Homily of Bishop Kevin on the Day for Life – October 1st 2017
What do you think of when you hear the word “humble”? Do you know any humble people? Would you describe yourself as “humble”? To be humble is not the same as being powerless or worthless. I can think of a few people I have worked with who are very competent and who have achieved a lot in their lives, but who don’t make a big deal about it. Humble people are often people who use their gifts to serve others, and it’s never about themselves or what they will get out if it.
In our second reading, St. Paul proposes Jesus to us as a model for our own attitude. He tells us that, if our belonging to the Christian community means anything to us, we must have in ourselves “the mind of Christ Jesus”. He goes on to tell us that Jesus “though he was divine, did not cling to his equality with God, but humbled himself”, even to the extent of accepting the death of a criminal. Nobody would suggest for a moment that Jesus was weak or ambivalent. He spoke his mind; he challenged dishonesty, arrogance and hypocrisy wherever he saw it. But it was never just about him; it was always about helping people to experience and to engage with the love of God. That was what allowed him, Lord and Master though he was, to wash the feet of his disciples.
When it is “all about me”; when I put my own agenda ahead of anything else, the end result is often the destruction of others. We have all experienced bullying or the abuse of power in some situation; in the workplace and in the schoolyard, on the road and even in the family. Young people today experience bullying on social media and it usually comes from unhappy people who have no solutions for their own lives.
Today we celebrate the Day for Life, which was first established by Pope John Paul II in 1995. In keeping with his original intention, the theme for this year’s Day for Life is the promotion of a culture which protects life and respects women.
It is fifty years this year since the legalisation of abortion in England. How many babies have been aborted because people wanted to cling to their own agenda (my plans, my reputation, my social life, my absolute right to control my body). How many more have died because their mothers felt lonely and afraid, rather than supported by their partners, their families, their friends and their society. The statistics show that, one in five pregnancies in Britain ends in abortion, and that 90% of unborn babies with Down Syndrome in Britain are aborted every year. This is not what we want for our children or for our society.
The Day for Life is, first and foremost, a day of prayer that we may be able to find in ourselves the love, the tenderness and the courage to promote a culture that protects life and respects women. St Mark tells us in his Gospel of an occasion when the disciples of Jesus were unable to drive out an evil spirit and they asked Jesus why they had been unsuccessful. Jesus replied “this kind of spirit can only be driven out by prayer”. The attitude that would suggest that human life is disposable or that some lives are of no value, has its roots in the spirit of evil. For that reason, I believe that the campaign to legalise abortion will not be defeated by political strategies alone. It requires constant prayer. Today I am asking people throughout our diocese, even if it has not been your practice up to now, to consider committing to spend one hour each week in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, or to come together with your neighbours or friends to pray the rosary once a week, specifically for the intention of the protection of life and for the needs of women who are experiencing difficulty in pregnancy.
As I have said already, fear can undermine our capacity to make wise choices in our lives. In the same letter in which he established the Day for Life, Pope John Paul said:
“I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.”
Pope Francis more recently said something very similar and asked priests especially to be “a guide a support and a comfort” to women on this journey of reconciliation.
It is more difficult to understand how some politicians and healthcare professionals can justify to themselves their promotion or facilitation of abortion. Politicians are more immediately removed from the personal “crisis” that provokes the choice of abortion and their particular remit is to serve the common good, which includes the good of all. Doctors and nurses have a more detailed scientific knowledge of unborn human life and cannot be in any doubt that the unborn child is a unique human being who has already embarked on the path of life. Obviously healthcare professionals and politicians come under significant pressure at times like this. Sometimes, like the rest of us, they make choices on the basis of a misguided compassion.
We must always speak out courageously against unjust laws and practices which conflict with the right to life, but it is not our place as Christians to condemn anyone. I invite you instead to pray especially for politicians and healthcare professionals in these challenging times, that they may have the courage and the wisdom to live up to their responsibilities to protect life while at the same time respecting women.
Conversion of heart comes from a combination of truth and love. Humility should lead us, first of all, to ask ourselves in what we need to change and to grow so that our society may become more protective of life and respectful of women. Both the Gospel and the first reading today remind us of the very real possibility of conversion of heart, in every aspect of our lives. God doesn’t give up on anyone. He has not given up on you. Neither should we lose heart in our efforts to convince people, by reason and by practical love, that choosing life is always the right option.