The Rector writes …
The Book of Exodus reveals an intimacy of relationship between God and one of his creatures that would have been unimaginable before the time of Moses. “The Lord would speak with Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). A moral imperative soon develops out of this dialogue and it is made clear that any meaningful engagement must necessarily involve parameters of behaviour. “I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). What this holy God expects of his creatures is set out in the Ten Commandments of which the Catechism says: “the Decalogue is a light offered to every conscience to make God’s call and ways known”. In Saint Augustine’s view: “God wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts”, while Saint Irenaeus holds that: “from the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law. Then he was content to remind us of them. This was the Decalogue”.
The fifth of the Commandments is as direct as it is concise: “you shall not kill”. Although there may be cases of legitimate self-defence in which lives are lost as when, for instance, citizens act against a corrupt and persecuting regime, there must never, ever, be the direct intention to destroy a life – any life. The Catholic position is expressed by Cardinal Konig: “people should not die by the hand of another person but holding the hand of another person”. Because we believe that every life has been created out of the imagination of God – even before it has being within its mother’s womb – we receive every life, without exception, as a gift and, as such, to be treated as infinitely precious. Catholic teaching is clear that once conception has taken place the embryo as it develops has already begun its journey through this life home to God and has a right to existence which must not be denied. Hard cases do not make good law, but the mystery of human life is so profound that we do not believe it can ever be legitimate to destroy the unborn. Benedict XV1 has written: “the diagnosis of disability in the unborn child can never be a reason for abortion, because life with such a disability is also desired and appreciated by God and here on earth no one can ever be sure that he or she will live without physical, mental or spiritual limitation”.
The recent media furore surrounding a Catholic Member of Parliament who affirmed her belief in the sanctity of unborn life even in cases of disability is a demonstration of just how far the general mindset in our own country has moved away to from the natural law. It is a mark of the enormous ground which we have to recover. In the first decades of the last century there was a general “liberal” belief in eugenics which was stemmed by its logical outcome in the horrors of Nazism. Sadly our own century sees these same ideas finding new credence under the umbrella of scientific research. Of course, we stand foursquare with anyone who works for the betterment of the human condition (and indeed of the whole of the created order) but where the individual right to life, from its earliest stirrings to its natural ending, is compromised humanity itself is put at serious risk. “If a human being is no longer safe in its mother’s womb, where in the world can it be safe?” (Philip Bosmans).
When God chooses to give us the ultimate revelation of his nature he does so in the context of childhood. The Incarnation of Christ raises the dignity of every one of his brothers and sisters to a new level. “Man is God’s image and likeness, in which God wants to be honoured for his own sake” (Saint Francis of Assisi). It is those who are the most frail and defenceless who – if we accept the Gospel insight – continue to incarnate Christ in a special way and for whom we should exercise a particular duty of care. Every human being, no matter how damaged or limited, as indeed no matter how gifted and achieving, mirrors something unique of God into this world: each is therefore precious in their own individuality and should be respected in their personal integrity. As the Catechism reminds us: “we can name God only by taking his creatures as our starting point”.