Mass Before the March for Life
The Solemnity of the Conversion of Saint Paul
I bring you greetings from His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, and in his name I thank you for your presence here today and for your invaluable witness to life. He wishes he could be here with you today and is remembering you in his prayers, especially at the altar of the Lord. Let us remember him in our prayers, as well.
When Bilbo Baggins returned to his hole in the hill after his adventure with thirteen dwarves and a dragon, the wizard Gandalf said to Bilbo, “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.” Indeed, having gone to Lonely Mountain and back again, Bilbo lost the respect of his neighbors, but he won the esteem of the great lords of Middle earth.
In the very dangers and marvels in which he found himself with Thorin and Company, Bilbo encountered something numinous – we might say it was grace – and he was never the same because of it. His adventure, then, was more than an adventure; it was a pilgrimage, though he did not know it when he left his comfortable hobbit hole.
As we celebrate today the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, we see that he, too, encountered something – rather someone – numinous during his travels on the road to Damascus; he encountered Jesus Christ, whom he had been persecuting, risen from the dead, and he would never be the same because of it (cf. Acts 22:8). His journey, then, was more than a journey, though he did not know it at the start; it, too, was a pilgrimage of sorts.
Whenever we think of Saint Paul’s conversion and how it occurred, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that
we may be tempted to linger too long on certain details, such as the light in the sky, falling to the ground, the voice that called him, his new condition of blindness, his healing like scales falling from his eyes and the fast that he made. But all these details refer to the heart of the event: the Risen Christ appears as a brilliant light and speaks to Saul, transforms his thinking and his entire life. The dazzling radiance of the Risen Christ blinds him; thus what was his inner reality is also outwardly apparent, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ. And then his definitive “yes” to Christ in Baptism restores his sight and makes him really see.
On the day of our baptisms, the light of Christ shone brightly before us, as well, and we also gave our definitive “yes” to Jesus Christ. It is this great yes - by which we have entrusted the entirety of our lives to the Lord - that has brought us here together in faith in our nation’s capital city.
Like Bilbo and Saint Paul, we, too, have set out from our respective homes on a journey. And like Bilbo, we know at least where we are going and that we intend go back again; like Saint Paul, we are zealous for God, or at least we hope to be when we, too, return changed (cf. Acts 22:3). But unlike Bilbo, we have not set out on a mere adventure, and unlike Saint Paul, we have already encountered the Risen Lord. Why, then, have we set out on a long ride through the night, through cold and snow, only to stand around a long time to walk through crowded streets in the cold, and possibly in the snow? From a pragmatic perspective, it seems rather foolish, but we know, as Bilbo knew about adventures, that pilgrimages “are not all pony-rides in May-sunshine;” a pilgrimage necessarily entails a sharing in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To be sure, we have set out not as adventures, not as tourists, but as pilgrims; this we must not forget. An adventurer seeks a tale to tell; a tourist looks for a quick image to capture or a meal to enjoy; but a pilgrim searches for the face of God (cf. Psalm 42:3).
Today, in the streets of Washington, D.C., we will join hundreds of thousands of others in the great March for Life. In so doing, we take up the command of the Lord to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News” of God’s love (Mark 16:15). We come in peaceful protest of the terrible – in the true sense of that word – decision of the Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade.
As you know, this decision legalized the killing of unborn children through the despicable practice known as abortion. Since that horrid day on January 22, 1973, more than 55 million babies have been killed in this nation alone.
To put that number in some perspective, some 1.5 million Americans have been killed in every war in which this country has fought since 1775. Put another way, the number of children killed by abortion each year is this country is greater than the present populations of the States of Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Tennessee combined. To put it even more starkly, in the same span of time in which more than 55,000,000 children were aborted in our land, just 133,115,440 were born. The number is staggering. And terribly sad.
All of this in this nation founded on the very principle that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These rights, we say, are “self-evident,” though many in our day are, like Saul once was, blinded to the truth. We march today and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves; we ask for the recognition of their same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, dear brothers and sisters, let us remember that we come as humble pilgrims of peace who seek not only to share in the sufferings of Christ for the redemption of the world, but also to imitate him in his Passion. Saint Paul knew the power of redemptive suffering very well. He realized it so well that he wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). What is more, the Lord Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (IICorinthians 12:9).
Today we march not with power, but with weakness; not with anger, but with love. We come in imitation of Our Lord who, when mocked and taunted, reviled and beaten, “though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). We cannot forget what the philosopher Peter Kreeft has wisely observed:
The weakness of evil is that it cannot conquer weakness. No matter how much power evil has, it is always defeated by the free, loving renunciation of power. It can be defeated in Middle-earth as it was on Calvary: by martyrdom. Scripture’s image of the last battle between good and evil is a battle between two mythical beasts: Arnion, the meek little Lamb, and Therion, the terrible dragon beast. And the Lamb overcomes the Beast by a secret weapon: His own blood.
Evil is limited to power; it cannot use weakness. It is limited to pride; it cannot use humility. It is limited to inflicting suffering and death; it cannot use suffering and death. It is limited to selfishness; it cannot use selflessness. But good can.
Having received baptism into the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, let us call upon his name, imploring him to open the eyes of those blinded to the slaughter of so many innocents. Let us ask also the intercession of Saint Paul whose own eyes were opened to the truth of Jesus Christ, to him who is “the way and the truth and the life,” that those who are blinded by selfishness and greed may be converted from the Culture of Death to the Culture of Life, the Culture of Love (cf. Acts 22:16; John 14:6).
On our way to the Supreme Court, let us also humbly ask to encounter the Lord ourselves, that our hearts, too, may be changed and filled with an ever greater love of God and of neighbor. Let us pray that our walking and witnessing today will bring us into greater conformity with the Person of Jesus Christ so that, on seeing us on our return home, others may rightly say, “You are not the person that you were.” May we, and all who see us this day, know that “steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever” (Psalm 117:2).
By our presence here today we may lose the respect of our neighbors, but will win the esteem of the friends of God. Amen.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 4.
 Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 3 September 2008.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 37.
 The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
 Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 184-185.