My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
This month of October focuses on two very beautiful traditions of our Catholic faith, namely the designation of October as month of the Most Holy Rosary and Respect Life Month. The two themes are beautifully intertwined, since Mary by her fiat allowed the Word to become flesh; her yes to life set in motion the marvel of Christ’s Incarnation.
The mysteries of the rosary weave together Mary’s life and the life of her Son, Jesus Christ. With each passing year, Mary’s life becomes one with her Son’s life; so much so that at Golgotha, His sufferings are her sufferings; His forgiveness of those who have led Him to His cross is her own act of mercy towards her Son’s executioners. The courage of the crucified One is the courage of Mary; St. Ambrose writes of her: "His mother stood before the Cross, and, while the men fled, she remained undaunted…She did not fear the torturers…His Mother offered herself to his persecutors." (De institutione virginis).
In meditating upon the union of Mary and Christ, her strength supported by His strength, Cardinal James Hickey (who was my rector in the major seminary, ordained me to the priesthood, and whom I continue to revere) wrote:
Here was the valor that only a mother could possess. Something like it can be seen every day. Mothers stay with their dying child no matter how terribly they are afflicted. Mothers find courage to comfort their children dying of starvation or bleeding from gaping wounds. Their own suffering counts as nothing; all that matters is that they stand by their suffering children. (Mary at the Foot of the Cross, p. 52).
This unwavering bond between mother and child in the most tragic situations is revealed again and again in the multiple human disasters and violent actions reported daily in the news. Golgotha is relived again and again, and the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary become the lives of so many suffering sisters and brothers. Yet Mary also was to enter into the joy that followed upon Christ’s glorious resurrection. The woman who stood beneath the cross, now, with a mother’s love, stands with her Son and awaits our return to the homeland, heaven, that at last we may "have life and have it to its full" (John 10:10).
Mary’s love for the life of her Son is the very same love she has for every person because every life is sacred, every person is created by God, every person is His child. So once again in this month devoted to Mary, we join the Catholic Church throughout the entire United States and pray for a renewed reverence for all human life from the moment of conception until natural death. As Mary did not flee the scandal of Calvary, we cannot flee from our responsibility to create a culture of life. To be pro-life does mean at times to embark upon a road less travelled, to speak with the humility of Jesus and the humility of His mother:
(B)y eschewing all forms of elitism and by reaching out to all people without consideration of their status and without fear of being rebuffed or mocked, the Church joins Christ in sowing the seed of His Word not just in carefully cultivated gardens but everywhere, even among the briars and thorns. The Church does not imagine her message is too lofty for ordinary people; on the contrary, it is accessible to everyone, old and young, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, hardened sinners and the saintly (ibid., p. 66).
In his post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis emphasizes the magnificence of every human life, beginning with the child received into the world by loving parents:
Children, once born, begin to receive, along with nourishment and care, the spiritual gift of knowing with certainty that they are loved. This love is shown to them through the gift of their personal name, the sharing of language, looks of love and the brightness of a smile. In this way, they learn that the beauty of human relationships touches our soul, seeks our freedom, accepts the difference of others, recognizes and respects them as a partner in dialogue… Such is love, and it contains a spark of God’s love! (paragraph 172).
But this unconditional love for the child begins at the moment of conception. With very clear language, Pope Francis upholds the right to life of every child in this same post-synodal exhortation: "… if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed" (paragraph 83). And this protection of God’s gift of life is extended throughout the entire spectrum of human existence; for again our Holy Father stresses that: "The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last" (ibid). As the child is loved, so must all peoples be loved: the weak, the fragile, the poor, the sick, and the elderly. These persons are not burdens upon society, but rather sisters and brothers giving us the opportunity to be their Simon of Cyrene as we help them carry their crosses.
It can become very discouraging that in such an advanced scientific age there is still the need to protect life so vigorously. Yet technology can diminish the quality of human interaction and, in the process, human life becomes just another commodity to be discarded when it is no longer of practical use. Upholding life presents us the opportunity to return to society its heart and soul, its very essence: the human person. This is a duty from which we should never withdraw. Like Mary, we, too, say: "Thy will be done," and allow the Lord to work through us in our mission to proclaim the dignity of every person!
On September 4, 2016, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, presided over the canonization ceremonies of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa continued her mission to serve God’s gift of life even in the most depressing and desperate circumstances. Picking up abandoned persons who were left to die on the streets of Calcutta and were astonished that someone would care for them, Mother Teresa told them; "You are a creation of God. God created you in His image, and therefore I see Jesus in you and want to give you the dignity of dying with respect" (A Call to Mercy, Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve, Mother Teresa, edited and with introduction by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, p. 133). Mother Teresa continued the mission, perhaps often weary but never surrendering, and now she lives eternally with Jesus and Mary and, no doubt, with countless souls whom she rescued from the gutters of city streets. Let us honor her canonization by imitating her courage to protect, to serve and to proclaim the sanctity of God’s gift of life.
On October 2, 2016, our Annual Mass for Life was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. At that Mass we thanked God for the 20 years of service of Project Rachel and the dedication of Father James E. Hewes to this healing ministry, in which trained volunteers reach out to women and men affected by the termination of life in the womb. I also thank God for all who in so many ways work to uphold the life given to us by our Creator!
Invoking the intercession of Mary, Our Mother, and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Fisher, our diocesan patron, and assuring you of my prayers and begging a remembrance in your good prayers, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester