Tag Archives: March for Life

On Martyrs and Marchers

Ann AstellSr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, January 20. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

Brothers and sisters, in your relations with one another,
clothe yourselves with humility,
because God “is stern with the arrogant
but to the humble he shows kindness.”
Bow humbly before God’s mighty hand,
so that in due time he may lift you high.

Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.

Stay sober and alert.
Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, solid in your faith,
realizing that the brotherhood of believers
is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world.

The God of all grace,
who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ,
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish
those who have suffered a little while.
Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen.
(1 Peter 5:5b–11)

Today is the feast of a martyr, St. Sebastian, who gave his life for Christ in the third century, under the emperor Diocletian. Christian art depicts Sebastian as an alter Christus, muscular, young, bound naked to a post, his body shot full of arrows, as Jesus was nailed to his Cross. The epistle of Peter speaks to Sebastian and to all the martyrs. It rings in their ears: “Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:–9). A prowling lion! During the reigns of Nero and Diocletian, Christians were literally fed to lions.

Throughout the centuries, however, the epistle’s exhortation sounds in the present tense. When has the age of martyrs ever ended? To Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., who died on January 20, 1873, and whose feast we also observe today—to him too came the call to martyrdom! A martyrdom suffered not with a pagan emperor’s arrows and not through violent death, but through the suppression of the Church in a fiercely laical France. Facing that hostility and the countless challenges that were his as a founder, he looked to the Cross as his—and our—only hope.

We celebrate these Vespers on the eve of the departure of Notre Dame students and faculty who will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to bear witness to the sanctity of human life in the midst of a culture of death. They will end their march at the steps leading up to the Supreme Court Building, where the Roe v. Wade decision was made in 1973, and where an important case with regard to religious liberty and health care is currently being considered. To the Little Sisters of the Poor, their legal defenders, and their co-litigants, the call to martyrdom has also come. Staying “sober and alert,” they have “cast all their care” on the Lord who cares for them, trusting that he “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish those who have suffered a little while” (1 Pet 5:7–8, 10).

According to the epistle we have just heard, Christians undergoing persecution and trial can draw strength from the knowledge that they do not suffer alone, that “the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:9). In our day, “throughout the world” brings to mind a litany of place names: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burundi, Mexico, Brazil, refugee camps in Europe. Everywhere the lion prowls. And everywhere brave souls continue to love, to hope, to confess Christ, to bow humbly beneath the cross, terrible and triumphant, that conforms the Christian to Christ. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

On this day, January 20, in 1942, Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885–1968), a Pallottine priest and the founder of Schoenstatt, celebrated Holy Mass in his prison cell. Soon to be sent to Dachau, where he was to suffer for three and a half years, Fr. Kentenich freely laid down his life in union with Christ during that Eucharist, celebrated alone and in secret, but in spiritual union with his followers, some of whom were already prisoners in the concentration camp. “The brotherhood of believers” (1 Pet 5:9)! Fr. Kentenich’s risk-taking, his trusting “yes” to the Cross, expressed his deep faith in Christ, but also in the mystical body of Christ, the communion of saints. “What I do, what I suffer, how I love, affects others,” he wrote.

Let us live our lives, day by day, in a greater consciousness of our responsibility for one another, in solidarity with the martyrs who suffer not only for Christ but, in Christ, for us.

St. Sebastian, Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us.

“I’m Here!”—The Cry for Human Communion

Jessica Keating, M.Div.
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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“Aunt Jessie, I’m here!” gleefully announced my three-year-old nephew as he jumped out of his car seat and dashed across the driveway toward me. This was the warmest greeting I had ever received from Sam, who has often been known to furrow his eyebrows and wag his finger at me while yelling, “No, not you!” But now, declaring his presence, he threw his flailing arms around me, laid his cow-licked head on my shoulder, and melted into my jacket. His declaration of self, so appropriate to the three-year-old child, was not merely a verbal statement of fact, but indeed an embodied request for recognition and affection.

“I’m here!” The grandeur of his annunciation is as remarkable as it is commonplace. As a child in the womb, Sam first indicated his unseen presence through morning sickness. Later, he becoming a bit bolder: he announced himself through fluttering sensations, then through sharp jabs, somersaults, and kicks. As an infant, he announced his presence through sound—crying, shrieking, laughing, gurgling, oohing and aahhhing. As a three-year-old, he announces his presence by nesting in the arms of his mother, standing on chairs, dominating conversation, wrestling with his father, and exclaiming, “Look at me!” As he ages, he will, I suspect, express his desire for human communion in new ways, developing a repertoire of more and less subtle ways to announce his presence—to request recognition and affection. By the time he nears the final years of his life, he may recognize—as his 83-year-old grandfather (my father) said to me just yesterday—that one of the most fundamental of human desires is “to be touched and cared for by other human beings. In the end, that’s all we have.”

In the end, this is exactly what God has done for us in Christ. He has made known to us the tenderness of his love in the very flesh of his Son. The divine and the human have not only come into accidental contact, as one might brush against another in the subway, but have embraced. Indeed, ours is not a distant, remote God, but a God who caresses us and holds us. Ours is a God who loves us with a love so fiercely tender He became an infant. Our is a God who declares in the Christ, “I’m here!” and in this declaration answers our plea for recognition and affection.

Yet, increasingly it seems that we cultivate attitudes, enact practices, and structure our world in ways that silence the pleas of the forgotten and the poorest—from the unborn child and her mother in crisis, to the homeless veteran, to the elderly and dying. Each human being by her participation in the vocation of existence cries out, “I am here; love me.” “I am lonely; lavish affection and tenderness on me.” “I am invisible; do not forget me.” “I am small; protect me.” “I am vulnerable; draw near to me.” “I am scared; comfort me.” “I am fragile; hold me.”

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling and the concomitant Doe v. Bolton ruling. Together these two federal decisions effectively sanctioned the right to access abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. Every year since 1973, people from around the country have gathered on the National Mall to march for life in prayer and protest. For the past two years, I have been one of these pilgrim marchers requesting legal recognition for the lives of unborn children. This plea, which on the surface can appear one-dimensional, is actually a plea for what Pope Francis has called a “revolution of tenderness” (Evangelii Gaudium, §88). It is a plea for policies—economic, social, educational, and legal—that support families. It is a plea for the formation of communities of men and women that encounter the unborn child and her mother, the disabled, the homeless, and the elderly not as burdens to be cast off, but as those who cry out in all their particularity and need the desire for human communion, for human embrace, for recognition and love.