Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
Each year our Bishops ask us to set aside one Sunday as a Day for Life. Their chosen title for our reflection this weekend is “Cherishing Life, Accepting Death”. It is hard to express the idea of “cherishing” in a few words - it is such a rich concept – but instinctively we understand what it means. Sadly we live in a world which does not seem to cherish life as it should. Individuals appear to count for little in the conflicts which engulf so many different nations – the bombers cut swathes through populations with seeming indifference, and the horror is only underlined by our understanding that every human being is precious to God because each is a unique creation intended by him and destined to live in communion with him both on this earth and into eternity. We are fortunate to live in a society where so many freedoms can be taken for granted (though we should not do so) and where life expectancy is increasing significantly but probably the larger proportion of those alive today are not so fortunate as they struggle to keep body and soul together for themselves and their loved ones. To be pro-life, which by definition we are as Catholics, cannot just mean defending the extremities of existence but must involve everything that enhances and cherishes the individual's journey – questions of poverty, education and housing are key to the tradition of social teaching to which we are heirs and have most recently been articulated by Pope Francis in his encyclical” Laudato Si” – which addresses not just potential climate change but the cherishing of the whole environment which has been gifted to us.
Part of the problem – at least in the developed world – is that attitudes conditioned by faith are treated as only one strand within the debates of civil society, whereas our understanding of “natural law” means that there are certain fundamentals which go the heart of what it means to be human. “Thou shalt not kill” is not just a religious proscription offered to primitive people several millennia ago, but an expression of something written into the experience of the generations. A shared instinct tells us that life is to be reverenced and loved and that no single person can be written off as without value. We do not will ourselves into being: we can only accept our existence as a gift – something to be cherished. And again it is instinct which unites us in seeing every life in much more than purely functional terms – each person is an incredible amalgam of body, mind and soul with their own character and potential for glory. As Blessed John Henry Newman realised “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which has not committed to another. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons”.
Modern medicine raises wonderful new possibilities but also fresh dilemmas. On the one hand, the present generation is being told that in all probability they will live to be over a hundred, and advances in research mean that conditions which would have killed past generations can now be managed if not completely cured. But the mere maintenance of existence through technology when life has reached its natural extremity raises questions of great complexity. The Christian understanding is that Good meets us on the other side of physical death and that dying is something to be accepted if not with equanimity (no one can relish the uncertainties inherent to the process) then with trust and hope in the promises made us by Christ. “Dying you destroyed our death: rising you restored our life”. Part of the contribution we have to make in our own society is to help others to accept that death is not the ultimate failure of medical science but rather the ultimate human experience -something to be prepared for thoughtfully and prayerfully, and to be embraced positively. Catholics are especially fortunate in that we have a liturgy of the “Last Rites” to help us through the final stages of the human journey: for oneself, and for those we love, there can be no greater reassurance than to face the last moments on earth, absolved, anointed and having consumed Viaticum (“food for the journey”). The ongoing debate about assisted suicide (to which the Cardinal refers below) provides us with the opportunity to enter into dialogue those around us – hopefully with great sensitivity – and to affirm our belief in the absolute integrity of every life. “How great a lie .. to make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!” (Pope Francis)
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