This homily was delivered by Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., on January 21. Thanks to Bishop Cupich for sharing it with us:
Our gathering this noon coincides with two national feasts, the inauguration of our president and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Both events put us in touch with rich resources to better appreciate our heritage as Americans, a citizenship we proudly own. For our nation, this is a moment of new beginning and a celebration of the constitutional legacy our ancestors have passed on to us. It is also a day that calls for national unity, so eloquently expressed by the poet Richard Blanco in the poem he created for today’s inauguration.
Blanco forces us to take another look at our unity through the image of the one sun that rose today ‘peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies….the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,” and in Newtown “on the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.”
We are here today to complete Blanco’s poem, for there are children who will not see the light of day as the one sun rises, who will not breathe the same breath we breathe, whose hands won’t be permitted to join the hands “gleaning coal or planting windmills in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane,” as Blanco so profoundly wrote.
We are here today to add to Blanco’s poem, and, in doing so, as the late Archbishop John May, a former president of our Bishops’ Conference once put it, “all we are saying is don’t forget about the baby.” We are here on behalf of the babies in the womb, inspired not by partisanship or pursuit of privilege or power, but by the same passion of patriotism that united a nation to mourn the loss of those babies in Newtown.
We are here because we see how much both tragedies have in common: both reveal the impact of social and emotional isolation when left untreated; both involve a resort to violence in dealing with it; both result in the debasement of human dignity, not only of those whose lives are taken, but of society; and in both there is the lingering threat to innocent and vulnerable life if no solution is forthcoming.
The Gospel today gives us the image of the futility of trying to patch a torn old cloak with new unshrunken cloth, for “the fullness of the new eventually will pull away.” That is an apt image for what we want to say to our fellow citizens on this day, a day that offers so much promise. The tear in the fabric of our nation wrought by no defense of the children of the future cannot be fixed with a patchwork of defending only those fortunate to see the light of day, permitted to take that first breath or enjoy the work of their own hands. No, we are saying that we need a new cloak that covers all.
We should not be disheartened or bitter if many of our fellow citizens do not heed us at this moment, nor should we pull back on our efforts to join hands with others to improve the lot of suffering people in need just because they don’t fully agree with us on everything. The truth will win out and we have to believe that a nation whose collective heart can break and grieve for babies slaughtered in Newtown has the capacity and God’s grace to one day grieve for the babies killed in the womb.
All of this suggests that the voice of the prophetic poet will benefit our cause more than the language of the politician or lawyer, the philosopher or even the theologian. It is a voice, as the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel reminded us, that “God has lent to the silent agony," a voice addressed both to the "plundered poor and to the profane riches of the world," a voice that reminds us that while "few may be guilty, all are responsible.”
So let us pray this day that the Lord will steady our hearts and anoint our lips to raise our voices in a way that invites, not divides, in a way that inspires and challenges our neighbors and nation’s leaders not to settle for a patchwork cloak. Not only will it not cover all, but it will continue to tear away, threatening the whole fabric of the nation. Let us add to Blanco’s poem calling for national unity, and remember as we do so that "all we are saying is don’t forget about the baby.”