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Visitation Homily on the Gospel of Life, 31.05.24

Before I say anything else, it has to be made abundantly clear that, in the sensitive matters of life and death related to the Gospel of Life, we cannot possibly condemn anyone. It’s simply not our prerogative to even begin to do so, since only God can judge the heart. We must distinguish clearly between persons and actions. We can say that actions are not in accordance with the will of God, but we cannot then jump to conclusions about a person’s soul. As has been said wisely so often: but for the grace of God, there go I.

Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. But, in fact, through our parents, we are all conceived by the will and work of the Creator Spirit. We see that clearly in the case of the conception of John the Baptist. The Archangel Gabriel would never have dared to say to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would conceive a son if it had not been willed by God. The Holy Spirit, then, is at the origin of every human life, for He is, as we profess in the creed, the Lord and Giver of Life. This profound theological truth also lies at the root of the Church’s perennial teaching on the question of contraception. The prime decision-maker when it comes to new life is the Holy Spirit at whose service husband and wife stand within all of the complexities of their life. Theology precedes biology. God’s will precedes ours.

And when He chooses to give life, it so that it will be welcomed. St. Paul tells us we should make hospitality our special care. The Son of God found hospitality, the welcome of humanity, in the womb of His Mother. There is, there should be, there can be no place more hospitable than a mother’s womb, where human life itself is welcomed, at its most tender, most vulnerable, most innocent, most needy, most humble. Today’s Gospel of Life thrills us with the inspired and prayerful dialogue of two mothers, one barely out of girlhood and the other in the eve of her womanhood, both overawed and overjoyed at the gift and privilege of welcoming life and at the God who has given them the exalted vocation of motherhood. But we are also thrilled by the silent dialogue of the children they carry, One barely a few days old yet existing before all ages, the other at 24 weeks of gestation, leaping for joy at the presence of the One he was created to announce to the world and for the sake of whose commandment on adultery paid the ultimate price.

The Gospel of Life is by definition the Gospel of Welcome, of openness to the other, not yet known, but who will become known as the result of that welcome. The welcome and openness are not merely to a biological process, but to a new person created at the beginning of that process by none less than the Creator Himself. And while as yet unknown to the parents with whom the Creator has been working, that new person has been known and loved by the Creator from before creation itself ever was. We don’t cease to be someone because even those closest to us don’t know us or don’t see us. We are not the source of someone’s personhood or dignity or destiny. Only the Creator is that. It is not we who confer personhood on others or remove it from them as if we were god. Someone’s dignity as a person is first conceived in the mind and heart of God before it is created by God through the act of carnal conception, That act is wonderfully created by the passionate love of divine joy to bring the union of husband and wife to a result which far surpasses their own physical joy by creating a new, living person.

We know, of course, that the Gospel of Life is also marked by the Passion, suffering and death of Christ. It cannot ignore the presence of sin, of tragedy, of failure, of violence. But, as with Christ, it cannot give in to these. It cannot succumb to the catastrophic logic of accommodating sin. Sin never brings life, joy or true peace. The only way to destroy sin is to love, to love until it hurts, and yes, to love even until death as the martyrs understood from within the heart of Christ. The true solution to dealing with pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, for example, can never be to identify the child conceived with the criminal. To do that is to return to the savagery of the pre-civilised world in which a child was executed because its father committed a serious crime and was nowhere to be seen. Rather, the perpetrator himself must be punished with penalties which are truly proportionate to the gravity of his crime. But the tragic and heart-breaking situation of a woman who has been cruelly abused in this way is to reach out to her with all the means available in society and in the Church, and to accompany her over time to attain healing, a big part of which often proves to be the love for and of the very child conceived. The solution is to get involved so as to avoid compounding the tragedy further by abortion in which the hospitality of the womb is horrifyingly disfigured into the hostility of the womb. We can’t pretend that the child is not a child so as to call murder a medical procedure. The procedure needed is to help a woman rebirth herself out of her terrible trauma and to bring her innocent child to see the light of day. If the amount of money today being invested in the abortion industry were rechannelled to provide effective support for women in difficulty with their pregnancy, whatever the reason for it, the dark stain on the conscience of contemporary western society could begin to be removed.

I won’t go into all of the other sanitised language used today to mask the erosion of our so-called developed society’s respect both for human life and for the building blocks of life which God has wonderfully put in place to give life. But abortion more than anything else carries within itself an unapologetic hatred for humanity, for the human body and soul, for human sexuality and gender as created by God, for marriage and the family. So, we need the positive and courageous attitude of the Mother of Jesus to continue trusting in God’s will and ways, obeying His commandments with faithful creativity. He will raise up the lowly and cast down the arrogant; He will give his mercy to those who struggle and fail so as to bring them back to the wisdom of the just. We are the work of His Hands and He will not let the Evil One prevail, no matter how cleverly he dresses up His hatred of humanity in glittering expressions of ideological power. We ask Our Lady of the Visitation to visit our world again today and to crush firmly under her heel the dragon who, in the book of the Apocalypse, wanted to eat the child born from Her womb. We also ask her to visit all pregnant women, as She did Elizabeth, and transmit to them the grace of the Spirit so that, they too, will experience that the child in their womb leaps with joy: joy at being alive, joy at the prospect of being born and joy at the future destiny of standing with their mothers before the throne of God in the final victory of the Gospel of eternal life.