This Sunday’s theme is Day for Life so I decided to devote my homily to the sanctity of life. Here is the essence of what I said.
Human life is sacred because in the words of Genesis we are made in God’s image and likeness. We have been given an immortal soul that will live on past death and with a destiny to be with God forever in the next life.
The sacredness of human life is expressed in the Fifth Commandment: THOU SHALT NOT KILL. Surely all reasonable people agree with this? Why even discuss it? Well the big question is: Who does the Fifth Commandment apply to? In the secular world it applies to born human beings. In God’s world, it applies from the very beginning of life at conception/fertilisation.
Firstly science tells us that life begins at conception. This is when our DNA and genetics was determined. Our heart beat was measurable after only 21 days; our brainwaves after only 6 weeks. If we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25th December, we celebrate the beginning of his human existence on 25th March, exactly 9 months earlier.
Secondly God’s Word tells us that he knew us and had a plan for our lives even before our conception. He tells the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth, I consecrated you.”
Today I don’t want to talk about regular abortion. Ever since the early second century, the Church has taught that abortion is to be seen as a form of infanticide. There is a tragic irony in the fact that the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, is – under the guise of abortion ‘rights’ – a lead advocate for the legalised killing of unborn children. Only in a post Christian world, detached from its Christian moorings, is such a contradiction observable.
What I do want to talk about is two hidden forms of abortion: IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and those forms of contraception that work some or all of the time after conception.
With regard to IVF, this is that St John Paul wrote in his pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae: “The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life… actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from… the conjugal act, [the dignity of the human person requires that procreation takes place in an act of love between husband and wife, not by a technician in a laboratory] these techniques have a high rate of failure… with regard to the subsequent development of the embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very short space of time. Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is often greater than that needed for implantation in the woman’s womb, and these so-called “spare embryos” are then destroyed or used for research which, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, in fact reduces human life to the level of simple “biological material” to be freely disposed of.”
It goes without saying that those conceived in this way are still first class members of the human family and the Church. It is just that the means of their procreation was illicit.
This is what St John Paul had to say about abortifacient birth control: “The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being.” This applies even to the ordinary version of the Pill.
There is further detail on all these issues in a teaching document I use with couples preparing for marriage. There is a copy at the back of the church [and at the bottom of this page]. It explains why contraception is wrong and why the natural method is right. On a pastoral note, if one used any of these methods in ignorance, then one’s moral responsibility is reduced.
This Church teaching is a very controversial and counter-cultural issue today. If anybody would like to discuss the matter with me, please get in touch.
In summary, the sacredness of human life means that it must be protected from its beginning at conception thru till natural death.
The Sanctity of Human Life, Sexuality and The Family.
The Church’s teaching concerning the sacred nature of human life and procreation is crucial. From this derives the Church’s teaching on family planning, which was expressed in Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter of July 25th 1968. Since then, this teaching has been confirmed by the popes and the universal teaching authority of the Church.
What is meant by sacred? Something sacred belongs in a special way to God and is used only for his purpose and according to his designs. Take for example the chalice used in Mass. It contains the wine which is transformed into the Blood of Christ at the Consecration. Because of this sacred use, it may not be used to contain ordinary liquids like tea, coffee, etc. Neither could it be used for other secular uses such as a paperweight, soap dish, container for paper clips, etc. Whenever we are considering the right use of the sacred, the word ‘No’ frequently arises because those with secular values will not appreciate its Godly purpose and restricted use.
One such commodity that is sacred is human life. We are told in Genesis 1:27 that we are made in God’s image and likeness. From this comes the Fifth Commandment – Thou shalt not kill. Because human life is sacred, so too is its procreation in which God cooperates with husband and wife, bringing into existence a new immortal soul with a destiny to live forever with him. The sacredness of procreation extends itself to human sexuality – the means by which human life comes into being.
Human sexuality has two purposes which are intrinsically linked. Firstly it expresses and consummates the love of husband and wife and progressively bonds them into a covenanted relationship. This will provide a stable and secure family environment that will endure all of life’s trials, ‘until death do us part’. The language of sexual intimacy expresses the love and mutual self-gift between the spouses. It presupposes that spouses have formally committed themselves to a life-long marriage covenant, hence the Sixth Commandment prohibition of fornication and particularly adultery. Similarly, abuse of one’s own body is a less grave violation of this commandment.
The second sacred purpose of our sexuality is procreation. We learn from Scripture that God created the universe and all its life forms in an act of self-giving love. Ultimately God would share the love within the community of the Trinity with humanity. If God’s creative love always tends towards begetting new life, so too should human love direct itself toward begetting new life.
Pope Francis says the characteristics of divine love are fidelity, perseverance and fruitfulness. Similarly these should be the pillars of a Christian marriage.
The two purposes of sexuality – directed towards love and new life – are not to be separated. Each marriage act between husband and wife expressing their love is to be open to procreation. Purity requires that sexual intimacy is always directed to this end. Otherwise one is likely to relate to the other person as an object of self-gratification. Only heterosexual relationships can fulfil this purpose of being open to procreation.
The virtue of purity reminds us that because we were attached to Christ and the life of the Trinity in baptism, the good or bad we do affects the well-being of the whole Body of Christ (c.f. I Cor 6:12-20). The Beatitude ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God’ also informs us that purity is an important part of preserving our ‘spiritual vision’ for living according to the Gospel.
Contraception violates the holy ground of our sexuality by denying the procreative dimension. Indeed, the expression ‘contra-ception’ when broken down into its component parts means, ‘against-life.’ Such acts are all the more contrary to Christian principles when they depend on methods that some/all of the time work after the conception of a new human being. Such contraceptive methods include even the ordinary version of the Pill, IUDs/coils, hormonal implants etc and are thus forms of chemical abortion.
Elective sterilisation is also a contraceptive act as well as being a partial rejection of God’s gift of bodily integrity.
IVF methods on the other hand, violate the holy ground of our sexuality by attempting procreation outside an act of self-giving love. Furthermore, it is wrong because it generally includes the destruction of leftover embryos [as many as 30] whose right to life are the same as ours. (1)
It goes without saying that we must not cooperate with others in offences against life – particularly in the case of health care professionals, family members, friends, etc.
The Church teaches that it is proper to use the fertility cycle to plan the size of one’s family. With such methods the husband and wife refrain from relations during the predicted fertile part of the woman’s cycle. Unlike contraceptive devices, this does not violate the sacred space of our sexuality by splitting its purposes of expressing love and begetting life. Properly used, this natural method has similar success rates to artificial methods.
How may husband and wife prayerfully discern the size of their family? Article 2368 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Furthermore a generous mentality reflects the abundance of God’s creation and his gifts to us. Humanae Vitae links responsible parenthood to relevant physical, economic, psychological and social conditions. (2)
Pope Francis speaks of a ‘culture of comfort’ that “has convinced us that ‘it’s better not to have children! It’s better! That way you can see the world, be on vacation, you can have a fancy home in the country, you’ll be carefree’”. People think it is better or easier “to have a puppy, two cats and the love goes to the two cats and puppy. And in the end this marriage will end in old age in solitude, with the bitterness of bad solitude”.
I am well aware that given this issue is a controversial one. I hope that my summary explanation has shed some light on the Church’s teaching and what we believe to be God’s truth. You may like to read the Pope’s letter Humanae Vitae itself, or the relevant articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church *2360-2379. Both are accessible on the worldwide web. I can recommend two excellent books that I use in marriage preparation. See the footnote for details (3) Practical online assistance with the natural method is also available. (4)
In summary: the Catholic Church teaches that married love is to reflect God’s love for the world which is faithful, persevering and fruitful. Furthermore the Sixth Commandment and the sacred nature of our human sexuality requires us not to split apart or interfere with its love-giving and life-giving dimensions. Natural methods of family planning respect this; contraceptive methods do not.
(1) Let it be said that those people conceived by IVF are to be considered as no different to anybody else. None of us are responsible for the circumstances of our procreation and any ways it may have deviated from God’s designs. Furthermore God grants the same human dignity to all members of the human race.
(2) Paragraph 10
(3) Good News about Sex and Marriage by West and Marriage is for Keeps by Kippley. Both are easily available on http://www.amazon.co.uk.