The Bishops of Scotland normally celebrate the annual Day for Life on 31stMay, the feast of the Visitation. This year, however, it is being celebrated on Pentecost. That is why the second collection today will be for the pro-life activities of the Bishops.
It’s very appropriate that we celebrate life on the feast of Pentecost. In the creed, we profess our faith in the “Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.” For he is indeed Lord of life and Giver of life. Life is always a gift from the Lord and it is always under his lordship or dominion. We did not give life to ourselves nor therefore do we have the right to take it from ourselves. Nothing that has life can boast that it gave itself life, and while we can say that plants, animals and human beings give life to other plants, animals and human beings, none of these came to life of their own wish or power. By the very fact that the human being exists, he or she is a gift from the Lord and Giver of life, irrespective of any other condition.
All life in this world comes from the Holy Spirit. But not all life is destined to share in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Only the human being is called to that exalted vocation. We are given human life in view of being given divine or eternal life. We don’t have the same life as plants or animals, because we are persons. Our life is personal. It is the fact that we are persons that makes our life human. Only human beings were created by God for their own sakes, as ends in themselves. Everything else in creation God created to serve us. In the account of creation in the bible, all things created in the world are said to be good in the eyes of God. But only when man and woman are created does God say that creation is very good. Everything on the earth is entrusted to humanity by God. We are to rule the earth, but under God’s rule. The life of plants and animals is at the service of human life, as are all the other resources of the earth. This does not mean that we have the right to the mindless plundering of God’s creation. No, we remain under God’s commandments in the way we use the earth. So long as we obey those commandments, we will use the earth properly and make it serve humanity in an orderly and proportionate fashion. The earth finds its “vocation” in serving us.
Our human life consists in obedience to God. It was when our first parents disobeyed him that death entered the world. Every turn away from God gives death that little bit more space in the world. The fact that we will all die comes from the fact that we all share in the sin of our first parents. None of that was the will of the Lord and Giver of life. He gave us life that we might have it in abundance, not lose it or throw it away. To reverse the disaster of sin and death, the Son of God takes these on himself and overcomes them by his obedience to the Father. Because of Christ, the death of the human being is no longer the end. In baptism, we are given a new beginning. One of the prayers in the funeral liturgy says, “Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.” Jesus made death a new beginning. For the believer in Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives new life to the dead. He is not the Giver of death but the Giver of new life in and out of death.
God’s dominion over our life is expressed in the fifth commandment, “thou shalt not kill.” In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the fifth commandment covers a whole array of issues relating to human life. It begins with these words: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (n. 2258). There then follows the teaching of the Church on matters such as legitimate defence, capital punishment, intentional homicide, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. It is not possible to go into each of these here and now, but I do encourage you to read what the Catechism says. There is no question that there are many personal situations of great complexity and drama which cannot be neatly fitted in to the Church’s teaching. But that does not mean that the teaching is irrelevant. Knowing and observing the mind of the Church on such serious matters can be of immense help in preventing such situations from arising. It also clarifies matters when they are confused.
But respect for human life does not end just with those bigger questions. The Catechism goes on to address the question of respect for the souls of others and in that context deals with the question of scandal, defined as “an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil” (n.2284). It then refers to respect for health, as a precious gift entrusted to us by God. Another big theme it deals with is respect for the person in relation to scientific research, emphasizing that such research needs to be guided by moral criteria. The fact that you can do something scientifically does not always mean that it is morally right to do it. Kidnapping, hostage-taking and torture are also dealt with in terms of the respect for human dignity. Lastly, the Catechism explains the importance of the safeguarding of the peace and the avoidance of war.
While the broad sweep of all these issues, and more, needs to be kept in mind if we are to protect and defend human life in all its stages from conception to natural death, it is difficult to argue that abortion is not the most egregious of all violations of the fifth commandment. Again, the personal tragedy and pressures in individual cases, some of which are truly difficult and heart-breaking, merit and demand all our understanding and compassion. Even so, the end result of a child murdered in the womb is the tragedy of all tragedies. It is the child who dies, but each time one of the millions of abortions carried out every year takes place, something more of our civilization dies with it.
But it is not for anyone to judge the soul of another. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Today, he comes again as Lord and Giver of life, with wind and fire, to renew the life of the Church and of humanity, to make us heralds of the Gospel of Life and to prepare us for eternal life. May the gifts of his life-giving grace be poured out upon you and yours in abundance today and always.