| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...’

On Jan. 14, Bishop Raica celebrated the annual Respect for Life Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers – friends of life – how grateful I am to be with you once again this year!  Having lived through this past year with its litany of achievements and setbacks, I get the feeling we are in the midst of a Dicken’s novel that begins with this memorable phrase: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities)

On the one hand, it was the best of times because we laud the accomplishment of one of the primary goals of the Pro-Life Movement, through our marches, educational discussions and fora, and annual events raised awareness of the need to repeal Roe vs. Wade - the Supreme Court decision dating back to 1973 that green-lighted abortion access across our land. It was a limited authorization under the so called “right to privacy.” This unfortunate decision galvanized and rallied a peaceful grass-roots movement across our nation to foster the protection of the unborn. This was accomplished through an interconnected network of local, state, and national pro-life efforts. It was supported by individuals and the help of a myriad of legal challenges that sought to protect little by little the life of the unborn across our land. It was rally cry of many – people of faith and people of no-faith, people of science, people who just had the common sense to say what they see: “This is a human life.” Therefore, it must be protected, no matter what. This fact, this truth, is based not on a feeling, but on the objective reality of science itself and verified by biologists, geneticists, and ultrasound machines that give us a window into a new emerging human life growing inside a mother’s womb. We can hear the heartbeat of the unborn knocking to be let into the world! It is a human life right from the beginning. One of the premier accomplishments of the pro-life movement was how the Supreme Court developed and matured in its jurisprudence, recognizing that this issue was beyond the authority of the U.S. Constitution and was instead a matter for the states to decide, through their legislative process, in order to meet the needs of the citizens of that state.

On the other hand, it was the worst of times, because even though we achieved a noble goal of protecting the life of the unborn by the overturning of the Roe decision with the Dobbs decision, it seemed to bring out the worst for those who are anti-life. In earnest, they began to conspire and plot the machinery of death with a flood of legislative initiatives, especially through state-wide referenda and other legal ways to enshrine abortion on demand in state constitutions and amendments through all nine months of pregnancy and even beyond. In some instances, there are no protections for born-alive infants in botched abortions, with little or no oversight and with few, if any, regulation or outside interference. The “wild west” approach to the unborn – that “anything goes” - without due regard for the growing child, whose DNA is distinct from the mother, has been enshrined in some states so that no one can suggest or enact limitations or protections. Now we are witnessing a piling on of support for the death industry in ways that were unimaginable under Roe vs. Wade. These include workarounds, abortion tourism, and company benefits that promote the eradication of unborn children for any or no reason – but nothing for adoption.

Not only the unborn, but those at the end of life are encountering similar conclusions where physician aided death is taking hold in a growing number of states and especially in Canada, our neighbor to the north, as a form of so-called “compassion and care.” Unfortunately, initially promoted as a form of compassion limited to the most extreme cases of suffering, it has expanded to include all categories of disabilities, to those who feel lonely, to the young and old who are seriously ill, and to those whose medications are too expensive for insurance coverage. They are told that the only thing insurance will pay for is assistance in dying. They are strongly encouraged to do their part and exit for the good of society because life is no longer intrinsically valuable to society, which bases human life as utilitarian. Like an old useless animal, you can be put down. Yes, it’s the worst of times where “anything goes” and nothing is sacred.

But my friends, it is not the time for us to feel sad, or overwhelmed, wringing our hands or worrying about what will be next. Those who can tell their compelling story of the gift of life, should do so frequently and without compromise. More important, however, is for us to foster the changing of hearts – one-by-one! The pro-life movement may not be able to reach the masses because we are being drowned out by the utter selfishness and greed of the anti-lifers who disdain any life except their own. We must rely on our ambitious and deliberate efforts to educate and give witness to the truth of human life in ever more compelling ways. One by one we will win hearts who value the nobility and dignity of life, not its reduction.

It reminds me of the first several hundred years of Christianity. Being a Christian was met with hatred and disdain. It is a difficult time to be counter cultural. Christians didn’t wring their hands about what to do or lobby for legislation on their behalf. No! They began to be the people they said they were: people who loved, people who enjoyed life, people who embraced and welcomed children, people who were counter cultural, people who lived purposely different – fuller and freer lives. They didn’t see others as an onerous burden, but a welcome gift from above. Every newborn was viewed as one of us to be treasured and cherished above all.

As Christian pro-lifers, we are people who see life as a precious gift, something cherished and treasured. We see the life of every person as absolutely necessary, valued, and worthwhile, to be welcomed to the world. As pro-lifers, we must be witnesses to the goodness of human life and the goodness of family, the foundation and strength of any society.

Every newborn life conveys that there is something more. Every human life conveys the presence of God, the presence of hope in a world that sorely needs it. To snuff it out for the sake of expedience or any other reason is an attempt to wound and destroy not just the individual, but the very image of God. It is as if to say: “I don’t need God. I reject God.” I don’t need the glimpse of the divine in my life. I don’t need hope. I don’t need anyone else.

My dear friends, we all know people who have struggled with the inconveniences of life, with the anxieties of living, with the thought that everything is spiraling down to an immense abyss. They may think this will be their only solution, and some will encourage it without considering other viable options. Like Herod, feeling threatened by the challenge of a “newborn king of the Jews,” set out to destroy Jesus, the newborn king of the Jews, by having all males two years of age and younger slaughtered on the feast of the Holy Innocents, we see abortion as a cowardly deed that horrifies everyone. Eradicating God – the image of God – is still being done today with almost 70 million abortions – and soon, in some states, many, many, more will shed their blood for the sake of and witness to Christ.

We pray for the mothers, the fathers, those in the health care profession, the legislators that they find ways to welcome, embrace, nurture the unborn, and not find pernicious and “creative” ways to destroy them. We pray for those who have had abortions, that they may seek healing and be truly healed by the merciful grace of God for this wound to humanity. “Where there is sin, grace abounds all the more,” St. Paul reminds us.

I often recount the story of my own mother who was born with one arm. Had ultrasounds been available in those days, her mother (my grandmother) probably would have been encouraged to abort her. She had a variety of acute illnesses in her childhood. Nevertheless, for me, she is mom, perfect in my eyes. A week and a half ago she turned 96 and is still an active part of our family. Luckily, she was born so I would have a shot at this beautiful life to be with you today. It’s worth repeating: We must work diligently to protect life at every stage because the grace offered by Christ is much greater than the solutions proposed by the world. The light proposed by Christ, Who is that light, is brighter than the darkness proposed by the world. The hope offered by Christ is larger than the despair offered by the world. The love of neighbor proposed by Christ is grander than the hate of neighbor proposed by the world. The inestimable value of human life is much greater than the reduction of human life to an inconvenience or interruption of my goals and life. Yes, in the end, life always wins out over death. That is what Christ did for us and all humanity through His death and resurrection. Therefore, we must remain steadfast in our mission and stay the course because the ultimate victory belongs to life. Yes, we are made for family, we are made for society, we are made for great things, we are made by and for God to love and be loved – not destroyed.

Yes, Lord, as the psalmist (Ps 139) affirms: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” A thought of God born and loved by God immensely. Every person is God’s gift to the world. In this post Roe world, it is incumbent upon us to work diligently, creatively, and with resolute conviction and coherence to be steadfast witnesses by our very lives to teach the truths of the splendor of human life and the gift of the human person.

So that I don’t forget, the rest of the opening lines from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities suggests our theme today because we seem to live in a world of superlatives: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

For that, life — unborn and born, young and old, and everyone in between, in all of their mystery and wonder — is superlatively the best gift of all! Each of you is the best gift! May God bless you all!