Homily notes of Bishop Brendan Leahy for Vigil for Life – Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick
- “The unborn child in the womb is a human life with potential, not a potential human being”
- “There stands before the Dáil a Bill that could enshrine in Irish law, for the first time ever – and completely against what our Constitution requires – a hierarchy or a pecking order of human beings based on size in this State”
- “There are shades here of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where all are equal but some more equal than others”
- “The unborn, it appears, are to be afforded little or no legal advocacy on their behalf”
This evening we are prayerfully reflecting on the theme of life in its many dimensions. Life is the great gift entrusted to us from conception until natural death and all moments in between, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin put it last Saturday at a ceremony that took place in Dublin just before a rally for life that gathered over 50,000 people.
On the eve of what is a defining moment for our country we cannot but focus on the life of the unborn. As we do so we are mindful of mothers who today are facing difficult or crisis pregnancies and mindful also of others who have had, or who have assisted with abortions, and may now be re-living what happened in the past. Let us begin, therefore, by assuring them from our heart that we want to offer them all the love, support and professional care that we can.
But this evening allow us give voice to the unborn. Our Constitution affirms that ‘The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn’—in Irish, the phrase used is “na mbeo gan breith”, “beo gan breith” meaning life before (literally ‘without’) birth. The unborn child in the womb is a human life with potential, not a potential human being. He or she is not an extension of the mother. This human being with potential calls out silently but deeply to be loved. It is the unborn child’s incapacity to return in visible quantifiable ways the love that is lavished on him or her that is the greatest gift he or she already offers to the world. The unborn child is a pure gift of itself to be loved simply from the very fact of its existence.
A friend of mine described for me the sense of wonder at having another human being growing within her, someone who was different than her while also being part of her. “The baby’s first detectable move”, she said, was “particularly memorable because this new little creature was drawing us more and more into the miracle that was happening in our lives.” In the account of the Visitation that we will hear shortly, we are presented with the scene of an unborn child, John the Baptist, leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of the as yet unborn child Jesus in Mary’s womb.
In recent years ultrasound photography has revolutionised awareness, not only on the part of mothers but of everyone, of the awe-inspiring reality of the life of the child in the mother’s womb. A ground-breaking Italian study using 4D ultrasound discovered that for five sets of twins in the womb, between fourteen and eighteen weeks, the number of other-directed movements gradually increased to reach 29% of the observed movements towards their other twin. The ultrasound pictures show the twins concentrating on one another’s eyes, with greater accuracy towards the other’s eyes and mouth than towards their own, so that “other-directed actions are not only possible but predominant over self-directed actions” (See Umberto Castiello et al, “Wired to be Social: the Ontogeny of Human Interaction”, Public Library of Science PlosOne, October 2010, Vol. 5/10, pp. 1-10, at 10).
The unborn child in the womb has begun its ‘you centred’ human journey. He or she depends on us being you centred in our response. Mothers often sing and talk to their unborn children, thinking and responding to them, wishing them well long before they are born. The philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas reminds us that we become ourselves in and through the many ways we meet our responsibilities to those around us. Historically in Ireland we have been you centred in our appreciation of the right to life of the unborn. We haven’t locked ourselves into our own rights only. In recent years, however, that culture of equal respect for the right to life of the mother and her unborn child has come under pressure and the right to life of the baby has been somewhat overshadowed.
The innocent eyes of the unborn, however, continue to look to us for the gift of love in the form of protection. Especially now, because, as Minister of State Lucinda Creighton has pointed out, there stands before the Dáil a Bill that could enshrine in Irish law, for the first time ever – and completely against what our Constitution requires – a hierarchy or a pecking order of human beings based on size in this State, where the lives of tiniest ones can be taken. There are shades here of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where all are equal but some more equal than others. The unborn, it appears, are to be afforded little or no legal advocacy on their behalf. Such a scenario certainly begs the question whether the current legislation is constitutional at all? It tilts the equality desired by the Constitution “skew ways” as we say in Ireland and obfuscates rather than clarifies. Are we aware of what a huge tear in our human ecology will be made if we legislate for abortion?
So we need to pray. During this hour, let us pray for our legislators. It is not an easy moment for them. They are in a time of discernment, listening to the “inner referee” of conscience.
In prayer let us put into the heart of the eternal Father all that is in our heart at this time, handing over to Him anything that is worrying us, situations we know of that seem beyond our strength. As Pope Francis has written in his first encyclical letter The Light of Faith published a few days ago: “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love that always accepts and pardons, that sustains and directs our lives, a love that shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history” (Lumen Fidei, n. 13).
Yes, in this evening’s time of prayer, let us make a new act of faith and trust that Jesus Christ, the Lord of History, in the power of the Holy Spirit, will always inspire within each person a yearning for the Gospel of Life.
- Bishop Brendan Leahy is the Bishop of Limerick
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