Archbishop Aquila at Respect Life Mass: If dignity of human life does not exist at the beginning and the end, it will not exist in between

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Below is the full transcript of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s homily he gave during the Respect Life Mass, celebrated Jan. 23 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This transcription has been edited for clarity with Archbishop Aquila’s approval. 

Today, as we gather, we remember the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in which for 48 years, human life has been struck down from the very beginning, that unborn children have been thrown away, in the words of Pope Francis: tossed away. In our readings, they point first to the blood of Christ and the gift that the blood of Christ brings about. The letter to the Hebrews states, … “how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”   

It is important to listen to those words. First, when we look at a crucifix, we see one of the most brutal ways of killing another person. The movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, captured well the suffering of Jesus, and his tremendous love for us and God’s love for us. 

We see, too, that the Blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from dead works; important words because our conscience is the voice of God. Our conscience is not my voice. Our conscience is not the voice of the world, but rather, the voice of God himself. These are crucial facts [to know] about our conscience. It can be erroneous, and it can be dead. It is dead when I do not listen to the voice of God, and it is [not] my conscience when it is my voice or opinion. That is the work of the devil as he is the deceiver. The devil wants to deaden our consciences or have our consciences can be erroneous. The voice of the evil one can even pose as light. 

When we believe we are listening to our conscience, we must test it. Is it truly the voice of God? Is it consistent with the Gospel and the teachings of the Church? Our consciences must be formed according to the Gospel and according to the teachings of the Church. We must listen to that, and then our works will become good, and they will bring light. 

When it comes to human life and the dignity of human life, Pope Francis has spoken clearly about the dignity of the unborn child and about the evil of abortion. All you must do is Google, “Pope Francis sayings on abortion,” and you will have a lengthy list of what he has stated – a list that the media does not want to look at, and a list that Catholics at times do not want to look at because it does not fit their image of Pope Francis. He is one who has always said, “the teaching of the Church is clear on abortion, and I am a son of the Church.” 

One must be merciful with the woman who has had an abortion. When one is merciful towards a woman who has had an abortion, it does not mean that one condones the abortion. The two are quite different. Women who have had abortions are broken. They are wounded, and especially when they come to their senses, like the younger son in the story of the prodigal son. He comes to his senses and realizes the sin that is present, he does not condone his sin or look for approval from others. His dead conscience is awakened, and he returns to the father. And the father welcomes him with love and with mercy. That is exactly the way the Church must treat the woman who has had an abortion and who comes to her senses. The Church accompanies her in the mercy and the love of Jesus Christ because that is what is going to heal the wound. That is what is going to help her, to see how much the Father loves her, and bring her to true repentance. 

The Gospel reading is very brief. There are relatives of Jesus who obviously thought he was nuts, to put it in the vernacular. They said “he is out of his mind” because of what he taught, because of what he did. And even though they visibly saw the miracles that occurred, they still thought he was crazy. They never asked, “by what power does he do this?” They just wrote off Jesus.  

That, too, is important for us, because there are many today in the world who completely write off Jesus. In fact, they hate Jesus. But there are also many Catholics, unfortunately, who think Jesus is crazy, or some of his teachings are crazy, and especially when it comes to human life and the dignity of the unborn child. It is important for us as Catholics that both our hearts and our minds, that our words, thoughts, and actions, are always conformed to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel, and not to the ways of the world. 

A question we must ask ourselves is, “Are my words and actions, my thoughts truly subordinate to the teachings of God and to the truth of the Gospel, or do I go along with the ways of the world?” 

That is precisely the problem with now President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and other Catholic politicians and laity who, when it comes to the dignity of human life for the unborn child, do not subordinate their positions to the truth of the Gospel and fail to give witness to life. And what they truly do not understand is that they are putting their eternal souls in jeopardy by the position they take. 

Yes, there is a heaven and there is a hell. And yes, we will be judged, as we proclaim in the Creed and as the Lord taught in the Gospels. It is for the salvation of souls that Pope Francis, that bishops and priests, speak so ardently on the Gospel and the Gospel of Life. If we do not accept the dignity of the unborn child, then we will not accept, or we will find other ways to get around the dignity of other human beings, and we see that in euthanasia today.  

It is important to give witness to the dignity of the unborn, [as well as] give witness to the dignity of the human being when it comes to immigration, when it comes to capital punishment, and other life issues. But we are also clear that the preeminent [concern], and the place dignity begins, is with the unborn child and the dying – at the beginning of life and at the end of life. If dignity does not exist at those two points – at the beginning and the end – it will not exist in between.  

And so we too, today, when we speak out on the Gospel of Life, must clearly speak the truth, and do it with love, mercy, and gentleness. We must never back off the teaching on life. We can never take the position of a Pelosi or a Biden or of so many other Catholics. 

By their positions they give scandal to the Church by what they do, because what they do is wrong. And we must be clear about that. One day, as every one of us will, they will die, and stand before the judgment of God. Our task is to urgently pray for their conversion, for their change of heart. It is not a political issue. It is an issue of salvation. It is an issue of integrity. It is an issue of living the Gospel, and of being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. You cannot just pick what you want to follow. Jesus is clear that if we are his disciples, we must take the narrow road. And we must never forget Jesus, too, is truly clear about the possibility of hell and people going to hell, and he encourages his disciples to enter through the narrow gate, to take the narrow road.  

He also warns his disciples, and we use his words to warn Biden and Pelosi and other Catholics, “There will be many who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ on the day of judgment, and I will say, ‘I do not know you.’”  

Those are tough words to hear. Jesus does not say, “Yeah, I’ll just open the gates and let you all in.” He is clear, that our hearts, our minds, our words, our actions, must be formed by him and by his way of thinking. That is why St. Paul will remind us in his letters for us to put on the heart and the mind of Jesus Christ.  

And so, as we continue today, let us first pray for the conversion of our country and for the conversion especially of Catholics who take a so-called pro-choice position, or who say, “well, I am personally opposed, but it is fine for you to do it.” They would never say that about cheating or lying, about embezzling or anything else. Abortion is much more of a grave sin than any of those, as is euthanasia. We must pray for their conversion, for the awakening of their consciences, that they may no longer be dead or erroneous, but come to the truth of Jesus Christ. 

Second, we must also pray that the blood of Christ will bathe all the sins and sinners in the world. All of us are sinners, all of us need the blood of Christ, all of us need to be bathed in it, seeking reparation for the sins against human life, seeking reparation for my own personal sin. 

Third, we must pray that our own hearts and minds, our words, our thoughts, our actions may truly be formed by Jesus Christ. Praying to the Holy Spirit and opening our hearts to the Spirit, we must continue to ask the Spirit to form our hearts and our minds so we may embrace the Gospel of Life and give witness to it, no matter what the cost, and be faithful to Jesus Christ and all that he teaches. 

Jesus and Jesus alone will save the world. It is not humanity. Human beings can never create a perfect world, and it is delusional to think so. It is only when our hearts and minds are formed and configured to the order of God, as revealed in Scripture, that there will be true peace in the world.  

So, let us ask the Lord to open our hearts to that truth and let us pray that we may always have the courage to be those who give witness to the Gospel of Life, at both the beginning of life from the moment of conception, until natural death at the end of life, when hopefully we will enter the glory of God and the promise of eternal life.  

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.