MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
This is Bishop Bonnar’s October 5, 2022 homily for the first annual Ohio March for Life at St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio. Find out more about the Ohio March for Life at ohio.marchforlife.org.
With my brother bishops from Ohio who are unable to be here due to previously scheduled events, and in the name of the Ordinary of this diocese, Bishop Earl Fernandes,
I welcome you to this Mass for Life which precedes the Ohio March for Life.
How fitting that we begin our march this morning in God’s house and in what is for us the greatest of prayers—the Holy Mass. The Pro-Life Movement has much to be grateful for as we enter this rich prayer of thanksgiving. Our collective voice has been heard. Our prayers have been answered. And yet, our efforts are not complete as there are still more prayers to be prayed and more work to be done to eradicate the culture of death. We must continue to promote the culture of life and to protect the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.
We gather today in this beautiful cathedral under the patronage of Saint Joseph, the patron of the universal Church. During the Year of Saint Joseph established by Pope Francis from December 2020 to December 2021, the USCCB published a prayer to Saint Joseph under the title, Defender of Life. In that prayer, which is just as important today, we behold these words:
“May your example inspire us also to welcome, cherish, and safeguard God’s most precious gift of life.”
Saint Joseph is an exemplary model and witness of someone who, even at great risk, promoted and protected life. What is noteworthy about Joseph is that when we search the Scriptures and even the Tradition there are no words from his lips. What we do see, however, is faith in action. After the angel spoke to him in the dream and told him not to fear, Joseph moved forward in faith as an unabashed presence, loving provider and faithful protector of life. The argument could be made that he created and perfected what we often call, “the ministry of presence.”
In today’s first reading Saint Paul speaks to the Galatians about his ministry and his charge to preach the gospel to the uncircumcised. He is quick to note that he was to be “mindful of the poor.”
There are many faces of the poor. To be poor is not just about being without money or possessions or relationships. To be poor can also mean to be without hope, voice or opportunity. In our country, there are many types of poverty. We are here today to pray and advocate for a form of poverty that has engendered much debate and division in our country, the Church, and our families, namely, the unborn. Sadly, there are some who want to ignore this poverty. There are also some who say that it is not life. And there are some who are so consumed with their personal rights and choices, that they have no regard for this life.
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis states, “So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being.” (# 83)
All life is precious and in the spirit of Saint Joseph, to be “welcomed, cherished, and safeguarded.”
But these efforts to “welcome, cherish, and safeguard” human life must never focus solely on the unborn. Pope Francis adds, “The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, ‘those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection. Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia,’ but likewise ‘firmly rejects the death penalty.’” (#83)
Our collective efforts to “welcome, cherish, and safeguard” human life must also extend to pregnant and parenting moms and families in need. Walking with Moms in Need is one clear and tangible way to embrace this effort. As Pope Francis notes, our parishes must aspire to be “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.” Together, we must accompany our moms and families in need not just with programs but our presence.
But we can do none of this work alone, for we are always dependent on God to lead us on the journey of life. The disciples knew that so well in their ministry because they saw the power of that prayer in the life of Jesus. They needed that intimacy and peace that only prayer can yield. And so, in the Gospel today, after Jesus completes his time of prayer, one of his disciples says, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus responds by giving the disciples not only a formula that lasts even to this day, but also a relationship with the Father. Implicit within that relationship is the sense that we are all children of the one God, brothers and sisters to each other.
Despite the sharp and painful differences that divide us not just on the issues of life but so much more, if we are truly proponents and advocates of life, and if we seek to be like Saint Joseph and Saint Paul, we cannot judge or disregard the life of those who think differently than us. We cannot dismiss the fact that God created them too. They are life, too.
At the same time, we must never hesitate to take these individuals and the differences that are ours to prayer, asking the Father “to lead us not into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. Amen.” And we must never stop beholding the example and intercession of our universal patron, Saint Joseph, who “welcomed, cherished, and safeguarded” life.