MERRILLVILLE – In this Year of St. Joseph, Bishop Robert J. McClory revered the head of the Holy Family as the “Defender of Life” during the annual Respect Life Celebration Prayer Service sponsored by Franciscan Health and called upon faithful in the Diocese of Gary to use the stepfather and protector of the Baby Jesus as a role model in their own efforts to protect life “from the womb to the tomb.”
“There may be many threats (today) … that would seek to leave those in society who are vulnerable at risk with no one to care for them, almost as if they were problems to be discarded,” noted the bishop. “St. Joseph responded with fidelity (to threats of death by King Herod); he said ‘I’m going to protect Jesus.’
“So today, from those very first moments of life, we seek to protect, to defend, from the very moment of conception, just as Jesus, from the moment he was conceived, when Joseph was informed by an angel, was protected,” noted Bishop McClory.
While the prayer service usually brings more than 1,000 diocesan schoolchildren to the Franciscan Health Dyer campus to pray for an end to abortion and the protection of all human life until its natural end, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the observance to take place virtually for the second straight year.
“I think it turned out well,” said Josef Dou, director of spiritual care at Franciscan Health Dyer, of the video. “Of course, we wanted to gather in person, but especially with children involved, we chose to put their safety first. Schools were able to play the video at their convenience and pray together or even hold discussions about respecting life.”
Distributed to Diocese of Gary and south suburban Illinois schools for viewing by middle and high school students last month, the professionally-produced video (YouTube link: https://youtu.be/utNizEKR7LA), featured hymns, prayers, a Gospel reading, a homily by the bishop, intercessions and a blessing for youth. Bishop McClory even continued the tradition of listing each participating school, encouraging students to give a cheer when they heard their school named.
“There’s so many threats to life today … regardless of the color of one’s skin or their country of origin, as Catholic Christians, as men and women of goodwill, we’re called to protect these most vulnerable youngsters and our elderly, and everyone in between,” the bishop said.
Pope Francis, noted Bishop McClory, “has given us a striking analogy. He talks about our culture as a ‘throwaway culture.’ You have something you don’t need anymore, oftentimes you just throw it away, if it doesn’t have any use to me anymore, we just pitch it into the trash.
“Pope Francis warns us that this ‘throwaway culture’ certainly cannot extend to human life, to human beings,” added the bishop, but rather, “(We must) embrace with loving arms those who society might say are not worthy of love and respect. This is a beautiful calling, a beautiful way to live.”
“We are so grateful that the Lord has given us St. Joseph as an image, as someone who can inspire us to protect all those who are vulnerable,” said Bishop McClory. “Let’s imitate his virtues. Let’s ask Jesus to guide us. Let’s call upon the Holy Family to intercede for us, so that we can promote the Gospel of Life, so that we can celebrate life.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Father Rick Holy, coordinator of the Diocese of Gary’s pro-life activities, whose role in the prayer service was to read the Gospel about the appearance of an angel in Joseph’s dream, telling the young stepfather to avoid King Herod’s hunt for Baby Jesus by taking his family to exile in Egypt until the ruler died. (Matt. 2: 13-15, 19-23)
“It’s a big deal for school kids of that age to get out of class, get bussed to an outdoor service, but we just couldn’t do it this year,” Father Holy said. “Usually, that (alone) brings about an awareness of the importance of respect for the dignity and sanctity of life. We hope this virtual prayer service can still convey that message.”
Father Holy added that “the example of St. Joseph as the protector of life, especially in this Year of St. Joseph as proclaimed by Pope Francis, is a good example in terms of how to relate to the importance of all life. St. Joseph was responsible for protecting the lives of Mary Incarnate and Jesus Incarnate, and we are supposed to see Christ in each person.”
The pro-life advocate, also pastor of St. Edward in Lowell, posed a question in light of Respect Life Month. “Who does God love more? The 80-year-old who is infirm or the 18-year-old in the prime of life? The Muslim extremist who lives in the Gaza Strip or the immigrant who loves this country and wants to come to the U.S. to live? The three-year-old who is the joy of his family or the three-month-old child in the womb of his teenage mother?”
The answer, said Father Holy, is that “God loves them all equally and that’s what we are called to do, no matter who they are and what the circumstances are. We don’t have the luxury of loving some people more than others, and that is absolutely a challenge, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.
“We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We’ve got to be generous in loving everyone with the grace God gave us,” he added.
In his recent Respect Life Sunday homily, Father Holy quoted St. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” that the Gospel of Life can never be something peripheral to faith. “Instead, he declared that the Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ saving message to the world. From the incarnation of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his suffering and death on the Cross, God reveals to us the dignity of all human life, from its very beginning to its very end. Life is sacred – it’s precious.”
Calling upon Catholics to renew a commitment “to celebrate, defend and promote life,” Bishop McClory offered a simple concluding prayer: “May we all be like St. Joseph, each in our own way.”