Homily of Dr Thomas Finnegan, Bishop of Killala for Divine Mercy Sunday

21 Apr 2001

Homily of Dr Thomas Finnegan, Bishop of Killala, for Divine Mercy Sunday

22 April 2001

Divine Mercy Sunday. That is the new name for today, Second Sunday of Easter, and that name will remain forever more in our Church. This was decided a year ago today by Pope John Paul II when he canonised a Polish nun, Sr Faustina Kowalska.

In today’s Gospel Jesus shows his hands and his side. The hands bear the marks of the nails. His side, his heart, bears the mark of the spear that pierced it as he hung on the cross. St. John, who was there, says that, when the soldier pierced Christ’s side, blood and water flowed from it (John 19:34).
In his homily at Sister Faustina’s canonisation Mass, the Pope said that Our Lord himself explained that the blood and water flowing from his side are represented by the two rays of light which Faustina saw shining from the heart of Jesus and illuminating the world.
“Humanity will not find peace”, Our Lord told her, “until it turns trustfully to divine mercy”. How do we turn trustfully to divine mercy? The approach suggested by Sister Faustina is very similar to the well-known traditional prayer, “Sacred Heart of Jesus I place my trust in you”. Sister Faustina has shortened it into this: “Jesus, I trust in you”.

The Pope calls these simple words an act of abandonment, an act of handing ourselves over to our loving Saviour Jesus Christ. This act of handing myself over to Christ can dispel the thickest cloud and let in a ray of light to every life no matter how dark or dismal that life is.
The message of divine mercy, says the Pope, is addressed above all to those who are afflicted by a particularly harsh trial, or who are crushed by the weight of sins they committed, or who have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair.
The message of divine mercy is also about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God’s eyes no matter what he or she has been guilty of. Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers his love and intimacy. He offers the embrace of a loving parent for a son or daughter who comes back like the prodigal son in the Gospel.

I was privileged to be the chief celebrant and homilist on this day six years ago (1995). “Atonement Sunday” we called it then. – atonement for abortion. In my homily that day I said something to this effect. In this vast congregation, I am conscious that there may be women who have had an abortion and others who may have encouraged or helped someone to have an abortion. Many men have reason to repent if they did not provide support at a crucial time, or pressurised a girlfriend into an abortion. Many more men have been denied the opportunity to show that they could shoulder responsibility at a time of crisis. For that reason, they have a grief of a different kind to deal with.

In his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, the Holy Father expresses his loving concern for all such people. “Do not give in to discouragement”, he says. “And do not lose hope… The Father of Mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost. … With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life”.
“Eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life”, said the Pope. Many of you will have heard of two such eloquent defenders.

The 1967 Abortion Act in the U.K. can be traced back to the 1939 case involving Dr. Bourne who carried out an abortion on a 14 – year old girl who became pregnant as result of being raped. Later Dr. Bourne was so horrified at what resulted from his intervention that he became one of the founder members of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child in the United Kingdom. In the Roe v. Wade case six years later by a 7 – 2 vote the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal in all 50 states. This was never requested or approved by the American people. In effect, these seven men decided that the pre-born child is not a person and therefore is not entitled to have his/her life protected by law. The Roe in the Roe v Wade case was Jane Roe who later realised that she had been used as a pawn in the push to legalise abortion in the United States. Jane Roe became a very prominent and effective Pro-Life campaigner in the United States.

In many cases, respect for the life of the child in the womb can call for real heroism. For that reason we need to ensure as a society that our No to abortion is matched by a compassionate and caring Yes to those who find themselves faced with a crisis pregnancy. We need to ensure that those who feel that abortion is the only way out of a difficult situation are offered a truly life-giving choice. We should also be conscious that abortion is not just a women’s problem. It affects men and women, their parents, their families and the wider society. To quote the words of Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Head of the Delegation of the Holy See to the Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing (5 September 1995): “All who are genuinely committed to the advancement of women can and must offer a woman or a girl who is pregnant, frightened and alone a better alternative than the destruction of her own unborn child”. She also spoke about the need for women to mobilise “against a vast industry that extracts its profits from the very bodies of women, while at the same time purporting to be their liberators.”

When women are faced with the shock of discovering that they have become pregnant, many do not know where to turn. A teenage girl may feel that, even though she sits in the same kitchen as her parents, there is a dangerous chasm to be crossed if she decides to confide in them when she has learned the truth about her pregnancy. To whom will she turn: She is fortunate if there is a loving and caring parent, grandparent or friend who will listen without judging her and give her time to cry or complain, vent her anger and put words on her darkest thoughts. Many people who have never had any training in counselling have a natural gift for listening. We should remember that those who choose to come to you or me have decided that we are the ones in whom they can confide. We should not deny them a listening ear.

Sometimes those who are troubled by unexpected pregnancy need something more than we can give. Let me turn now to two organisations whose role and function is to meet this.

This is being done by CURA which was established by the Irish Bishops in 1977. There is another well known agency called LIFE which we are also very happy to recommend although of course it is an independent agency run on non-denominational lines. CURA and LIFE offer support and understanding to women for whom the prospect of the birth of a child creates difficulties which they feel unable to face. They also offer support to families and to the fathers of the unborn where that is requested or appropriate.

Over the past week I have spoken to a number of volunteers of these two agencies. They asked me to use this occasion to put forward some suggestions on how, as individuals and as a society, we can help them to continue their crucial service. Therefore to each of you as individuals I say: Many of us want to help build a culture of life but are not sure where to begin. Here is something practical you can do, and look on this as your call today, your challenge to help. Consider becoming a volunteer with one of these dedicated and respected counselling services. As you leave this Basilica young members of the Legion of Mary will be at all the exits with an information leaflet containing names and contact numbers for CURA and LIFE.

Already CURA has 380 volunteers attached to 17 centres throughout the country. LIFE has 7 centres with about 50 volunteers. What we are now appealing for are people willing to be trained as volunteers to ensure that women with crisis pregnancies will have somewhere to go where they will be welcomed, where they will have space to come to terms with what is happening to them, and an opportunity to explore calmly the options open to them. Training, which will be free of charge, will be for pregnancy-related crisis counselling which by definition is short-term. Anyone with more deep seated issues to deal with must be referred elsewhere to someone whose training is geared towards longer-term counselling, which has a different focus. Your training will include telephone counselling because the telephone is often the first point of contact and, indeed, sometimes the only contact. As members of our society, I suggest that we need firstly an urgent concern, for the large number of women in crisis pregnancy who must be offered a genuine alternative, a life giving choice, to abortion. Secondly, we need post-abortion counselling and medical check-ups to bring hope, healing and comfort to those who have had abortions.

The all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution has outlined a plan that could be implemented by various government departments, state bodies and voluntary organisations. The Committee estimates that the minimum period necessary to achieve the objectives of this plan would be ten years at a cost of £50 million (£5 million per annum).

CURA and LIFE need many more volunteers and centres – beginning now. We are confident that the volunteers will be forthcoming. We therefore respectfully suggest to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee, and through it to the Government, that, in addition to planning to spend £50 million over ten years, it might also consider an immediate response, namely, to increase existing grant-aid to enable CURA and LIFE to develop and expand what they are already doing. Any aid given to these organisations will be immediately put to work in the service of women, and will not require complex structures to be set up.

What we have in mind is financial help given along the lines of that given by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs for Marriage and Bereavement Counselling which is also mostly delivered by trained volunteers. We are very pleased by the Department’s recognition that voluntarism is a precious social asset that needs to be encouraged and fostered. Volunteer counsellors have something specific to offer which is different from that of professionals, but which is very valuable. It is reassuring to see Government departments recognising that different qualifications are required for volunteers, without in any way compromising standards.

Government Departments rightly demand high standards and accountability. The same should be expected of pregnancy counselling agencies. However, their entire valuable service to society would be undermined if a demand were made that their volunteers must have the kind of accreditation which only fully professional people can be expected to have.

Recently the editor of The Irish Catholic, David Quinn, pointed out that an abortion culture was gaining strength in Ireland though much more slowly than elsewhere thanks to the efforts of Irish Pro-Life organisations.
The abortion culture is part of “the culture of death” which Pope John Paul II wrote about in The Gospel of Life. The “culture of death” promotes a perverse notion of freedom that denies the very right to life. It denies it in the name of freedom – freedom to kill. This is very persuasively done by the false prophets whom Jesus warned us against in Matthew 24. These, he said, are capable of deceiving even the elect if that were possible. They subtly promote the social acceptance of abortion and euthanasia. They do so by using innocuous medical terms to disguise the reality of what is at issue, and to distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right to life of an actual human person.

They also argue that one can be personally opposed to abortion but at the same time politically supportive of abortion. This undermines the very idea of a democratic society. “Democracy”, says Pope John Paul, “cannot be idolised to the point of making it a substitute for morality (E.V. 70). The value of a democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Today let us pray that our democracy will always embody and uphold its present core value, the dignity of the individual human person.

What we sorely need in Ireland are more informed and articulate people who can challenge the idea that a person’s religious beliefs should be relegated to the private sphere; and also challenge the assumption that people’s deepest convictions should not influence public policy, or should not even be heard in parliamentary debate or public discussion.

Religiously faithful people are being pressed to act publicly, and sometimes privately, as though their faith does not matter to them. Indeed, we are now approaching the point in our global culture when people who do act publicly as though their faith matters, risk not only ridicule but actual punishment.

Finally, I ask you to remember this crucial point from The Gospel of Life. We must never feel discouraged by what the Pope describes as “the enormous disparity” between the powerful resources available to promoters of the “culture of death” and the means available to us who are working to preserve a culture of life and love. On our side, at our side is the Risen Christ for whom nothing is impossible.

A remarkable thing about Jesus in his person and in his Mystical Body, the Church, is the fact that he has always veiled his power in the garb of powerlessness. His followers have always seemed to be fighting a losing battle by the standards of this world. Christ on the cross was powerlessness personified. Yet, within a few centuries, the powerful empire that crucified him had crumbled and disappeared.

What Jesus began with a small group of very mixed ability has survived to this day. Why? Because he has been faithful to his promise: “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28, 20).
The note of hope on which I shall end comes from St. John Chrysostom who died in exile, banished by the emperor for his forthright preaching of the Gospel. As the net tightened around him before his final arrest, he said to his people: “Our feet are upon rock. All the fury of the sea cannot overthrow that rock; the highest waves are powerless to sink the ship of Jesus Christ… the Church never grows old and cannot be overcome; she is wounded but never killed, beaten about by the waves, but never sunk…”

+Thomas Finnegan

Further information:

Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797