Celebrating life, hope and peace amid challenges
My dear sisters
and brothers in Christ:
Amid the challenges we have both in the church and in society, we look for signs of hope. In the beginning of this New Year, hope shone brilliantly through our sisters and brothers — many of them our young people — who made the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., to proclaim the sanctity of human life. Masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – both the Vigil Mass celebrated on Jan. 23 and the Mass celebrated on Jan. 24, the day of the March for Life – were so uplifting and filled with hope. I was privileged to be the homilist at the 10 a.m., Jan. 24 Mass, and once again, many young people were present at the Masses.
In proclaiming the sanctity of God’s gift of life from the moment of conception until natural death, we also pray for peace in our world so that we might live our lives without fear of violence, persecution, hatred and discord among peoples. In his message of Jan.1, 2020, for the celebration of the 53rd World Day of Peace, Pope Francis wrote: “Peace is a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family.” In this same text, our Holy Father unites the desire for peace with the gift of reconciliation. In concluding his message, Pope Francis wrote of humanity’s journey toward peace: “For the followers of Christ, this journey is likewise sustained by the sacrament of Reconciliation, given by the Lord for the remission of sins of the baptized. This sacrament of the Church, which renews individuals and communities, bids us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, who reconciled ‘all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1:20) … The grace of God our Father is bestowed as unconditional love. Having received His forgiveness in Christ, we can set out to offer that peace to the men and women of our time.”
During this month, on Feb. 11, the church celebrates the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick. On this day we especially pray for all who suffer physical, emotional, spiritual and social ills. Entreating the Divine Physician, through His Mother Mary, on behalf of our ailing sisters and brothers is so very necessary, as once again efforts are underway in the 2020 New York state legislative session to legalize physician-assisted suicide, allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication for the express purpose of ending a patient’s life. I have written on this subject previously; the reasons against supporting this legislation have not changed and remain consistent, and not only according to the tenets of our faith, but in the very words of then-Governor Mario Cuomo’s 1994 Task Force on Life and the Law’s report unanimous rejection of assisted suicide:
“No matter how carefully any guidelines are framed, assisted suicide and euthanasia will be practiced through the prism of social inequality and bias that characterizes the delivery of the services in all segments of society, including health care. The practices will pose the greatest risks to those who are poor, elderly, members of a minority group or without access to good medical care. The growing concern about health care costs increases the risks. This cost consciousness will not be diminished, and may well be exacerbated by health care reform.”
In his article “Is Medical Aid in Dying a Human Right?”, Alan B. Astrow wrote: “… the major national organizations of physicians – the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association – are opposed as is the New York State Medical Society. (All favor wider availability of palliative care and hospice services.)” (see https://www.thehastingscenter.org/is-medical-aid-in-dying-a-human-right/). Indeed, rising above all that exists in this life is the human person, made in the image and likeness of God who calls us into existence and brings us home according to His will; He calls us to be the guardians of life in the exercise of charity: “love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31).
On the 26th of this month, we enter into the holy season of Lent, a time during which we contemplate more intensely the passion, death and resurrection of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross for our salvation and to give us the hope of eternal life. So precious are our lives that Jesus sacrificed His own life that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Lent calls us to conversion, renewal, and self-examination in order to discover true peace and rejoice in the gift of life.
Pablo Casals, a very accomplished cellist and one of the world’s greatest musicians, at the age of 93, after many years of performing his musical composition of the Nativity Story in the cause of peace, beautifully united the gifts of life, peace and reconciliation in these words:
“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children” (Joys and Sorrows: Reflections” by Pablo Casals, as told to Albert E. Kahn, April 15, 1970).
While Lent calls us to personal renewal, it also calls us to renewal within the community of the church where our children are treasured. Our renewal, then, must include what we are doing, each in her or his own way, to provide our children with true Christian values to nurture their young lives. And so we return to the theme of the sanctity of all human life.
And the greatest gift we give to our children and to ourselves is a deep appreciation for Jesus present in the Most Holy Eucharist. As I have written on many occasions, but must repeat, I pray that daily attendance at Holy Mass will be the centerpiece of our Lenten observances. From the strength that we receive from the Eucharist, we find our motivation and inspiration to serve the poor, to reach out to the forgotten, abandoned, the lonely and the refugee. We need to take to heart the words of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). If we can ignore, or reject, say “no” to Christ’s invitation to become one with Him in Eucharistic communion, how very easy it becomes to say “no” to promises made, vows pronounced and commitments given to any person or to any institution. When we say “no” to Christ’s command “Do this in remembrance of me,” we shake the very foundations of who we are as human beings, God’s children whom He calls His very sons and daughters.
With the recent conclusion of the celebration of Catholic Schools Week at the end of January, I pray that both our Catholic Schools and religious-education programs will teach completely, again and again, the doctrine of the Most Holy Eucharist, the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus truly present truly under the appearances of bread and wine. Whenever possible, the celebration of Holy Mass should be an integral part of the curricula of our Catholic schools’ and religious-education programs, lest our students do not come to appreciate the heart and center of their instructions.
May Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist, lead us to her Son, Jesus, and may she inspire us to follow her profound reverence for the child in the womb, for the elderly, the disabled, the sick – for the gift of all human life!
With an assurance of my prayers, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester