‘Life will win’

The bishop celebrates life with Mass at the Cathedral

On Jan. 13, Bishop Raica celebrated the Respect Life Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My dear sisters and brothers – friends of life - we gather here at the Cathedral of St. Paul in downtown Birmingham from near and far. We are young and not-so-young, women and men, from every stratum of life and culture to acknowledge our accomplishments, garner our mutual support through prayer and solidarity to help us stay the course (i.e., overcome obstacles and frustrations we face, keeping our eye squarely fixed on the goal of respect for all life). I express my gratitude once again for the many organizers of this great event, for your presence today, and for some, if not many of you, who will go to Washington D.C. for the March for Life. Today, we are here as a people of hope, a people of light, a people who remain steadfast to the ideals that are outlined in our readings today.

In our first reading from the great prophet Isaiah, we hear these stirring words: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb He gave me my name.” It is as though we are already known in the mind of God. We are meant to be. We are loved. We are given a promise and a hope. Isaiah goes on to describe, by utilizing metaphors, the importance of each life: “a sharp-edged sword … a polished arrow … a servant.” He uses these to show His “glory to a waiting world.” Isaiah then goes on to add that even though our strength is exhausted, and it seems like we’ve toiled in vain, we should not give up. Afterall, God is our strength. Slowly and steadily, each person is becoming a light to the nations so that the Lord’s salvation will be manifested and reach to the ends of the earth. 

Our Responsorial Psalm further illustrates the reflection today with the evocative line: “What is man that You should be mindful of him … that You care for him?” Yes, God cares for us, watches over us, guards and protects us. God also asks us to partner with Him in that care we must have for one another, especially the weakest and the most vulnerable. This Psalm is placed in the context of the cosmos, the universe: “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon, and stars which You set in place. … What is man that You care for him.” Yes, the Lord God want us to have a place in the creation of the world in all of its majesty. Yet, He also watches over the smallest detail, making sure that all are part of His embrace of love and affection.

Our Gospel passage from St. Luke is a familiar one. Mary sets out in haste to the hill country of Judah and goes to her cousin’s house where she greeted Elizabeth. She [Elizabeth] is the one, filled with the Holy Spirit, who blurts out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, and Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, make note of the immediate connection. “The child in my womb,” noted Elizabeth, “leaped for joy.” We also note that Elizabeth was older while Mary was younger. Both never dreamed that they would play a significant role in the design of God’s salvation. Elizabeth giving birth to John the Baptist who would “prepare the way of the Lord” and point Him out when He came on the scene. And, Mary, who would give birth to Jesus, “Emmanuel – God with us” and “One Who saves.” Their yes was truly great, for neither knew the significant role that their children would make for the whole of humanity for the rest of time.

For our part, too, the respect for life is an acknowledgement of God’s work in creation, making the infinite universe whose end or limit no one has yet found. Even with the most powerful telescopes of today that can see well into the far reaches of the universe, we remain blind to the very edge of the universe.

At the same time, having just celebrated our evocative Christmas season with all of its radiant symbolism of light, glory, and mystery, we focused our undivided attention on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, a child of Mary in the little-known place of Bethlehem under austere conditions in a stable. Having heard this story often, we also know the evil designs that Herod had on the child; whereby, he eradicated all males under the age of 2 because they were a threat to his power.

Today, the respect for life is a challenge because so many want absolute freedom and perfection, and are willing to use any reason - physical, gender, psychological – as the basis to reject God’s invitation, seeking to create their own reality, to do what they want, when they want, and how they want. Respect for life invites us to look deeper and to see the wonder and majesty of what God is doing in our lives, giving us the opportunity to partner with Him for the very sake of giving life a chance, offering hope, and extending the embrace of love. We have much to be thankful for, and our zealous concern must reach not only those in the womb, but also those who are vulnerable end of life, those convicted of capital crimes and on death row, those who callously or unwittingly participate in the death industries that plague our modern world, including abortion, war, euthanasia, capital punishment, crime and apathy, and those who may are considered our adversaries or who may seek to ultimately destroy us because of our understanding of reality including race, ethnicity, religion, or belief. 

As there is a momentum to destroy children in the womb up to birth and enshrining it in state constitutional amendments across our nation, I am reminded of the sentiment of Pope St. John Paul II who warned, “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope.” In so doing, in his mind, we become a nation without a future. Today, we proclaim that the birth of Christ was so that those who live may have a future and may have hope.

Isaiah, again in our first reading reminds us, “I will make you a light to the nations, that My salvation (that is life itself has a value and hope) may reach to the ends of the earth.” Yet, God is mindful of us as much as He is of the entire universe for, we are “fearfully, wonderfully made.” And, finally, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

My dear friends, we are indeed blessed. We may feel we have a long way to go because of setbacks. With what we hear happening through social media, especially the recent votes and support for referenda that promote expansion of death in our country, we must never lose hope. Despite all our setbacks and the effects of sin that still plague the world today – and will until the end of time - we take comfort in the fact that in the end, the God of life will be victorious over all the forces of death! Your presence today proclaims our common conviction: life will win!