Back-dropped by vibrant red poinsettias still flourishing from the celebration of Our Lord’s birth, Bishop Ronald Gainer turned to a well-loved Christmas movie as a herald of the Church’s efforts in the pro-life movement.
“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a beautiful story of the dignity of human life,” the bishop said of his favorite film – one that transcends both its era and the Christmas season.
“It’s a wonderful story about the wonders of life…. Its message in 1946 and its message in 2022 is a precious one about the dignity of human life,” Bishop Gainer said.
The bishop recounted the movie’s plot and pro-life message in his homily at the annual Diocesan Respect Life Mass, celebrated on Sunday, January 16 at St. Margaret Mary Church in Harrisburg.
The annual Mass takes place the weekend before the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Since that ruling, an estimated 63.5 million babies have been killed by abortion.
In his homily, Bishop Gainer called upon Catholics to share the messages of hope and the dignity of life, as put forth in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Frank Capra’s film follows the story of George Bailey, depressed and devastated by the failure of his family’s business. On the cusp of taking his own life, Bailey is saved by his guardian angel, Clarence, who shows Bailey what the lives of his family, friends and townspeople would have been like without his love and loyalty.
“I like to think of our Respect Life movement as doing the work of Clarence,” Bishop Gainer remarked. “We’re all meant to be that messenger, those angels who try to help our society understand the meaning, the dignity, the sanctity of every human life – from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. That’s our agenda.”
This year’s Respect Life Mass also expressed prayers for an overturn of Roe v. Wade, as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, argued on December 1. A full pro-life victory would mean the overturn of Roe. The outcome of the Court’s decision isn’t expected until spring.
“We have reason to be very hopeful as the highest court in our land considers the Dobbs case, and hope that it’s based on that very truth – the reality of human personhood from the moment of conception – and not just punt the decision to make the states decide,” Bishop Gainer said in his homily.
“Is it a person at the moment of conception, and, if it is, why isn’t that truth enshrined in the laws of our land? Until the 1960s, no one doubted, no law represented that what is conceived is not a human person. It all went upside down to certain agendas that are still very prevalent,” he said.
“There are those who think that following your conscience means freedom from the truth. Following your conscience means following something that’s been formed in the truth, not simply our own subjective perceptions or wishes,” Bishop Gainer remarked.
“Let us pray today in this Respect Life Mass, first of all that we are convinced in our own hearts of our dignity, given by God, and the dignity of everyone around us, and lament how many are not around us because of the decisions that were made for them,” he said. He urged the faithful to “be messengers like Clarence” and “be filled with hope and courage to continue the work of witnessing to the sanctity of every human life.”
Championing the Cause
Greeting worshipers after Mass, Connie Fenice, Respect Life Ministry coordinator at St. Margaret Mary Parish, championed the pro-life cause, just as she’s been doing for most of her life.
When the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, Fenice was pregnant with her first child. She said she never could have imagined it would still be the law of the land nearly 50 years later.
“1,200,000 unborn children die each year in America, with a total of more than 63 million innocent unborn lives lost,” she said.
And 49 years later, pro-life witnesses like Fenice continue to pray and work for an end to abortion, and for a culture that respects and protects the dignity of all human life. It’s an unyielding and fervent effort, and one that has yielded much fruit.
The daughter Fenice carried in 1973 would eventually join her in prayer vigils at abortion clinics in Harrisburg, and all four of her children would become involved in the pro-life movement at their parishes and schools. Fenice has continued to educate in the pro-life movement, starting a pro-life club at St. Margaret Mary School 27 years ago, and helping coordinate similar efforts for Bishop McDevitt High School’s active club.
“St. Margaret Mary Parish was so honored to host the Diocesan Respect Life Mass,” Fenice said. Her daughters served as greeters, and her granddaughter was the cantor that day. Lector Betsy Schaedler is also active in the pro-life movement, particularly at the former Birthright of Harrisburg, now Morning Star Pregnancy Services.
“I take great hope in seeing that the pro-life movement is now being championed by our youth,” Fenice said. “They know first-hand what abortion has done to their generation. I have marched beside these wonderful young people and stood beside them praying at Planned Parenthood. The hope and joy of those who work in pro-life has sustained me and so many others through these decades.”
She expressed that same hope for a pro-life outcome in the Dobbs case, and a culture that respects and uplifts the dignity of women, men and children.
“For the first time in a generation, advocates for life have hope that our U.S. Supreme Court finally may overturn Roe v. Wade. We prayerfully await their decision.”
Pro-Life work, however, will not end, regardless of the outcome of the case, she said.
“The challenges are still very great,” she said, pointing to the RU-486 abortion pill that now accounts for 51 percent of abortions of Pennsylvania.
“Those of us in the pro-life movement will continue our work to educate and change the hearts and minds of all,” Fenice said.
Editor’s Note: The Catholic Witness will have coverage of the national March for Life and local pro-life rallies next week at www.catholicwitness.org and in the upcoming February 3 edition.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness