Bishop Ricken pointed to this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., as a sign of hope for the pro-life movement. He said three Masses were celebrated simultaneously to accommodate the large crowd of people from around the country.
“To me this is such a hopeful sign, because young people from throughout the country traveled all the way to Washington to express their solidarity with one another, their solidarity with the church, their solidarity in obedience to the voice of God, for the sake and the protection of life,” he said. “All of your prayers, your sacrifices … are beginning to pay off with the next generation.”
A second “symbol of hope” is the declining number of abortions in Wisconsin, said the bishop.
“That is a great tribute to the work and the sacrifices and the prayers that all of you have engaged in over the years and I feel privileged to come to a diocese in a state where abortion is declining,” he said.
The country also faces grave challenges, said Bishop Ricken. The most recent is the Freedom of Choice Act, proposed federal legislation which would overturn current laws that limit abortions and require parental involvement in minors’ abortion decisions.
“This is a serious and severe and dark challenge to the most innocent of lives,” said the bishop, adding that members of the diocese have been asked to participate in a postcard campaign urging congressional leaders to oppose FOCA.
Bishop Ricken referred to a column he wrote last October in The Compass, in which he said the protection of life in the womb is “the social justice issue of our day.”
“If there is no life, there is no other social justice issue at all,” he said. “So this is the social justice issue of our time and of our age. And if we really have integrity for following the social justice mission of the church, we must build upon the foundation of the gift of life and the protection of that gift of the most defenseless and voiceless of all human beings, the child in the womb.”
Bishop Ricken called the fight against abortion a “spiritual battle.”
“It’s a battle between the powers of light and darkness,” he explained. “As the Scriptures say, it’s a battle between principalities and powers, and you and I become puppets in that battle unless we choose to be obedient to God and say yes to Christ and openly joyfully, gladly do what we can do to preserve and protect the gift of life.”
He also warned that becoming complacent would risk souls.
“Brothers and sisters, this is something we are going to have to answer for at the judgment seat of Christ,” he said. “It won’t be just those who (have chosen) abortion, but it will be that silent majority that said nothing, that did nothing to promote the gift of life.”
Prayer and action are weapons in the fight against abortion, said Bishop Ricken. “Certain kinds of political action are very important also, as long as they are done with great love and compassion,” he said. “It would require great sacrifices, maybe even the shedding of blood, but … we must protect the gift of life of those who are most defenseless.”
Preventing abortions begins with preventing unwanted pregnancies. This means educating young people about chaste living, said Bishop Ricken.
“We need to make sure (young men and women) know the teaching of the church, so they save their bodies, which are temples of God, for sexual expression in the context of marriage and marriage alone,” he said. “We have to start teaching and preaching more clearly and having the courage to do so. I encourage my brother priests and deacons and I know you do already, but speak clearly about these issues. Lives are at stake. To the extent that we remain silent, perhaps we too are culpable.”
Bishop Ricken concluded his homily on a positive note, saying he is not discouraged.
“The longer this goes on, the more firm it makes me in my convictions. The Lord can use those weaknesses we have and turn them into strengths to protect life,” he said. “I know that everyone in this church … is already doing these things and I urge you to increase your efforts.
“Christ has come to set us free … and we must use the forces of truth and liberation to free ourselves and our culture from the grip of death and preach the culture of life in our world today.”