Precious Gifts • Two students from St. Rose High School, Belmar, present the gifts of bread and wine to Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., during the Mass for Life he celebrated Jan. 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Joe Moore photos
Precious Gifts • Two students from St. Rose High School, Belmar, present the gifts of bread and wine to Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., during the Mass for Life he celebrated Jan. 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Joe Moore photos

By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent

Commemorating a day of sorrow for lives lost with hopeful prayers for a changed future, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated the annual Mass for Life Jan. 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. 

Clergy, students and faithful from across the Diocese of Trenton and New Jersey attended the Mass, which was concelebrated by a number of priests including Msgr. Joseph L. Roldan, Cathedral rector, and Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, vicar for clergy and consecrated life.

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Mass for Life 

Bishop O'Connell's Mass for Life homily

The date was also designated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.

“The tragedy of abortion, my sisters and brothers in Christ, has continued to repeat itself millions of times in the last 45 years since the United States Supreme Court rendered its decision in the landmark case ‘Roe v. Wade,’” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily. “Today, the anniversary of that wrongheaded judicial announcement ... is an example of the fact that what is legal is not always moral.  ... What is ethically and morally wrong does not always find support in what a judicial body claims to be right and true. The silent voices of over 53 million souls in the United States make that case for us.”

Harkening back to Thomas Jefferson’s words in the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, the Bishop reminded the congregation of the “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“[They] are not the decision of any judicial body or constitutional interpretation,” he said. “They are rights endowed in the very soul of every human person – born and unborn – by the Creator.  They are called ‘inalienable rights’ because they cannot, they should not, they must not be taken away under the guise of some other rights, real or imagined.

“A civilized people,” the Bishop continued, “is not identified by its darkest moments, but, rather, by the noblest aspirations of its God-given purpose. And so we gather, and we put that God-given purpose before us in the face of one of our nation’s darkest moments.”

Recognizing that the nation remains politically and ethically divided, particularly when it comes to human rights, Bishop O’Connell drew wisdom from the Scripture Readings for the day, contrasting the culture of life to the culture of death.

“The Gospel of St. Mark reminds us in no uncertain terms that ‘if a kingdom is divided against itself, if a house is divided against itself, it will not stand,’” he said. “In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we read ‘this is what the Lord asks: If Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool, what kind of house will you build for me? A house that honors those inalienable rights that I, your Creator, have given you, or a house built upon their destruction?’”

Bishop O’Connell pointed to the Old Testament for God’s answer, in the Book of Deuteronomy: “‘Choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life.’”

Recalling the theme “Love Saves Lives” for the previous week’s 45th annual March for Life in Washington, the Bishop entreated his flock to remember that for Christian pro-life supporters, “Jesus is their example; Jesus is their inspiration, Jesus is their conviction, as his is ours today – and HIS love saves lives.”

The Mass was followed immediately by a walk to the State House Annex nearby for the annual Rally for Life, in which many congregants participated.

“We can’t give in to the hate dividing our country,” said John Toman, parishioner of St. John the Baptist, Allentown, and member of Knights of Columbus Council 7333. “We have to fight with love, the way that Jesus would. We need to change hearts, and we’re not going to do that with a vote. We’ll do it one person at a time.”

Mary Helik, member of Visitation Parish, Brick, attended the Mass and rally with friend Anne Dempster, member of Assumption Parish, New Egypt.

“I wanted to come to show that life is important from conception to natural death,” Helik said. “It’s an opportunity to show [our beliefs] publicly – and with the present state administration, it’s a battle.”

Dempster said she attempts to come to the Mass each year. “I like to pray as a group at the Cathedral, and be encouraged to be here among others who believe the same,” she explained. “Especially with the new administration ...we want to remind them that we’re still here, we haven’t left the building.”

Father James Grogan, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, came with a small contingent of parishioners. “This has been a battle of a lifetime,” he said. “St. Teresa of Avila says ‘Christ has no body now but yours, no hands or feet but yours...’ We are the voice of the children aborted; we are the voice for the voiceless. I had a challenge for my parishioners this weekend – to do something different each day this week that they wouldn’t normally do, to share their faith. This week is practice!”

St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, and St. Rose High School, Belmar, both sent student groups to the Mass and Rally for Life – evidence that support for the unborn is cross-generational and resonating with youth.

“It’s very important to take a stand and wrong to give up on life,” said SJVHS senior Johnny Buchanan. “All lives matter, unborn or not – they’re a precious gift from God, and it’s not up to us to choose.”

Donovan Reiser, also an SJVHS senior, said attending the day’s events was important because “the next person to cure cancer could have been aborted... all souls killed could have been people that did great things.”

Fellow senior Samantha Trippiedi agreed. “They don’t have voices, so they need us to stand up for them.”

“It’s important to stand up for what’s right versus what’s allowed,” said St. Rose High School junior Frank Bellezza. Classmate Anne Ditullio, freshman, said it was key for her to attend because being present physically made more of an impact. “It’s an important topic people need to know about, and that we strongly support.”

Patrick Smith, SJVHS athletics and Christian service director, said that the majority of the students who came from his school were student athletes and active in the Catholic Athletes for Christ group.

“Our SJV students value human life in all its forms,” Smith attested. “They wanted to defend human life and be a voice for those who have none and can’t defend themselves.”