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Donnybrook Parish

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Donnybrook Parish

choose life

Sermon by Monsignor Lorcan O'Brien
Sixth Sunday of Easter, B, 6th. May, 2018.

The referendum on whether or not to repeal the 8th. amendment of the Irish Constitution is a most serious question of conscience for the citizens of the Irish Republic, touching as it does the most basic of human rights, the right to life. Each of us bears a big responsibility in how we influence the outcome, even if we should decide not to vote. The decision of the Irish people will have consequences not only for the child in the womb but will shape respect for the right to life more generally. Today, it’s the child in the womb, tomorrow the fragile older person.

For Christians, the choice we make is particularly critical, as it determines how we are before God;  God, who as we heard in the readings, sent Jesus into our world to be the sacrifice that takes our sins, our lack of love, away. In this critical matter, how do we love others as Jesus, has loved us? Some incontrovertible facts need to be acknowledged in coming to a decision.

Life in the womb is human life, a ‘who’ not a ‘what’, at a stage of life we all were once. A pregnant woman is for good reason is described as a woman with child, even if that child should have a condition which may end its life.

Every human life exists in an ecosystem of relationships. There is no such thing as an autonomous, independent human life. To be human is to be interdependent. Should a pregnancy be experienced as a crisis, that is a responsibility for us all.  To suggest that it is not the business of anyone other than the woman, is part of the mind -set behind the historic mistreatment of single mothers and an injustice to pregnant women. To say, ‘this is your choice to make’ may really mean, ’this is your problem to fix’.

There will always be very challenging personal situations in our lives.  Trying to resolve them by trying to put the clock back does not work. We have to live with what is and deal with it as best we can. A person in crisis requires understanding, support and most of all, hope. To believe that deliberately ending a human life is a humane solution to what is considered a problem, is ultimately a counsel of despair.

When the circumstances of a pregnancy threaten the life of a mother and therefore of her child, good and ethical medical practice protects the life of the mother, even if this may impact on the survival of the child as an unavoidable consequence. This is already reflected in the 8th amendment and in best practice in Irish hospitals

I do not need reminding that I am a 73 year old man who has never been a parent. Parents are my heroes. I have had the privileged experience of accompanying and ministering to those who have suffered miscarriages, still births, cot deaths and carried dead babies. I have had the privilege of celebrating the baptism of children who were diagnosed with what their parents were told were fatal foetal abnormalities, some of whom died shortly afterwards, others lived for a number of months or years and one, I know, graduated from college last year. I have ministered to women and couples who made a decision to end a pregnancy and to friends who helped, all of whom once thought, mistakenly, they had put it behind them.

Many of the posters advocating repeal of the 8th amendment have messages such as  ‘yes to women’s health’ that I support but they obscure what is really at stake. What is proposed is not health care for pregnant women but to deny the fundamental and only right of the unborn, the right to life. This is an extreme proposal. The most fundamental medical principal is to ‘do no harm’. Compassion is far more demanding and complex than altering our constitution.   

So I end as I began. The referendum is a most serious matter of conscience for us all, which we cannot hand over to politicians or anyone else. For Christians it is a matter on which we have to stand before God who judges us on how we treat one another and who will ask, to paraphrase Mt. 25 ‘I was with child and in crisis and what did you do?’ I was unborn and my right to life was hanging in the balance and what did you do?’, because  as often as you did it to one of the least of these sisters or brothers of mind you did it to me. ‘