‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence” and you will not save?’ These words from the prophet Habakkuk remind me of the documentary film ‘The Silent Scream’ which features the testimony of a former abortionist, Bernard Nathanson, who had performed thousands of abortions before realising the evil he had been committing. By means of ultrasound film, Nathanson demonstrates how the child in the womb recoils from the instruments that are used to pull it from its place of safety and destroy it. The film even shows the mouth of the unborn baby apparently screaming – a silent scream unheard outside the womb, a scream noiseless because of the fluids that still fill the developing lungs, a scream of pain and fear that cries for protection against the attack upon what should be its sacred sanctuary, the safest place for a child on the planet, its mother’s womb.
This ‘cry for help’ has been rising to heaven probably since the days sin first entered the world, but never so often and so intensely in the last fifty or so years when nation after nation has legalised the deliberate killing of its most vulnerable citizens.
The cover of this week’s UP Catholic shows 22,357 dots representing the number of abortions in Michigan last year. In the UK, the abortion capital of the world, some 600 babies are killed every day, over 6 million since the passing of the abortion act in 1967.
We know, of course, that God does hear the silent cry of the unborn. But, do we? A few weeks ago I saw some of the Band of Brothers series about the adventures of Easy Company in World War II. As they moved into a previously Nazi-occupied town, they discovered with horror a concentration camp in the forest outside the town. The troops could not believe that the townspeople did not know about the evil of this camp that was erected so near to the town. And, of course, they were right. The townspeople did know about the concentration camp but they chose to ignore it, not to see, not to hear. The troops rounded up all the townspeople, took them to the camp, and made them collect and bury the corpses of all the dead.
We have to be the ones who shout and make the silent scream of our murdered unborn brothers and sisters heard in our society. We have to use every available means to ensure that life – particularly the vulnerable lives of our unborn and elderly or less able neighbours – is respected.
At Westminster Hall in London a couple of weeks ago, speaking to politicians and to the opinion formers of British society, Pope Benedict said that the ‘overriding concern (of Catholic social teaching is) to safeguard the unique dignity of every human being, created in the image and likeness of God.’ He complimented the British Parliament’s role in achieving the abolition of the slave trade, the laws which achieved this abolition being ‘built upon firm ethical principles, rooted in the natural law.’ The Pope said how it was the ‘misuse of reason (that) gave rise to the slave trade’ with its lack of respect for the dignity of the human person. So, today, apparently reasonable people will condone or even promote abortion. They might even – like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – say how much their Christian faith means to them while at the same time voting in favour of the legalised killing of our most defenceless brothers and sisters.
The forces of evil are very strong and the battle to preserve life might seem unwinnable. But Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that just the smallest amount of faith – the size of a mustard seed – would enable us to uproot trees and to move mountains. Faith, of course, is shown in deeds. What deeds do you and I have to demonstrate our faith in the dignity and sanctity of human life?
Back in England I would regularly lead a prayer vigil outside an abortion facility not far from the parish organised by the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. Not many would come – maybe ten or so people. Many Catholics have opted to be indifferent to the unborn and indifferent too to the plight of the women caught up in the culture of death. But we hoped that, by our prayers and presence, we would at least bear witness to the sanctity of life and maybe help some mothers to make a choice in favour of their unborn child. Indeed, I’m told that there were some ‘saves’ as a result of our presence. I hoped also that my involvement would make it easier for me at the final judgement. But I shall never forget the last prayer vigil I took part in earlier this year. After the vigil, I had to pass the abortion facility to return to my car. As I passed the entrance, a car pulled up a little further up the road and a young woman got out while her partner – husband or boyfriend – stayed in the car. She looked troubled, afraid and alone. Now, I didn’t know for certain whether or not she was going to the abortion facility, but I had my suspicions. After I had passed her I looked back, and sure enough she entered the abortion facility. It will always be on my conscience that I failed to offer my help, failed to show interest. She saw me – a priest – pass her by. She might even have been a Catholic. Why didn’t I offer to help?
We should not consider taking an active part in the defence of life something beyond the call of duty. Just as the servants in the Gospel today did not expect any particular thanks for having done their duty – ‘we are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty’ – neither should we think we are doing any more than our duty, or that we deserve any special praise. In fact, we can expect opprobrium and insult.
Statistically, it is very likely that there is one or more woman here at Mass today who has had an abortion. What does the Church say to them, to you? Here is what Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1995 Encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life):
The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.All Catholics should know that all involved in the direct procuring of an abortion are subject to the automatic penalty of excommunication. However, the sin of abortion can be forgiven in confession and every priest in this and many other dioceses has the faculty to remit the excommunication. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. The Lord’s mercy knows no bounds and the Church wants all affected by abortion to know the power of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. The child is not the only victim of abortion. We should do all we can to support the other victims – especially the mothers – too.
Without getting into party politics, it can never be right to vote for a politician who we know will vote in favour of abortion or euthanasia. We must put our faith into action in the political sphere too. As Pope Benedict recalled in Hyde Park, London, Blessed John Henry Newman teaches that ‘there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives.’
‘Faith’, he said, even the size of a mustard seed, ‘is meant to bear fruit in the transformation of our world through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and activity of believers. No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual… Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person.’
In today’s parable, the servants say: ‘We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.’ On this ‘Respect Life Sunday’ let us ask the Lord through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron of the Americas and the assumed patron of the pro-life cause to inspire us with the power of the Holy Spirit so that we will respond to our mission, to our calling, to change the world and to work for a culture of life which is, after all, ‘no more than our duty.’