I had a call from someone in Northern Sound radio during the week asking if I wanted to do a message for Christmas Day. I said I had already recorded a piece for the religious slot on Christmas morning, but he said he wanted something for the news and current affairs programme. He suggested a message that might look back at the highlights of the year gone by. I agreed and did the message. I was surprised that the message was already in the news the next day. The reason was not that I mentioned the Pope’s visit as one of the highlights, but because I had mentioned the low points of the year for me: my sadness at the result of the Referendum and the extremely liberal abortion legislation that has just been signed into law by the President during the week.
I couldn’t help thinking about that when I read the Gospel today – the story of the Visitation. Mary learned that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was pregnant and she went to visit her – a long and hazardous journey for Mary, who was pregnant herself. The Gospel story recounts the moment they meet and greet each other. It tells us that “as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”. The Spirit revealed to her that Mary was pregnant as well, and that Mary’s child was the Son of God. Elizabeth cried out: “Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.
In the aftermath of the Referendum and the signing of the Abortion Bill into law by the President, that Gospel scene surely has a message for us. As we reflect on it we might ask ourselves: Was John the Baptist any less the Forerunner of Christ because he was still in his mother’s womb? Was Jesus any less the Messiah and Saviour of the World because he was still in Mary’s womb? Were either of them any less human because they had not yet been born?
This story, more than any other in the bible highlights the one question that the pro-choice campaigners refused to discuss, not the mention answer, during the long Referendum campaign: Is the child in the womb a human being or not? Because if the unborn child is human, then abortion is taking away a human life. This story tells us why the Minister was so adamant in not allowing any amendments to his Bill in the Dail. They were very humane amendments, like that a mother would be offered the opportunity to see an ultra-sound scan of her baby before making her decision, or that babies who survive abortion would be given medical attention. No, if those were allowed it would be hard to deny that you were actually dealing with living human beings and people might begin to have second thoughts.
This Gospel is a poignant reminder that human life is sacred, whether born or unborn. Human life is sacred whether the Constitution affirms that or not. Human life is sacred, even if the law of the land no longer protects in the case of the most vulnerable of all, the child in its mother’s womb. For us Christians, human life is sacred above all because of what we celebrate at Christmas: that the eternal God took on our human flesh and became one of us. When God became human in Jesus Christ, he made humanity sacred and every human being is an image of God.
Sadly, this law will put pressure on women to have abortions, but we trust that their motherly instincts will help them resist that pressure. We pray that the culture of life which has prevailed in Ireland, and particularly in medical care, will continue despite this unjust law. We pray that those in the medical profession who have a conscientious objection to taking part in these procedures will have their rights respected, and that they will be able to continue the noble tradition of their profession, to ‘first do no harm’.