MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
This is Bishop Bonnar’s October 1, 2022 homily for the diocesan Mass for Life at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel on the campus of Walsh University, Canton, Ohio, to celebrate the beginning of Respect Life Month.
I have a priest friend with whom I served with in a parish for ten years. He is older than me and now retired. He did so much to affect fraternity in our house. And he always made the rest of us priests laugh with his incredible sense of humor. I sought advice from him because he was a pastor previously but had to pull back because of illness. We not only became co-workers, but true friends.
It happened that due to complications from diabetes Father Richard had part of his leg amputated. Due to a series of infections and even a heart attack, Father’s recovery was delayed. He remained in a hospital for nearly a year. Eventually he returned to his residence at the priest’s retirement home. He now has a prosthetic device.
Recently I had breakfast with Father Richard, and he is doing amazingly well. In fact, he just passed his driver’s test and is now able to drive his car using the gadgets on the steering wheel. His spirits are very good.
As you might expect, though, this has been a long road for him filled with grief, pain, and great uncertainty. I know that there were many times he clutched his Rosary and prayed to our Lord the prayer of the Apostles in today’s Gospel, “Increase our faith.”
The circumstances of our lives can at times challenge and even make us doubt our faith. I think we all can identify with the sentiments of Habakkuk in today’s first reading who said, “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene.” Then we ourselves cry out in our disillusionment, “Increase our faith.”
For the Pro-Life Movement it has been a long road of disillusionment. Despite the countless prayers, many marches, and numerous public pleas to defend and protect life, we have faced an increasing culture of death on many levels. There no doubt has been those prayerful moments in the face of despair that we found ourselves saying, “Increase our faith.”
But thanks be to God there is good news with the recent Supreme Court decision. True to the spirit of Habakkuk, the vision which he said, “will not disappoint,” has been realized at least regarding abortion. But we cannot turn our backs on mothers in need. The theme in fact for this year’s celebration is “Called to Serve Moms in Need.” This theme builds on the Walking with Moms in Need Program which is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that invites our parishes and communities to “walk in the shoes” of local pregnant and parenting women in need. Already in this diocese some of our parishes have begun to implement this program. We can be an answer to the prayers of these women who perhaps in fear, poverty, and aloneness find themselves praying, “Increase our faith.”
Earlier this year the president of the USCCB along with the bishop chairmen of USCCB committees serving women and families issued a statement of hope, recommitment, and invitation in which they proclaimed, “a vision for our society that upholds the truth that every human life is sacred and inviolable—a society in which the legal protection of human life is accompanied by profound care for mothers and their children.” It is important that we make these resources available.
But it is more than just resources that enable us to support our moms in need and overcome the culture of death with a culture of life, it is prayer. Prayer moves mountains. We must never stop praying. And the recent Supreme Court decision indicates that prayer over many years can help to effect change. We must never despair. Instead, we need to keep praying and when we confront that ugly reality of the culture of death in our society, we need to collectively pray, “Increase our faith.”
Our work is not finished. While we need to accompany our moms in need, we must continue to promote and protect the dignity of every human person. In addition, we cannot stop fighting the many other threats to human life and dignity like euthanasia, racism, war, capital punishment, poverty, housing, health care, economic injustice and indifference. We also need to promote respect for those who are different from us. Respect comes from the Latin word, “respectare” which means “to look again.” This respect also necessarily stretches to those who think differently from us and do not appreciate in the same way the need to build up a culture of life. Even in our passion, anger and disillusionment, we cannot sacrifice Christian charity.
In the Gospel today it is important to note that the word the apostles use for “increase” in Greek is “prostithemi.” This is the same word from which we get prosthetic as in a prosthetic leg or arm. This device is not natural but manufactured to assist the person in their struggle. Essentially Jesus’ followers are acknowledging their struggle and seeking a crutch that only Jesus can provide. They know that they cannot do this on their own.
Whatever the circumstance in life, be it illness, failure, rejection, hurt, disillusionment, or the lack of respect for life and the dignity of the human person, we need God’s help. We seek that help today in the Word, the Sacrament, and the presence of each other.