Homily given at St. Matthew's Cathedral
I am very happy to be here at St. Matthew Cathedral to offer this diocesan pro-life Mass on this, my first Sunday as bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. I wish to thank you for your presence at this Mass and for your prayers on behalf of life. This coming Friday, Jan. 22, is the 37th anniversary of the tragic day in 1973 when the Supreme Court of the United States took away our nation’s protection of the life of innocent unborn children. Many of us will gather on Friday at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., to bear witness to the Gospel of Life and to express our opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision.
Throughout all these years, the Catholic Church in the United States has called on our nation to restore love and protection to our unborn brothers and sisters. Faithful to the Gospel of Life, the Church proclaims the sanctity of all human life, from the moment of conception until natural death, as a precious gift from our loving Creator.
The destruction of human life in the womb, legal now for 37 years in the United States, continues to erode the moral fabric of our nation. The Church, in fidelity to the Gospel, proclaims that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” — CCC 2270. The catechism states: “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.” — CCC 2273. Therefore, we are committed to working for the full protection in law of the lives of every human person, including the unborn. In his great encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” Pope John Paul II reminded us that “human life finds itself most vulnerable when it enters the world and when it leaves the realm of time to embark upon eternity.” How true this is! The acceptance of abortion and euthanasia have made the unborn and the disabled, the sick and the dying the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters whom we are called to love, respect and defend. At the same time, the Church’s consistent ethic of life calls us to love, respect and defend all those whose life and dignity is threatened: the hungry and poor, the victims of war and violence, refugees and immigrants, all created in God’s image. To love our neighbor does not admit of exceptions.
In this context, today we cannot help but think of our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti. Watching the news this week, we cannot help but be moved with great compassion as we see the terrible devastation from the earthquake there this past Tuesday. Let us pray fervently for all the victims of that terrible tragedy and for their families. Next Sunday, we will have a special collection in all our parishes for the Church’s relief efforts in Haiti. I ask all the faithful of our diocese to be generous, to make a truly sacrificial gift to aid our Haitian brothers and sisters.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. There he reads the passage from the prophet Isaiah which describes the anointing and mission of the Messiah. Jesus tells the people: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, anointed by the Spirit “to bring glad tidings to the poor,” sent “to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” The Church continues this mission of Jesus through the centuries and in the world today. The Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Life is indeed glad tidings for the poor. Our work to defend human life is indeed a work on behalf of freedom for the oppressed, those whose lives and dignity are threatened in a culture of death. Our service of life also means bringing sight to those blinded by pro-choice propaganda and by secularist and relativistic currents of thought, which deny the innate and inviolable dignity of the human person.
St. Paul, in our second reading, describes the Church as the one body of Christ made up of many members. He writes about each part of the body being necessary and says that there should be no division in the body. Paul explains that “if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” and “if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” This reminds us of what I said earlier: To love our neighbor does not admit of exceptions. We are not free to exclude anyone from our love. We must be concerned for one another, especially the weakest and most vulnerable in our midst.
St. Paul goes on to list the different offices and gifts among the members of the Church. There are apostles, prophets, teachers; workers of mighty deeds; gifts of healing, assistance, administration and tongues. This can remind us of our respective roles in the Church and also of our common commitment to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life. We need everyone’s gift and contribution. We need those who pray for the pro-life cause. We need teachers and educators, doctors and nurses. We need activists and counselors. We need social and political advocates. There should be no division in the body, but all united in the cause of life. Pope John Paul II said that we are the people of life and for life and that “everyone has an obligation to be at the service of life.” This is our common responsibility as members of Christ’s body. As Pope John Paul wrote: “We need to bring the Gospel of Life to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society.”
In all this, we draw our strength from Christ, who nourishes us with His life-giving Body and Blood. At every Mass, we celebrate His victory over sin and death. We celebrate the triumph of grace and life. Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has destroyed death and restored life. The Lamb who was slain is alive and proclaims the power of life over death. This we celebrate at every Mass. And thus, at the end of every Mass, we go forth in confidence and with courage to bear witness to the Gospel of Life in order to build a civilization of truth and charity.