Homily for the Vigil for all Nascent Human Life in Knock
27th November, 2010.
Introduction: Beginning of Vigil.
I welcome you all as we are about to celebrate the Church’s New Year, the 1st Sunday of Advent. During this year the Gospel of Matthew will figure largely in the readings in our Masses. At our meeting in October, the Irish Bishops, responding to the Holy Father’s pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, spoke about the importance of scripture-based prayer to inspire and guide the renewal of the Church in our country at this time. As a first step the bishops encourage all the faithful of Ireland to avail themselves of this year of Matthew as an opportunity for all to engage in a scripture-based prayer.
Recently Veritas produced The Gospel according to Matthew an illustrated edition of the Gospel of Matthew that would be very usable in Churches, schools or parish centres. It also contains guidelines on Lectio Divina. This year of prayer ought to be inspired by the Gospel of Matthew.
In this gospel we get an insight into how to be Church in a time of transition. Matthew deals with community where there are divisions, problems of faith growing cold, false prophets, impostors, moral problems, healing with hostility, lack of forgiveness.
Christ is to be met in his church. He is present in those who share the gospel, in the Church at prayer (18:15-20), in the least of his little ones, in the Eucharist, in times of confusion and uncertainty.
As we gather here at Our Lady’s Shrine this evening we are also conscious of the fact that we are united in prayer with Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, who will be celebrating a solemn vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In our vigil we will also include Eucharistic Adoration to thank the Lord for his total self-giving to the world and for his incarnation which gives every human life its real worth and dignity. In addition, we shall also pray for the Lord’s protection over every human being called into existence.
It is the desire of Our Holy Father that all diocesan bishops preside in similar celebration involving the faithful and religious. We are all aware of the dangers which today threaten human life. Some of these are promoted by a relativistic and utilitarian culture which disables human sensitivity and often renders it powerless to acknowledge the inherent and equal dignity that human life possesses regardless of its stage or condition. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be more than ever, as the late Pope John Paul said in Evangelium Vitae “The People of Life” both with our prayer and in our commitments. In our vigil we will be invoking the Lord to shower his grace and light for the conversion of hearts and, at the same time, we will be offering to the entire world an outstanding ecclesial witness of the Church’s culture of life and love.
We come here this evening with a common concern to uphold and cherish human life in all its stages, from womb to tomb. We experience very mixed emotions, some vacillating between hope and hopelessness, others with a feeling of anger and anxiety, some with feelings of fear and frustration. We are a bit like the disciples in the boat, separated from Jesus, Matthew Chapter 14, threatened by the darkness and the waters of death. At times we ask ourselves why God seems to be absent, why he seems to ignore our good intentions and the efforts we make to uphold his values and why he seems to allow untruth and lack of respect for life to exploit the situation. Yet in that story in Matthew’s Gospel when the disciples are in the direst need and all seems lost, Jesus comes to them with his command “fear not, it is I”. I believe that he is addressing a similar consoling command to us – ‘fear not, I am here”
We come here on a dark November day genuinely concerned about what the future may hold for the unborn child. The Christ who extended the rescuing hand to Peter is with us. He wants us to become more conscious of his presence and power within us. In our vigil we reflect silently on his presence and power with us and ask him to take over and transform our fear into faith. In our own experience we recognise how prayer brings strength and serenity even into situations of tension and threat.
The teaching of the Church is that each individual soul is specially created by God. In the first instant of each human being’s existence he or she is addressed by God and invited into a relationship with him. The Word through whom all things were made speaks personally to each new human being, calling him or her by name. Anyone who had held a newborn baby in his or her arms cannot but be amazed at the sheer miracle of God’s creation .
The creation of every human life is at the same time an invitation into a relationship with God. God’s word was spoken to us in the very moment that we came into existence. And, because it is the word of God’s utterly reliable love, that word continues to be spoken to and in us through all of life and all of eternity. It is the word that tells us that we already bear the image of the heavenly Man and will one day bear that image fully as part of the glorified body of Christ.
In the first moment of our lives we became persons because we were addressed in our deepest selves by the word which gives life to us and which gives it to the full. That is the truth about every human being. The word that says to each of us and to all of us: “You are the image of me”.
As people committed to the Gospel of life we are mindful of what psalm 8 says “what is man that you keep him in mind”. The human being has always questioned the purpose of his or her own existence. It is Jesus Christ however who fully reveals the human person to himself or herself and makes our supreme calling clear. The mystery which we celebrate at Christmas time is God’s full approval, his great Yes to human life. In the Incarnation God has united himself in some fashion with every person. He has truly been made one of us. Because of this in a special and urgent manner today, as Pope John Paul reminded us in Evangelium Vitae, “the Church feels duty-bound to speak out with courage on behalf of those who have no voice”. There he underlines the vigorous re-affirmation of human life and its inviolability and at the same time addresses every person in the name of God to respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life. To defend and promote life, to show reverence and love for it, is a task which God entrusts to every person. We are encouraged to promote a culture of life which will oppose a culture of death.
The late Pope John Paul drew the attention of the world to the spread of a mentality that militates against life – an attitude of hostility towards life in the mother’s womb and life in its last phases. He pointed out the irony that while science and medicine are ever increasingly able to safeguard health and life, threats against life are becoming more insidious. Abortion and euthanasia are claimed as rights and solutions to problems, it was in that context that he used the chilling phrase “a culture of death”. This seeks to impose itself on our desire to live life to the full.
This vigil celebrated throughout the entire Church, in union with the supreme pastor, Pope Benedict, is meant to become a cry of all humanity rising up to God the Father, the giver of all good things, in order that all human life be respected, protected and loved. It is in this spirit that we come here to Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock, conscious of the fact that Mary is the one who nurtured the Lord of life in her womb and gave birth to Him.
The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights because it is the foundation of all other rights. The Catholic Church, in common with many Christians in other churches and many of the great religious and moral traditions of humanity, teaches that the direct and intentional killing of human life at any stage from conception to natural death, is gravely morally wrong. This is the clear and universal teaching of the Catholic Church. Human life is at its most defenceless in the womb and has a right to receive every protection. Abortion violates not only the life of the unborn child but also the life of the mother. There is also the very real danger that the violence associated with abortion will violate the hearts and souls of those involved in the pro-life struggle. Pope John Paul urged us to go back to seeing the family as a sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred; it is the place in which life – the life of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, he says, the family is at the heart of the culture of life.
Mother Teresa often said “I feel that the poorest country is the one that has to kill the unborn child.” She reminds us that as soon as God came to dwell in Mary’s womb, immediately she went in haste to give that good news and as she came into the house of her cousin, the child, the unborn child in the womb of Elizabeth, leaped with joy. That little unborn child was, the first messenger of peace. He recognised the prince of peace, recognised that Christ had come to bring good news for you and for me. Mother Teresa went on to say that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion because it is a direct war, a direct killing, direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in scripture, for God says very clearly: “Even if a mother could forget her child, I will not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand”. We are carved in the palm of God’s hand, so close to him. The unborn child has been carved in the hand of God.
Let us reflect for a moment on the fact that we are here this evening because our parents wanted us. In view of that we have a duty to defend and pass on those values to the next generation.
I would like to end by praying Psalm 139. This Psalm is an authentic expression of true faith in God. The consciousness of the intimate personal relationship between God and the human person reaches a climax in this psalm. Like the psalmist we too peer into the wondrous mystery of God’s concern for all of us and in a special way for the unborn. The psalmist is amazed at the inexplicable wonder of God, present across the universe and still in control even when rejected by sinners. He is a God who searches and knows. God is present in pregnancy or in the sweep of the sun across the universe, in the depths of the earth, even in those who reject and resist him. Here we look upon the splendour of God in a close personal relationship, a God who is attentive to our sorrows and trials.