Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life
January 22, 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6; Colossians 1:12-20; Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

 In a reflection on today’s gospel command by Jesus to welcome one such child, Bishop Robert Barron of Word on Fire ministry tells a story about Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

“After completing her novitiate, Mother Teresa began teaching in a convent school and working part-time as an aide to the nursing staff at a small hospital.  Once a man arrived at the hospital with a bundle out which protruded what appeared to be twigs.  When Teresa looked more closely, she saw that they were the impossibly emaciated legs of a child, blind and at the point of death.  The man told the young sister that if she didn’t take the boy, he would throw him to the jackals.

Teresa’s journal takes up the story: ‘With much pity and love I take the little one into my arms, and fold him in my apron.  The child has found a second mother.’  And then this passage dawned upon her:  ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’  This is the key to the mature practical spirituality of Mother Teresa:  in serving the suffering and the poorest of the poor, one is serving Christ.”

Brothers and sisters, the sacred scriptures are replete with words that command that we reverence every life that has come into our world.  What they expect from us as Christians is clear and unambiguous.  …  The prophet Isaiah challenges us in our first reading to recognize the unique relationship that we have with God from the moment of our conception:  “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  …  Through the apostle Paul in our second reading, we’re reminded to embrace our unique identity in Christ, “the image of the invisible God, … in whom were created all things in heaven and on earth.”  …  And Matthew’s gospel just proclaimed, that inspired Mother Teresa in her saintly work – “whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” – sets a powerful stage for the description of our judgment, recounted by the same evangelist in the 25th chapter of his work.  Our judgment will be determined by nothing short of our willingness to serve the poorest and most vulnerable among us in whom Christ is present.  Do you recall Jesus’ words?  …  “As long as you served one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you served me.”

Every year since my appointment as Bishop of Scranton in 2010, I have been privileged to join with many of you for the annual March for Life in our nation’s capital to commemorate the tragic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and to give witness to our shared belief that all human life is sacred and must be protected – especially the lives of the unborn, who are unable to protect themselves.

This year, because of the coronavirus and, frankly, out of concern for the safety of all who might gather in our nation’s capital in light of the tragic events and the blatant disrespect for life that we witnessed during the past few weeks, the March for Life will take place in a different way.  While some will still likely gather in Washington, faithful souls who treasure life from throughout our diocese and country have mobilized at local levels using all sorts of virtual platforms to advocate for the right to life of the unborn – just as we come together this day to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on this somber anniversary of the Court’s decision.

In an address to the Pontifical Academy for Life in June, 2018, Pope Francis affirmed what we do this day by asserting, “Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of the human person, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her age or stage of development.”  As such, for us as Catholics, respecting life, especially the unborn, is intrinsic to our identity as people of faith.  It admits no denial, no exception and no compromise.

If we have learned nothing else during this very difficult year in which we have had to confront the deadly corona virus pandemic, most of us have come to appreciate the value of human life as never before.  We’ve also come to understand that so much of life is beyond our ability to control and, on our own, we are helpless to address the challenges that confront us.  Only by handing ourselves over to the power of God and working together to care for the lives that have been given to us will we ever discover a way forward filled with peace and hope for all.

Yet, ironically, within the past year that has been fraught by so much suffering and loss of life, the value of something as fundamental to our lives as Christians as the dignity of the human person – from the moment of conception to natural end – tragically seems to have evaporated in the face of political and ideological divisions that have enveloped our county and even our Church.

A year ago, the U.S. Bishops affirmed, “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”  The Bishops did not, however, conclude their teaching on the value of human life with a focus solely on life in the womb.  To the contrary, the Bishops went to propose a more comprehensive perspective, “At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

While our worship this day witnesses to the value and dignity of the unborn life, we can never authentically embrace such prayer without including a plea to respect every life as having been made in the image and likeness of God.  One wonders what will become of our land if we continue to advocate for laws that subjectively respect life in some forms while disregarding its value in others, particularly in its earliest stages of development.  The words of Pope Saint John Paul II offer a sobering perspective, “When some lives, including the unborn, are subjected to the personal choices of others, no other value or right will long be guaranteed.”  …  Every life has value for every life is filled with the Spirit of God.

Friends, on this day in which we recall a tragic moment in our history that legalized the taking of innocent, unborn lives, may we resolve through our prayers and actions to set aside the divisive behavior that has plagued us as a people and a Church.  May we be blessed with the humility to focus less on each other’s brokenness and sin and more on the common heritage that we all share as redeemed sons and daughters of a merciful and forgiving God, in whose image and likeness we have all been made.  In so doing, may we begin to carve a way forward together as brothers and sisters – the only way in which we will ever be able to build a world in which every life is valued and every life is loved.