“The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name … For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb … I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord.”
Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost began his homily at the annual diocesan Mass for Life on Jan. 20 – celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic -- with those words from the day’s first reading. Students from high schools and a few elementary schools across the eight-county Diocese of Cleveland attended the liturgy in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
(See above for a photo gallery from the Mass.)
The bishop noted the words were proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Christ to a people who were living in a time of social, economic and political upheaval; a time of moral collapse, a time of despair and hopelessness for many. “A time not all that different from our own time,” the bishop added.
The words were meant to provide encouragement, courage and hope, he said, as well as a reminder to the people of ancient Israel that God had called them from birth, had chosen them as his own, he was with them and he loved them. God had given them life and would continue to bring them to life in him, even though the times seemed dark and desperate. Unfortunately, the bishop said they didn’t always listen or believe.
“Today though these same words – Isaiah’s prophetic words – are God’s word to us – to you and me,” he said.
He also reminded the students and others gathered for the Mass and watching the livestream that they are “made glorious in the sight of the Lord because God loves you and God has loved you and me into life. Are we listening? Do we believe? Do you believe that God’s word to you and to me is true?” he asked.
Every Mass is an act of praise and thanksgiving, the bishop said. But at the Mass for Life, we give thanks in a special way for the gift of life, beginning with thanking God for the gift of our lives. God’s word is true; he called us and formed us from our mother’s womb. “God lived us into life. Not one of us here is an accident. Not one of us here is simply the biological product of our parents,” he added.
The bishop said God gave us live and called us his believed, creating us “as God’s unique fingerprint on this moment in human history, God’s unique fingerprint on this time and place … Our lives have a purpose … God has loved us into life. By God’s action, we have been made glorious in the sight of the Lord. Are you listening? Do you believe that God’s word is true?”
He reminded the congregation that since God places such an immense value on use, we should not only give thanks for our own lives but for the lives of others he created and loved. God desires to strengthen every human life with the power of the Spirit and to discover Christ dwelling within our hearts.
“Each person has been created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is called to be a child of God,” the bishop said, which is why in the Gospel we are told not to despise any child.
“As we gather to celebrate this Mass for Life, then, we must give thanks to God not only for the gift of our own lives but for the gift of all lives,” he said. “All life must be respected, dignified, celebrated and protected because every human life is precious, valued and loved by God as it should be by us.”
Bishop Woost said the word of God became very real for him in the summer of 2001 when he spent a month with three seminarians ministering in Calcutta, India with Mother Teresa’s community, the Missionaries of Charity. He said he had never experienced such poverty and human suffering as he saw in the streets of Calcutta.
“What mattered was they were God’s creation, God’s children valued by God, glorious in his sight and worthy of our love,” the bishop said. And Jesus told us, “For whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”
The bishop said Mother Teresa said if one abortion is allowed, how could we stop anyone from deliberately harming a child, or torturing and killing him, since it is the same child inside or outside of the womb.
“Today, as we celebrate the Mass for Life, we thank God for our lives and for every human life from conception to natural death,” the bishop said. Much more must be done to protect and honor life in our country and world, he added. Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, which was overturned last June with the Dobbs decision, he said.
“But our mission is far from complete. The Dobbs decision places the course of human lives in the legislatures of each state. The voice of the voiceless unborn still needs to be heard. The dignity of every human life still needs to be recognized and upheld,” he added.
The bishop said the value for life extends beyond abortion to things such as human trafficking, racism, an unwillingness to welcome refugees and immigrants, gun violence in schools, religious and ethnic prejudice and intolerance.
“All life is precious and meant to be valued. And it begins in the womb. It begins with every unborn child of God created in God’s image and likeness – just like you and me,” Bishop Woost said, reminding those gathered that much still needs to be done with regard to valuing and respecting human life.
He encouraged the congregation to read Bishop Malesic’s message on the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and to learn what is happening in the Diocese of Cleveland.
After Mass, Bishop Malesic read his message before addressing the congregation and encouraging them to continue the work of respecting life from conception through natural death.
He also took time to greet the students, pose for photos and even sign some autographs.