During the retreat, for a little light reading, I re-read Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography of Pope Paul VI who was beatified in 2014. It was Pope Paul who wrote the Encyclical Letter ‘Humanae Vitae’ in which he endorsed orthodox Catholic teaching about married love, responsible parenthood, and the continued rejection of most forms of birth control. Next year, the Church will mark the 50th anniversary of its promulgation. The Church has always asked us to pray and to work for the protection of human life. This is an issue that demands our attention to this very day, as we hear in the news this morning about parents, doctors, lawyers, governments, and even church leaders arguing about whether certain sick people should receive treatment or not.
The Gospel Our Lord preached reinforces our belief that God is the source of all fatherhood: both natural fatherhood within the families into which each of us are born, and also the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood. And so, it is God Himself who is attacked whenever earthly fathers and mothers and the family are attacked. From the very beginning of time it was God’s fatherhood over each of us that the Devil sought to destroy in tempting Adam and Eve to sin – and he does so still.
These times in which we live have made genuine fatherhood and motherhood almost an endangered species. It’s 49 years since Pope Paul wrote Humanae Vitae. In it he declared that every use of artificial contraception is a moral evil, and he prophetically declared that once the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act were separated by artificial means, then marriage itself would be threatened. As you can imagine, Pope Paul was heavily criticised by the media, and indeed by some Catholics, for saying such a thing, but 49 years later there is no doubt at all that Pope Paul was absolutely right. Among so many people today, Catholics included, marriage is as disposable as an old pair of socks, and petitions for annulments have reached an all-time high. More and more children are being born into one parent families and grow up never to experience the wonder and the grace of knowing both a father and a mother.
World Health Organisation statistics reveal that between 40-50 million abortions are performed each year. In our own country, the NHS funded 98% of abortions last year (2016); 185,824 children were killed in their mothers’ wombs. These children should have been safe in their own mothers’ wombs, and yet they never came to know the love of God through their earthly mothers and fathers: they were denied even a name, anonymous victims of an appalling crime against humanity. As a nation we continue to legislate, fund and promote ever more vicious attacks against human life at all stages, from the newly conceived to the elderly. You may have heard that Japan, which has a high elderly population, introduced health insurance cover for the over 75’s which many have called the Hurry Up and Die Scheme.
From the contraceptives which are pushed on our young people, to the doctors and nurses who pervert their profession in support of life into one of taking the lives of the unborn, the elderly, the so-called “useless” and the unwanted – our society embraces more and more the godlessness of sin and death. Like Hitler and Stalin, we judge who among the living has no quality of life, and are therefore liable to legally-sanctioned murder, often by starvation and dehydration.
Our Lord calls us to make a stand, in order to stop what Pope Saint John Paul II aptly called the culture of death. When I became a Catholic in the early 80’s the Church actively encouraged opposition to abortion and other social ills. Today we hear very little. Have we accepted the way of things in the 21st century, or do we continue to write to our MP’s and urge them to stop the attacks upon the sacred gift of human life? As individuals, we may not be able to do much to change society, and yet every Friday is a perfect opportunity for us to, at the very least, pray for the sanctity of human life, as we meditate upon the sacrifice of the perfect and holy life of Christ, who is both God and man.
Each of us, in our own way must do what we can to preserve and protect God’s plan for the family: fatherhood and motherhood, marriage between one man and one woman, within a lifelong commitment to each other. Let us encourage chastity and self-control for the unmarried and the young, rather than condemn them to the unhappiness of promiscuity and the possibility of having children who aren’t wanted.
The Catechism teaches us, in a passage grounded in today’s Gospel, that: We must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn from this world. Humility makes us recognise that ‘no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,’- that is, to little children. (CCC 2779)
God has existed in His divine splendour from all eternity, and we have been called to share His own wonderful light in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our task is to encounter, accept and love Him as He is, not as we would have him be. Our Lord established the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in order that we may know and live the truth here and now.
And so, let us endeavour to become like little children so that we are always able to humbly receive the truth from our Father in heaven.