Bishop John Sherrington, Lead Bishop for Life Issues and Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, gave this homily before attending the annual ‘March for Life’ that took place in London on Saturday, 2 September.
We gather ahead of the March for Life to pray and ask the intercession of Christ and the saints for the peaceful witness to life in the womb that many thousands of people will make today.
We pray that this witness will help to change hearts and minds and make women and men think again about the goodness of the dignity of unborn life in the womb. We pray that this witness will lead fewer women to choose abortion, fewer men to urge or support this choice, and more women and men to choose to respect and protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children.
We want to witness to respect for the preciousness of life and give the freedom to live to the unborn child. To do this, we are called to build a culture of solidarity – or being with and supportive – to women who wish to keep their child. I thank the work of the charities that provide such support and care.
While the focus of this March for Life is about abortion, our prayers are also needed as the debate to provide legislation and permit ‘assisted suicide’, or assisted dying as it is euphemistically called, continues with great pace and public support. On an almost daily basis, there is one or another newspaper article supporting such a choice. Such choice is based on a freedom to choose which separates itself from the truth about the gift of human life. The Popes have written passionately about the absolute need to relate freedom to the truth of what it is to be human. The foundation is respect, protection of the dignity of human life and care to enable every person, from the weakest to the strongest, to flourish in society. The coherence of Catholic teaching is that human life, from conception to natural death, is like a seamless garment to be protected, cared for, and when at its weakest and most vulnerable, valued and treated in a way that respects its inestimable worth.
Some months ago, a mother showed me the first scan of her baby in the womb. There we see that from the first moment of conception the adventure of human life has started. We do not first speak in this way because our faith tells us that there is human life from conception, or because the Church tells us so. It is science that tells us this. The scan of the baby in the womb shows the gradual development of the human life before the baby is born. In the womb there is someone, not something. What faith tells us more deeply is to cherish this life that has started because every life is a gift of God.
The prophet Jeremiah describes how he learns from the Word of God about the plan of God for him, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ (Jer 1:5) Similarly in psalm 139 the psalmist sings, ‘It was you who created my inmost self and put me together in my mother’s womb; for all these mysteries I thank you: for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works. You know me through and through, for having watched my bones take shape when I was being formed in secret, knitted together in the limbo of the womb.’ (Psalm 139: 13-15)
Most powerfully and profoundly, the Incarnation witnesses to the mystery of life. Through the power of the angel Gabriel, Our Blessed Lady conceived and became the Mother of the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ. God has united himself with all that is human and redeemed it to give glory to Him. At the visitation to Elizabeth, the two expectant mothers rejoice and the children in their wombs leap for joy. The witness of these two lives rejoicing, the Son of God and St John the Baptist, inspires the care and protection of life in the womb.
We pray for women who have chosen abortion and who often bear the pain and wounds of that choice in an often desperate situation. This year’s Day for Life message focused on Jane’s message. Jane chose abortion at the age of 15 and suffered afterwards. She wrote, ‘[The pain, the sadness, the desperation and turn to alcohol and promiscuousness] all changed when I was encouraged to go to confession. Even when I tried to justify my choice, the priest met me with the love and mercy of Jesus. The tears he shed melted my heart of stone. I began to give up my old ways of life and follow His way.
‘On this journey I was introduced to Rachel’s Vineyard: a healing ministry that provides support for those who are suffering after abortion. I remember the kindness of the woman that I spoke to, and I knew I wouldn’t be judged there.
‘It took so much courage to go on a retreat, but I can genuinely say it changed my life. By hearing other people share their stories and being gently encouraged by the team, I was able to speak the truth of what had happened to me on that day. My feelings were acknowledged, including my sense of loss. I was finally given permission to grieve for the baby that had died through my choice. I acknowledged my motherhood and named my son Joseph. This was the start of God turning the guilt, shame and unforgiveness into a deep love for my son, as any good mother would have.’
In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches a parable about a man who entrusted his property to his servants and told them to look after it while he went away. From the beginning of the account of creation, God’s plan is that the goods of the earth are entrusted to men and women for their good stewardship. The foundation of such stewardship is justice. Good stewardship flourishes through love of creation and respect for all of God’s gifts.
The good of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, is the highest gift entrusted to men and women. They are to protect it, nurture it, treat each life with justice, and help each person to become the one God wishes them to be. A society is called to give each the freedom to flourish – abortion destroys the freedom to live, as the title of this year’s’ March for Life states.
At the Last Judgement, like the return of the owner of the property, each person will be asked what they have done with the gifts entrusted to them. We pray for a conversion of heart so that every life may flourish according to God’s plan. Jane learnt with suffering the mercy of God. May the witness today communicate that mercy and witness to the God of human life, from conception to natural death.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
St. Gerard Majella, pray for us.
St. John Paul II, pray for us.
St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for us.
Bishop John Sherrington