Following is the Bishop’s homily from Jan. 23 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton:
There is one thing we all have in common, my brothers and sisters. Regardless of our race or place of natural origin, regardless of our religion or absence of it, regardless of our age or status or station in life: God gave us the gift of life, which our mothers carried until the day of our birth. We were allowed to live! Every human being who has ever walked the face of this earth shares that one thing in common. And from the moment of our conception until the day of our natural death, we celebrate with gratitude our God-given right to life. Nothing is more fundamental and more precious than that one human right.
We gather together today in this Cathedral conscious of that basic human right, committed to that basic human right, in the face of those who seek to deny that basic human right to the most vulnerable in our society: the unborn child in the womb.
There are those, our follow human beings who themselves possess and enjoy that human right – thanks to the God who gave it to them, thanks to their mothers who decided that they should have it – there are those, our fellow human beings who seek with everything in their power to deny that human right to life to children in the womb, because the Supreme Court of the United States made it possible through their infamous decision “Roe v. Wade” 44 years ago. It was and ever remains a black mark and a dark day in the history of our nation. And others were quick to follow.
The human right to life is not a religious right, nor is it the making of the “religious right” as some often suggest, no. It is a human right without which no other human rights can be, no other human rights can exist, no other human rights can prevail. We who are religious, who are people of faith, who believe in God who created us embrace that human right to life in the deepest parts of our very being because we are human and because of our faith. And the “gates of hell shall not prevail against us!” (Matthew 16: 18)
One month ago, Christians everywhere celebrated the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, long anticipated in the writings of the prophets of old. The author of today’s First Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews put his birth into context: “Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself.” We believe that; we believe that Christ was the plan of God for us and so was the “sanctuary” that he entered: our humanity! And he did so to save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves and the judgments and decisions we make – judgments and decisions against life, judgments and decisions against him, judgments and decisions for death.
In another place, in John’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” (John 10: 10) Jesus’ own words, Jesus’ own reason for being must become our own as his followers. They are the banner we carry; they are the banner we lift high in this sanctuary, in this city, in this world. “Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” We must continue to bring “life to light” in every choice we make, every decision we uphold, every right we claim and affirm as human beings.
For millions upon millions in the past 44 years, that “light and life” has been extinguished before it even had a chance to burn bright. We weep, we mourn, we pray for them and their families. But we cannot give up, not now, not ever. Light pierces darkness; death gives way to life.
There will always be those who mock or denigrate us, those who ridicule or seek to dismiss us as “culture warriors,” though warriors against a culture we may be, a “culture of death,” those who try to shame us as “anti-woman” in the name of so-called “reproductive rights” or “rights over their own bodies.”
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel. Much more is at stake than their opposition. Remember those words of Jesus: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” His words matter. His words make a difference. And his words lead to life.
In Jesus’ name, we pray today for the most vulnerable at the beginning of human life and for the legal protection of the unborn. In Jesus’ name, let us also pray for the most vulnerable at the end of life through assisted suicide, a new threat to human life that looms on the horizon here in New Jersey. We cannot surrender to the “culture of death” once more and make yet another mistake with the gift of human life. Jesus alone is “the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22: 13) We seek his presence, his life, his light in the womb, in moments of terminal illness and throughout life’s journey at every stage. May he be with us today! Amen.