Editor’s note: Here is the homily delivered by Bishop Douglas J. Lucia on Jan. 22, 2022, at the Respect Life Mass:

“Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is. 49).

In western Canada a young missionary told the native tribes of the love of God. To the indigenous people it was like a revelation. After the missionary had spoken, an old chief asked, “When you spoke of the Great Spirit just now, did I hear you say, ‘Our Father’?” “Yes,” responded the missionary. “That is very new and sweet to me,” said the chief. “We never thought of the Great Spirit as Father. We hear him in the thunder; we see him in the lightning, the tempest and the blizzard, and we were afraid. So when you tell us that the Great Spirit is our father, that is very beautiful to us.”

The old man paused, and then he went on, as a glimpse of glory suddenly shone on him. “Missionary, did you say that the Great Spirit is your Father?” “Yes,” replied the missionary.  “And,” questioned the chief, “did you say that he is our Father, too?” “That I did,” said the missionary. “Then,” exclaimed the old chief, like a man on whom a dawn of joy had burst forth, “you and I are brothers!”

My sisters and brothers, I suppose we could describe the above scene as an “epiphany”—a “light bulb” moment. One where God’s light shines a little bit brighter in the world because you and I take the time to recognize the gifts of God in our midst. And at the heart of this recognition, is the moment in which we cherish the sanctity of human life at all its stages and see in one another a manifestation of the presence of God.

In a nutshell, this is what this time after the Epiphany of the Lord that we are now in is all about! Discovering God’s presence in our midst today, as well as shedding further light on it so that we can lead others to discover the Lord’s delight in us … in the human family that is made in the image and likeness of God!

We see the idea that people matter to God in our Gospel reading where Jesus not only makes the point that each child is not a piece of personal property—the legal view of the day—but is a citizen of the greatest importance in the kingdom of heaven. Think of what this is saying to us in the present moment when we hear the refrain, “My body … my choice.” Is not Jesus standing the child in our midst this morning to remind us of the gift that each human person is—a gift that unless it is cherished from its earliest beginnings can be considered a piece of property at any stage of human life?! Is that not what happened with slavery and continues today whether speaking of abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking or capital punishment?

Yet, my brothers and sisters, I think it is particularly important for us to note, that even for Jesus it is a conscious effort to show concern and it costs one personally to search out one who is lost in this day and age—not just the child in the womb, but also importantly the one who is feeling lost in life or that they don’t matter so why should they care. Sisters and brothers, let me be straightforward: If the sign of God’s presence was going to manifest itself in his time and place, Jesus could not be short … not be selfish … with the gift of God he was!

What a lesson for you and me today! No wonder that Mary’s instruction in last Sunday’s Gospel to the stewards at the wedding feast of Cana is just as important this day: “Do whatever he tells you!” In this time after the Epiphany, and especially as we gather to witness to the gift of human life, you and I, brothers and sisters, are being called to be ever more cognizant that the time has come for us to embrace the Gospel of Life in all its facets … in all its faces!

And if we are to be “a light to the nations, so that God’s saving message can reach to the ends of the earth” (see Is. 49:6b) it is done by paying particular attention to our life in Christ! How publicly and prophetically do we portray our relationship with God in the midst of the world? St. Paul would sum up this mission by calling his listeners to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20).

In one of his Sunday sermons, Dr. Martin Luther King whose birthday we just celebrated, spoke of this challenge in American society and its need to rediscover its rootedness in God. He said, “We’ve got to go back and rediscover the principle that there is a God behind the process. Well this you say, ‘Why is it that you raise that as a point in your sermon, in a church? The mere fact we are at church, we believe in God, we don’t need to go back and rediscover that. The mere fact that we are here, and the mere fact that we sing and pray, and come to church—we believe in God.’ Well, there’s some truth in that. But we must remember that it’s possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life. The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism—that’s the most dangerous type. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don’t. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That’s a dangerous type of atheism. And I think, my friends, that that is the thing that has happened in America …”

  As we let these words accompany us as we give witness to the dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death let us ask ourselves how we can let God’s light shine brighter in this community, in our nation and in our world. Let us make the words of the following prayer our own:

Lord, teach us that here on earth

You have no voice but ours

to preach the good news

of Jesus to others.

Help us to spread that good news

not only by our prayers

and by our material resources

but also by our personal word and example.

Lord, teach us that here on earth

we are, indeed, your hands;

we are your voice;

we are your heart. Amen.

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