HOMILY FOR MASS FOR 5TH SUNDAY IN LENT + DAY OF THE UNBORN - St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
18 Mar 2018

HOMILY FOR MASS FOR 5TH SUNDAY IN LENT + DAY OF THE UNBORN
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Belinda and Shaun Stafford spent six years in an IVF programme after discovering they could not conceive in any other way - an experience Belinda described as "painful, tormenting, a strain on our marriage and just plain hard."1 So, after having three children they decided enough was enough. Problem was: what to do with their remaining seven embryos now in cold storage? "Donating our embryos was not an option for us [emotionally]," Belinda explained, "and I couldn't justify the yearly storage fee." So what to do? At this point, Belinda and Shaun heard about Baby Bee Hummingbird, an Australian company which makes 'keepsake jewellery' out of breast-milk, placentas, ashes after cremation - and left-over embryos.2 So Belinda had her embryos defrosted and made into a heart-shaped pendant for her neck…

This deeply troubling tale raises questions asked many times before about how we regard early human life, where we draw the line on what is and isn't permissible with respect to it, who decides and how? Should we think of our own bodies, or body parts, or genetic materials, or early human lives, or children, or the corpses of the dead as property, or are they somehow different? Should healthcare and the wherewithal for parenting operate like market commodities, provided for a fee to those who can pay? Is there something macabre about having your embryos, still in their laboratory straws, set as jewellery?

Modernity is all at sea about such metaphysical and moral questions. We are good at talk about human dignity, fundamental rights, equal care and respect. We've got the know-how and resources to help many more people than ever before. Yet still the blood of innocent children flows: the World Health Organisation estimates 40 to 50 million unborn ones die by abortion each year;3 over three million born ones die of hunger and ten times as many suffer acute and damaging malnutrition;4 another three million die from vaccine-preventable diseases;5 and a million die in war or terrorism each year.6 A quarter of the world's slaves are children, trafficked and forced into sexual, domestic, agricultural or industrial servitude;7 others are recruited as soldiers or for the drug trade;8 and some are neglected to death in hospitals for the sin of being born less than 'perfect'…

But before we judge the perpetrators of child homicide or exploitation, or the systems that allow children to starve or die for lack of simple medications while others are overfed and overmedicated, we must let the Word of God speak to us in this season of Lent. For it unveils violence in every human heart, the limits to our reverence and care, the tendency to instrumentalise others sexually, or for labour, or in our relationships. The crowd that joins heaven in hailing the Lord with "Hosanna to the King" (Mt 21:9 etc.) then joins hell in crying "Crucify him" (Mt 27:16-26 etc.); the religious authorities that proclaim that none may kill the innocent (Gen 9:5-6; Ex 20:13; 21:12 etc.), are themselves willing to kill a single innocent for the sake of the many (Jn 11:50; 18:14); the civil authorities rightly say "I find no fault in him" (Lk 23:4; Jn 19:4) and then hand him over for execution. Lent says that the blood of innocents is on all our hands, whether due to our actions or inactions, in the anger, grudges, envy, lust for wealth or power that we harbour in our hearts and enact in our lives, whether we are leaders or led. 

What's more, of those who dispose of embryos, or have abortions, or drop bombs, or are part of a system that neglects children to death - of those Jesus says from the cross, "Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). Some think they have no other option; others that what they do is best. They are wrong, the spilling of innocent blood is never the only way or best, but we know how confused human beings can be, or pressured, or self-deceiving: "Truth?" said Pilate as he stared Jesus - Truth Incarnate - in the face, "What's truth?"

And yet, we should not lose hope. As the Prophet makes clear in our first reading this morning, God plants His Law deep within us (Jer 31:31-34). Short of serious pathology, a still small voice of conscience whispers in every human heart. For all the metaphysical muddle of our culture, for all their own confusion, Belinda and Shaun didn't want their embryos washed down the sink. While hanging them round their neck might not be the best way to go, it did tell of their desire still to honour their lost children, still to testify to the preciousness of human life and parenting. They are not without sorrow for what might have been: Belinda speaks of how she would have loved to have them all, but could not afford the financial, physical, and emotional strain of further IVF cycles. But her children have not been forgotten, . they are jewels beyond compare, as their parents and surrounding culture half grasp too.

Indeed Our Lord says today in the Gospel that those who lose their lives (for His sake) regain them, that the grain of wheat dead and buried in the ground, can germinate, sprout, spring up from the ground. (Jn 12:20-33) It is our Paschal wisdom that death is not the last word, whether for the mortal sin of our damaged souls or the mortal wounds to our fragile bodies. No, death is not the last word, for unborn children who die before ever seeing the light, or the child victims of human hate or neglect who see too little of it. Resurrection is promised to all God's own. And in the meantime, a rich harvest can arise where all seems lost: as we help our community recognize the jewel of life above all other trinkets; as we work to ensure that pregnancy and parenthood, tininess or unwantedness, disability or terminal illness, are not impossible burdens, but situations evoking our reverence and support; as we perpetuate the memories of the victims and hope to bring conversion and healing to the perpetrators and our whole community.

 

INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR 5TH SUNDAY IN LENT + DAY OF THE UNBORN
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Welcome to St Mary's Cathedral and today's Solemn Mass of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, as we begin the solemn walk with Christ to His cross in Passiontide. Today we also celebrate a Day of the Unborn Child; and we remember that the Incarnation and Passion of Christ dignifies every human person young or old, able or disabled, wanted or unwanted. They must be our special care.

I welcome the organisers and participants in the March for the Unborn that will take place after Mass from outside the Cathedral. In particular I acknowledge the presence of the Rev. Honourable Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic Party, and his wife Silvana; Mr Greg Donnelly MLC; Mr Damien Tudehope MLA; Mr John Macaulay, NSW State Director of the Australian Conservatives; Mr Chris Gordon, Director of the Life Marriage and Family Office; and my Chancellor, Mr Chris Meney. I also welcome our regulars and visitors today, and invite you to join me in praying for respect for life in our land.