Bishop Robert Harris of the Diocese of Saint John and Archbishop Valéry Vienneau of the Archdiocese of Moncton along with many priests of the diocese, concelebrated a special mass for a large assembly of pro-life Catholics at St. Dunstan’s Parish, Fredericton. The congregation came from around the province to join others at the Legislature for the annual March for Life. But before moving on to hear the speakers at the rally, all have gathered here first, to be nourished by the Word of God.
The scripture readings chosen for the Feast of St. Matthias provided appropriate themes to begin a day dedicated to the sanctity of life and the importance of bearing witness to this. Bishop Harris’ homily recounted the call to mission of the apostles from the First Reading (Acts 1: 15-17, 20-26) and the Gospel (John 15: 9-17):
Scriptures tells of how important it was to find someone to witness to the resurrection of the Lord. We all know the story when Judas betrayed the Lord and the twelve were reduced to eleven. The eleven said, ‘We need to restore the symbolism of the twelve. We need to find someone who can witness as we do; that Jesus is the love of God; he has risen from the dead; he is the God who has come among us, to save us.’ And so the scripture says, ‘Let another take his position of overseer. And he must be one who was accompanying Jesus; one who was there from the Baptism of John until the Ascension of the Lord; one who can witness to who Jesus was and to the fact he, indeed, has risen from the dead.’ And the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was added to the eleven apostles and became the twelfth witness to who Jesus is.
During this time of Easter, we the faith community, have been following the events that manifested the apparitions of Jesus resurrected to the people who eventually became that early Christian community. The first one who saw the resurrected Jesus was Mary Magdalene, and then the ten in the room hiding out in fear, then the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and once again, the eleven who were together a week after the resurrection. And in all these groups of people, what did they say the minute they experienced the Lord? They went around saying, ‘We have seen the Lord, we have seen the Lord and we are witnesses to this.’ The early community remembered all that Jesus said and did. At the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of love, and revealed that just as the Father loved him, Jesus loved them. And he prayed that this joy would be in them, and that their joy would be fulfilled. And then he said, ‘You did not choose me—I chose you. Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’
The scriptural message to bear witness as the early Christians did was a very affirming one for the pro-life parishioners, who would be participating in the March for Life primarily as witnesses. I pondered with newer awareness on the words “CHOOSE LIFE,” the popular pro-life slogan, from both a Christian and Pro-life perspective. We ‘choose life,’ because Jesus is life, and light, and love. Like the disciples at the resurrection, we are witnesses to this life, because it is undeniable. And if witnessing is our mission, then the command to ‘choose life’ is our commission, or authority from Christ who also commands us to: abide in him; love one another; go and bear much fruit. A rally sign that reads “Choose Life” is not a suggestion, an earnest plea, nor a condescension passed from one group to another, but rather it is a command for all, from a God that chooses all to be loved, so that their joy might be fulfilled.
In his final blessing, Bishop Harris reminded the gathering that, “Saint John Paul II, encouraged us to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. As Catholic Christians, we are called to be people of life, people for life sent to be witnesses and choosers of a culture of life.”