The Culture of Life, according to Bishop Farrell

FarrellDC2Just before the March for Life took off in Washington, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, of Dallas, spoke about the Culture of Life in his homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of those homilies that, I imagine, Americans tend to be pretty good at: uplifting, positive and, most importantly, encouraging.

Although the past forty years have seen positive developments in the fight against abortion in the United States, but setbacks still exist, and in the face of them, Bishop Farrell writes, “we may feel like the “chosen people” of the Old Testament who wandered through the desert for 40 years. The Lord made a covenant with them that they would inherit the Promised Land, but with all the setbacks, the discouragement, the suffering and pain and the passage of time, they began to lose hope. Without faith, we too can begin to lose hope of ever changing the hearts of those who do not believe in the sanctity of human life. There is a real danger that we too can become complacent.”

But there is a strong reason to not give up: “Dear brothers and sisters, Christ has promised us that His Word will prevail. We cannot lose hope. We must continue the struggle in positive, life-affirming ways. We must pray and we must continue to make our voices heard so that our elected leaders know that there are many who stand for life. We must never give up…”

Good stuff, and an example for Bishop Farrell’s brother bishops – and all Catholics – in Europe. For those who want to read the homily in Dutch, you can do so here.

Photo credit: Nancy Phelan Wiechec/CNS photo

For life – the American example

“I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.”

With this tweet, his 27th since the launch of his account, Pope Benedict XVI makes full use of what Twitter is for. Although his other tweets are undoubtedly worthwhile and eloquent, this is the first time that he makes a direct comment on something as it happens. In this case it is the March for Life taking place in Washington DC right now: tens of thousands of people are marching for the protection of unborn children, and they so as a dignified, optimistic and powerful witness for the sanctity of all human life.

May this powerful witness, which goes against the stream of modern secular thought, serve as an example for those countries, my own included, where the killing of the unborn has become largely accepted as a standard medical procedure. May the prayers in the United States also strengthen our own, that conversion of hearts may lead to the protection of all children, rich or poor, here or elsewhere, born or unborn.

Below an impression of part of the large number of people in Washington:

march for life

The immeasurable value of life

mars voor het levenSaturday we marked the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus, as many mistakenly think) and in The Hague the annual March for Life (picture at left) braved the freezing cold to make a stand for the right of life of all people. And life is the common denominator between these too. Mary was prepared since before her birth to carry, nurture and protect the perfect life in her womb, and today we are called to extend the same protection to the life of all people, born or yet unborn, healthy or ill, rich or poor.

Being a Catholic, I can’t be anything but pro-life. This is admittedly a moniker laden with political and other connotations, but for me it simply means that I choose life over death. Life is the original and ultimate gift we have been granted by God. And as with all His gifts, He doesn’t simply give and then walk away. No, He is with us forever, there when we reach out to Him when life gets difficult or even seemingly impossible.

But being pro-life is not the exclusive territory of Catholics, or even of Christians. All it requires are open eyes and a compassionate heart. Eyes that are open to the reality of both the difficulties and the beauty of life. A heart that is compassionate towards the person suffering, for whatever reason, and willing to help overcome that suffering.

I live in a society where abortion and euthanasia are generally considered to be human rights. As a result, they are seen as medical procedures aimed at curing a patient from the illness of pregnancy or pain.  The very nature of life, as a gift from God and a responsibility for all of us, is thereby completely forgotten. Not even wilfully so, but out of ease or ignorance. Especially among younger people – teenagers, children even – this stance on abortion has lead to an increase in abortions, teenage pregnancies and a liberal attitude to sexuality that was unheard of even ten years ago. Children aged 12 or 13 are engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse, which from their standpoint is understandable if the unwanted consequences are so easily dealt with. Add to that the fact that abortion and euthanasia are both presented as having little to no psychological consequences on the person in question or their families, and these procedures indeed become simple cures for a disease.

But these are lies. Pure and simple.

Life is not a disease. Life is a gift, and a gift that brings with it responsibilities. Life is not subject to opinion, not a subjective value attached to an object. We can’t therefore decide who is worthy of life, or decide on when it starts or ends. Our active contribution to and participation in the life that we have been granted is delineated by these absolutes: it begins and ends at times that are beyond our qualification and competence.

Does that mean an immovable attitude on our part? Although there are boundaries we cannot cross, we can be compassionate and moved within those boundaries. We not only can, we should.

The concerns of people who do not share our standpoints are nonetheless legitimate. Questions about a child conceived in rape, or a lingering illness which will certainly end in death are ones we should confront. While we can’t say that the life of an unborn child of a patient should be terminated, we must work towards easing any suffering, be it physical or psychological. Unwanted pregnancies are a reality. They are not always easy, and they can be painful. Illness by itself is never enjoyable, and nor is pain without a chance of a cure.

Life, as a gift, transcends all this, however. The pain it sometimes brings us is never all it brings. In ways that we can’t conceive, an unborn child may prove a blessing for those around him. The natural death of a person can be a positive formative experience for others. We are not islands, and we are called to live in relation to others. That is not any different when illness, pain and being unwanted is concerned.

Life is immeasurably valuable. This is something we must never forget, because the risks are too great when we do.

I am pro-life. I can’t be anything else.

Photo credit: “A nation born out of prayer”, Mars voor het Leven/Facebook

An invitation for life

Upon the request of Dutch Catholic blogger IngridAiram, I share her invitation to all Catholics in the Netherlands (as well as, conceivably, Christians of other churches and church communities) to come to The Hague on 8 December and make a stand for life.

Ingrid notes the value that the Catholic Church attaches to life in all its forms, but especially that of the poor, the weak, the elderly and especially the unborn. Yet the Catholic presence at previous Marches for Life was rather small. She writes:

“That is why I would like to urge, beg you, to walk the March for Life in The Hague with me.To witness to life and the respect for all life, as Christ had. A silent march through The Hague, silence as a symbol for the child that has no voice. We must be that voice. For every life has value.”

Check the multilingual website here for more information.