The Mass is the most powerful prayer, and so it was with intentions for the legal protection of unborn children and the defense of the dignity of every human person that Catholics gathered at Masses surrounding the 44th anniversary on Jan. 22 of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
Two of the Masses in the diocese were celebrated by bishops: Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg celebrating the diocese’s annual Pro-Life Mass on Jan. 22 at St. Patrick Cathedral, and Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg – a former priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg – celebrating a Sanctity of Life Mass sponsored by the Lancaster Region of the Order of Malta at St. Joseph Church in Lancaster on Jan. 23.
Both bishops, in their homilies, encouraged the faithful to offer prayers for the defense of human life.
Bishop Gainer connected his message to the day’s Gospel reading (Matthew 4:12-23) of Jesus beginning his public ministry after learning of the imprisonment of his cousin, John.
“The women I have talked with who had chosen to have an abortion and who subsequently have found God’s mercy and forgiveness in the Church did not choose to terminate the life of their unborn child out of callous disregard for life, but because they wanted to avoid pain and suffering,” the bishop said. “To have brought their child to birth would have turned their life plans upside down and brought them suffering.
“It is human to fear pain and suffering and to want to avoid them. But because we are human, we are capable of finding meaning in suffering,” he said. “Jesus found great significance in his cousin, John’s, suffering, and at the end of his ministry Jesus would enter fully into the mystery of suffering and death and make his crucifixion the means of our redemption. When human pain and suffering are accepted in union with Jesus, our pain and suffering share in his saving work.”
“If each and every life is not sacred, then no life is sacred,” Bishop Gainer remarked. “We have seen that principle become reality every day in our cities and neighborhoods. Human life at every stage is disposable and insignificant when human life at any stage is disregarded.
“We believe in the power of our prayer and we believe that our actions can effect needed change in society,” he continued. “In today’s Mass – our most powerful prayer – we pray for a restoration of the legal protection of the right to life for the unborn and we are strengthened and sent to let our voices be heard in defense of the sacred dignity of every human life.”
The power of prayer was the focus of Bishop Malesic’s homily during the Sanctity of Life Mass celebrated at St. Joseph Church in Lancaster the following evening.
“Prayer does change things,” said Bishop Malesic, a native son and former priest of the diocese who was ordained as Bishop of Greensburg in July 2015. “Prayer is what motivates us and guides us and gives us the hope that what we are doing does make a difference.”
Prayers are offered for unborn children; for men and women facing unexpected pregnancies; for “a change in our social order that makes it easier for parents to choose life over death;” for the president, legislators and judges; for those filled with anger toward members of the pro-life movement; and for young people, “that they will not catch the infection of the diseased culture of death that surrounds them in so many ways,” Bishop Malesic remarked.
“What we believe about life in the womb we also believe about life outside of the womb,” he said. “Life, wherever we find it, is God’s gift to us. We must also pray for conditions to be improved for the poor. We pray for immigrants and children in tough circumstances. We pray for an end to our throwaway culture, which regards people as objects to be used and then tossed aside. We pray for an improvement of the conditions of our prisons. We must also pray to defeat those movements that want to make euthanasia legal in our state.”
Attacks on life inside of the womb directly correlate to attacks on life outside the womb, Bishop Malesic said.
“If we don’t respect that innocent life at the beginning, how do we respect life the day after the child is born, or in the days of one preparing to die a natural death?” he posed.
“Our prayers tonight are meant to change many hearts,” he told the congregation. “May our prayers magnify the good that we do on behalf of the unborn. May our prayers also diminish the effects of our sins against life. May we leave behind us a world that is more peaceful for those who live outside the womb, and most especially more peaceful for those who live inside of the womb. May God answer our prayers and make us more thankful for the life given by God, more courageous for those lives who are in danger, and more loving toward all we meet, since we are, after all, people of life who represent God’s Church and who strive to follow the example of Jesus, who welcomed the children and never rejected them.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness