviticus, the Lord admonishes His people even more harshly: “Anyone, whether an Israelite or an alien residing in Israel, who gives offspring to Molech shall be put to death. The people of the land shall stone that person. I myself will turn against and cut off that individual from among the people; for in the giving of offspring to Molech, my sanctuary was defiled and my holy name was profaned” (Lev 20:2). Sadly, many of God’s people did not listen and went over to this horrendous practice of their pagan neighbors.
The new secular religion of our own time takes on this practice in an almost sacramental way: indeed, abortion has become, for them, their blessed sacrament, what they hold most sacred, the doctrine and practice upon which their whole belief system is built. That is why we see such visceral and violent reaction to any even minimal regulation of abortion in the law, regulations that even those who believe it should be kept legal would see as reasonable, such as informed consent and parental consent. It should come as no surprise that the first to challenge the Texas Heartbeat Bill was the Satanic Temple, and precisely on the grounds of deprivation of religious liberty: they need abortion to carry out their religious rituals.
That all, then, is the false wisdom. Now let us consider the true wisdom, the wisdom which comes from above. What does St. James tell us this wisdom is like? It is the life of the Beatitudes. What he says here, is it not what our Lord teaches in proclaiming the Beatitudes? “Pure,” that is, “clean of heart”; “peaceable,” as in, the peacemakers are the ones who are truly blessed; “gentle” and “meek”; “compliant” which is the true sense of being “poor in spirit”; “full of mercy,” that is to say, “merciful”; “hunger and thirst for righteousness” which bears the “good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity .. of righteousness.” In short, this is the life of virtue. And let’s be clear: “beatitude” is synonymous with “happiness.” God wants us to be happy, and He provides us this path to get there; the devil wants us to be miserable, he wants our demise, he wants to drag us to hell with him, and he entices us by getting us to think only of ourselves and so dividing us from one another and ultimately from God.
The true Christian is the one who lives according to true wisdom and so is on the path to lasting happiness, a path which is walked by means of the virtues, both the natural and the theological virtues. And God gives us the help that we need, above all the grace of the sacramental life of the Church. We have the real Blessed Sacrament. How much of the desecration of human life we witness in our time is due to a loss of the sense of the sacred, even that which is most sacred, the Blessed Sacrament? Do we do all possible to respect the integrity of the Blessed Sacrament and avoid its desecration by receiving reverently and worthily, always giving God our best in worship?
How many people are there who claim to be Christian and yet have been mindlessly co-opted by the new secular religion and its false blessed sacrament? They are like the Israelites of ancient times who gave themselves over to the worship of Molech. But there is only one Blessed Sacrament; to live as if there were two brings desecration of what is sacred on both fronts: the Bread of Life on the altar and human life in the womb.
The Effort Continues
And yet, the reason we are seeing such extreme reaction from the protagonists of this new religion is precisely because of the progress being made in the movement to affirm the dignity and inviolability of human life in the womb. That is thanks to all of you. Thank you! We are, of course, in a very pivotal moment, as we pray with great hope for a Supreme Court decision that respects this sacred principle in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case on the Mississippi law banning abortion after fifteen weeks gestation. But let us not think we can relax our efforts even with the right decision. Either way, our efforts will continue.
The devil will not stop until he is defeated and returned to hell definitively when our Lord returns. There will always be attacks on the dignity of human life, and they will intensify. Our own governor has promised to make California a sanctuary state for abortion, which is to say a sanctuary state for killing, for killing the innocent, a sanctuary state for the worship of Molech. So we will continue to work to build a culture of life, by advocating for life, by providing women in crisis pregnancies love and support and all that they need to know they are valued, respected and have friends walking with them in their time of distress, giving them the opportunity to make the happiest decision of all, the decision for life. As we do so, we will have plenty of opportunity to live the last Beatitude.
Let us not forget the last Beatitude; it is the Beatitude in which our Lord shifts from the third person, “Blessed are they,” to the second person, “Blessed are you,” thus making it very direct and personal: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.” That’s when we know we will have cause to rejoice, because we will be pleasing to God and identifying ourselves with His Son: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
We will be capable of such rejoicing only if we do the most important work of all: living according to true wisdom. All else we do will be ineffective if we don’t do this most important thing, living the life of beatitude, the life of the virtues. The solution to building a culture of life is us being true Christians, those who live by true wisdom: purity, preserving a clean heart and clean mind, pure eyes that look upon the other and see the other as a fellow human being with God-given dignity and not a means to an end, never seeking my own pleasure or looking for what I’m going to get out of the relationship but affirming the value of the other for the other’s good; the spirit of poverty which seeks out God’s will and complies with it no matter the cost, knowing that God will provide all we need to find happiness with Him; being constant and sincere in our faith, regular in its practice and devotion, frequenting the sacrament of Penance so as always to revere the sacred gift God gives us on the altar and in the other; a life committed to the works of charity, seeking always the good of the other for the other’s sake.
May God grant us the grace to live this way, in accordance with His plan, so that, if we ever are arrested for being Christians, there will be plenty of evidence to convict us. Then we will be able to rejoice and be glad, for a pure conscience wins the day, and God will grant us a great reward in His heavenly Kingdom of eternal light, rest and peace.