Archbishop Aquila: ‘Let Us Build a Culture of Life’

Give witness to the truth, no matter the cost, Denver’s archbishop tells a respect-life Mass congregation.

(photo: Peter Zelasko/CNA)

Following is the homily given by Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila Jan. 20 at the archdiocese’s respect-life Mass. An audio recording of the homily is also available.  Archbishop Aquila released a pastoral letter Jan. 22 recounting two life-changing personal encounters he has had with abortion.


My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, this coming Tuesday (Jan. 22) our nation will mark the 40th anniversary of a culture of death.

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (and Doe v. Bolton decision) wiped away the protection of life for the unborn child. And they did so not just for the first three months of the child’s life, but for all nine months. We have now seen a consistent progression in our society and in our culture of embracing a culture of death, of rejecting the gift and the dignity of human life. This morning, I would like to reflect with you, in light of our readings, upon the gift of marriage, the gift of faith and, finally, the importance of us living our faith in the world and building a culture of life.

In our readings, we hear of the feast of Cana, in John’s Gospel. Cana is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The first of his signs takes place at a wedding. Mary is deeply involved in this miracle. She is the one who prompts it. She is the one who goes to Jesus and tells him that this poor couple has run out of wine. And Jesus speaks to her: “My hour has not yet come.” But she has full confidence in Jesus, knowing that he is truly God and man. Going back to the promise that the angel had given to her of who her son would be, she turns to the waiters, full of trust and confidence and faith in Jesus, and speaks the words, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Just as her deepest desire is obedience to God, so, too, is Jesus’ deepest desire obedience to his Father: “I have come to do the will of my Father.” And the Father’s will is always first in Jesus’ life, just as doing the will of God is always first in Mary’s life. And the water becomes wine. And we see in that great image that is given to us the gift that is bestowed upon the wedding couple, upon man and woman.           

It is important for us to go back to the very beginning of the creation of man and woman. Man, we are told in Genesis, is first created alone. The Lord gives him everything. But there is still an emptiness in the man, and there is the gift of woman that is given to the man. And the man rejoices; he is filled with joy: “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this shall be called 'woman.'” And then what does God do? God blesses them and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. And, note, my dearest sisters and brothers, all of this is before the Fall.

The gift of human sexual intimacy is linked to procreation. It is linked to the unity and the complementarity of man and woman. And, certainly, it is evident in the natural order that, when a man and woman unite, they are given the gift of procreation. It is only after the Fall that things become distorted, that we lose the original meaning of sexual intimacy, that we lose the original meaning of seeing fertility as a gift: not a burden, but as a gift.           

The reading from Isaiah demonstrates that God desires us to receive his love. He uses, through the voice of the prophet, nuptial language: “You shall be called ‘my delight,’ your land ‘espoused.’ The Lord delights in you. … As a young man marries a virgin, your builder shall marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Within that nuptial imagery, again, we see clearly the depth of God’s love for us, that he desires each and every one of us to be in union with him. There is no human being on this earth who is not made for union with God. We will have happiness only when we enter into that union and receive the love of our God.

In the decision of Roe v. Wade, there were many separations that occurred: between the procreative and the unitive, between receiving the gift of life and perceiving life as a gift. Pregnancy began to be seen as a problem. Sexual promiscuity was rampant during the sexual revolution of the late ’60s, the ’70s, and even into today promiscuity is still rampant.

When one separates the unitive and the procreative elements of the sexual act, anything can be justified when it comes to human sexuality. One can redefine marriage. One can justify single sexual acts, multiple sexual acts, adultery, whatever one wishes. It is important for us to understand that, to see that sexual intimacy in the plan of God is always meant for marriage. It is important to preserve the unitive and the procreative element and our share in the act of creation with God; important to understand that Our Lord desires that procreativity for us. He desires us spiritually to be in intimacy with him.

Every saint — and all of us are called to be saints — allows his or her soul to be married to Christ and to seek God alone. And so that nuptial imagery is essential for us as human beings — to embrace it and to live it out. We are called to chastity if we are not married and to live chaste lives. We are called, if we are in marriage, never to contracept because it goes against the unitive and the procreative, and anytime they are broken, it distorts the meaning of sexual intimacy and of marriage itself.           

We are called to put our faith in the promises that Our Lord has given to us. We are told at the conclusion of the Gospel today: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana and Galilee, and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”

And we, too, are called as Catholics to faith. We are called to be those who put our trust and confidence in the promises that our God has given to us. Whenever we abandon that trust, disaster happens. And we can see that in the Old Testament. When the people were faithful, things usually went well. And even in the midst of faithfulness … at times they could suffer and experience suffering.

For us as Christians, we know that happened to Jesus — that he always remained faithful to the Father as a father’s beloved son. And yet he experienced suffering because humanity, because of her sinfulness, rejected him and said No. But Our Lord, who is faithful to his promises, in the resurrection of Jesus, conquered sin and death.

Mary is the first disciple who puts her complete faith in the promise that is given to her. She hears and refers back to the prophecy in Micah: “A virgin shall bear a child, and his name shall be Emmanuel, God is with us.” And she is confident that with God all things are possible when they are true, good and beautiful. She embraces that truth and says, “Let it be done unto me according to your word,” and she puts her faith and trust in the Lord, just as she did at the wedding feast of Cana. “Do whatever he tells you”; the last words she ever speaks in the four Gospels: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary always points us to Jesus, and we, too, are called to put our faith in Jesus, to have trust and confidence in him, to be in a personal relationship with him and to live that out in our daily lives. It is only through the obedience of faith, through that trust and confidence in the Lord that we will come to be those who give witness to our faith in the world, no matter what the cost.

And that brings me to the third point: the importance of proclaiming the Gospel and living the Gospel within our own world. In 1965, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers spoke of one of the great errors and serious errors of our age: the separation between one’s faith and the way one lives one’s faith in the world. The Council Fathers reminded us that this split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.

“Therefore,” they decreed, “let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part and religious life on the other.” And then they go on to state, “The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, jeopardizes his eternal salvation.”            

My beloved brothers and sisters, this has only become worse in our own time. There are many Catholics who have embraced this error. There are many religious and even some priests and even some bishops who have embraced that error. As a Catholic people, as a people faithful to Jesus Christ and to those who have gone before us, we must give witness to the truth, no matter what the cost.

Those Catholics who take a pro-choice position, those Catholics who support a so-called “right to abortion,” those Catholics who support same-sex unions, those Catholics who reject the truth about the nuptial meaning of the human body put their souls in jeopardy of eternal salvation, and we cannot ever forget that.

If we do not understand the teaching of the Church on life, or if we do not understand the teaching of the Church on human sexuality and intimacy, we have the responsibility to learn why the Church teaches what she teaches, not to just reject it out of hand, because then we are listening to the voice of the culture of death. We are listening to the voice of the evil one and not to the voice of Christ and the voice of truth.

All of us certainly have heard, whether it be in the newspapers, on the news, listening to the radio or watching television, about the recent interview this past week between Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey in which he admits to doping. One of the things that he stated was, “I didn’t invent the culture, but I didn’t do anything to stop it.” Listen to those words: “I didn’t invent the culture.”

My dearest young people, so many of you who are here, you did not invent the culture we live in. But, my beloved young people, do not do what Armstrong did. Put your efforts at work to stop it. Because that is the only way you will find peace, joy and happiness.

For too long, many Catholics have not stopped our culture’s demise. They have said, “Well, we personally support what the Church teaches, but we do not want to impose it on anyone.” Yet, what is the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) doing? What are atheists doing today? They are imposing on the culture that there is no God. Anytime that happens, a culture and society will eventually collapse and be destroyed.

The culture of death has grown in our times, and it is because we have failed to speak the truth and hold one another accountable, to live our faith in the world and to transform culture. We are called to be those who do that always with charity. But we must be those who proclaim it and do not live that error of the split between our faith and the way that we live our daily lives.

We must be a people who proclaim clearly that human life begins at the moment of conception. Even without God, that is what science tells us. Every one of us who is present here — our lives began at the moment of conception; we would not be here if that did not happen. It is truly still a miracle — one that should fill our hearts with wonder and awe.

And so we must affirm the gift of life and speak the truth. The dignity of the unborn child has the same dignity as those of us who are living (in the world). And we must understand that truth and proclaim that truth. One’s life does not have more dignity just because he or she was born. Dignity is inherent in every human being.

As we continue with our celebration of the Eucharist today, let us open our hearts to, first of all, the love of our God, who so desires to be espoused with us; the God who speaks to each one of our hearts today and says, “My delight, my espoused.” He desires that you give him your heart, that you give him your soul. He desires to be in union with you, and the greatest place where we find that union is within the Eucharist that we will receive in a few moments.

Let us, in this Year of Faith, pray each day for a deeper faith, for a deeper trust and confidence in the promises that Our Lord has given to us.

May we come to recognize that nothing is impossible with God when it is for the good and the true. May we come to recognize with Mary that we are called to speak with her.  

May we trust in Jesus to do whatever he tells us, to live the Gospel and to be faithful to it. Finally, my beloved brothers and sisters, my beloved sons and daughters, let us examine our own hearts. We are formed by the culture in which we live. We are called to transform that culture and build a culture of life.

I urge us to open our hearts, to live in our faith in the world, in the public square. Be not afraid to give witness to Jesus Christ and all that he has accomplished in your life, to the happiness and the joy that he brings to you. Do not be afraid to build a culture of life. Only by challenging the culture will the culture of death give way. Only by challenging the culture will we build a culture of life.

Let us remember that the victory has been won in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because of him and him alone that we are able to give that witness and to lay down our lives as he laid down his life for us.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila shepherds the Archdiocese of Denver.

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