Homily – Youth 2000 Retreat, Summerhill College, Sligo, on the Day for Life, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, 4th October 2015 (Bishop Kevin Doran)
I want to begin this morning by sharing with you a few words from Pope Francis. He says:
The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. (Laudato Si, 65)
This morning I want to focus a little on that idea that the call to life is an invitation into relationship. Before I do that, it may be helpful if we think a little bit about the whole business of creation. The accounts we read in the Book of Genesis are not meant to be historical documents or scientific reports. They are basically an expression of our faith that everything that exists has its origin in the creative plan of God and that everything that he created is good. That faith in the God of creation is expressed in symbolic language but when you get beneath the poetry, there is a lot of logic and good human psychology in there.
There is no conflict in my view between creation and evolution. The universe that God created is constantly evolving towards perfection. That is part of the plan. But each one of us is also part of the plan. As Pope Benedict said, at the Mass to celebrate the beginning of his ministry as Pope:
We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.
Relationship with God
Let’s go back then to the idea that each of us is called into relationship from the first moment of existence. The first and most important relationship in our lives is our relationship with God. St. Augustine wrote “you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts will not rest until they rest in you”. It took him many years to discover that. Like St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola, lost touch with his faith as a young man, but later he came to know God again, through reading the bible and the lives of the saints. He wrote: Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save their souls. The other things on the face of the earth are created for the human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created.
Relationship with One Another:
It is often only through other people that we come to know God. We journey together and, in the best of relationships, we lead one another to God.
- Man and Woman
Our readings this morning remind us that, the first and most fundamental human relationship, is the relationship of man and woman, created in the image of God. In marriage, they are called to become one flesh and to reflect the love of God in their own relationship in two ways. Firstly they are called to be faithful in their love, as God is, being companions and helpers to one another down all the years of their life. Secondly, they are called to reflect the creativity of God’s love, by being partners with God in passing on the gift of life to children. This connection between faithful love and the gift of life is not just “a quirky Catholic idea”. It is common sense and the same basic truth is found in almost every culture since long before the dawn of organised religion. In Christianity, however, the love of husband and wife is seen as one of the principal ways in which the love of God is expressed in our world. The love of husband and wife is not just about themselves; it is their vocation in the Church. It is to reflect on this vocation and on how to support it that representatives of the bishops from all over the world are gathering in Rome this month
- Relationships of Care in Society
Day after day, we encounter hundreds of people at school, at work, on buses and trains, in coffee shops. Some of them serve us and some of us may be called to serve them. Most of the time, we are probably unaware of their existence. But the providence of God often brings people together in what I might describe as a relationship of care. People who are frail due to old age serious illness are particularly vulnerable. They need all the love and care that we can give them. It is one of what we call the “Corporal Works of Mercy”.
In recent years we have begun to hear people arguing in favour of euthanasia or “assisted suicide”. It is presented as an act of compassion towards those who are elderly or critically ill. In reality it is more often about a society that cannot cope with suffering. Modern medicine can deal very effectively with pain and physical discomfort, but the greatest pain of all is the pain of abandonment. Talk of “dying with dignity” or “assisted dying” places great emotional pressure on people who are sick or elderly. It is almost as if they should “do the decent thing” and just “go away quietly”. What we Christians bring to the table is a commitment to assisting people to live with dignity until death naturally comes.
This morning, Archbishop Charles Brown, the Papal Nuncio, has issued a message from Pope Francis to the people of Ireland, to mark the Day for Life. I have not been able to find it anywhere on the mainstream media, but it’s quite short and I’d like to read it to you.
The Holy Father Francis sends prayerful good wishes on the occasion of the Day for Life in Ireland. His Holiness recalls the life and teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, which show so beautifully how all life is the gift of God, who is “the protector, our guardian and defender”. Let us imitate God in protecting, guarding and defending all human life, in particular, the weakest and most vulnerable: the sick, the old, the unborn, the poor and the marginalized. The Holy Father prays that this Day dedicated to life in Ireland will lead to a renewed recognition that the right to life is the foundation of integral human development and the measure of a truly compassionate society.
I want to join with Pope Francis in encouraging you to stand firmly on the side of life. Work together towards the renewal in our society of a culture of life. The coming months will see growing political campaigns to remove the constitutional protection for the life of unborn and to introduce legislation to allow for Euthanasia in some form. We Catholics need to inform ourselves and we need to be politically active in an appropriate way; a way which puts the Gospel of Life firmly on the table. I know some of you are already actively involved and I encourage all of you to play your part, especially by using the gift of reason to explain the pro-life position to your family and friends. This can be done in a very respectful way, but respect for others does not mean that we have to agree with them.
Relationship with the Earth, Our Common Home
Going back for a moment to the theme of relationship, the third of the closely intertwined relationships in which Pope Francis suggests that human life is grounded is our relationship with the earth itself. It is good to reflect a little on this, especially today which is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
As you know, St. Francis saw the hand of God in all creation and constantly gave praise to God for “brother sun and sister moon” for the earth and the animals. This was not just an exercise in tree hugging. Francis of Assisi understood that, in the earth, God has given us a common home, which is ours to use and to pass on to the next generation. Our relationship with the earth is essentially connected to our relationship with those who share our common home and with those who will live here after we are gone.
Here is what Pope Francis says: The earth was here before us and it has been given to us….. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.
In conclusion then, I invite you as you go about your daily lives, to be always aware of that invitation into relationship on which the meaning of your human existence if grounded, first and foremost, relationship with God, then relationship with others and relationship with the earth itself. It is not one or the other, but all three.