Forgiveness, love and support: Memorial Mass for the Unborn

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Welcome to our annual Memorial Mass for the Unborn.

We are here tonight out of love: love for unborn children at risk in the very place they should be safest – the womb; love for the ones who are killed every day in our city; love for the mothers and families drawn into this tragedy by thinking abortion is their only option.

Tonight’s Mass is a chance for us to mourn for the little ones who never got to see the light of day, to intercede for eternal life for them, and to pray also for their families, doctors and community so damaged in the process.

We join bereaved parents, offering forgiveness, love and support.

By chance we also celebrate tonight the anniversary of the dedication of this cathedral, rebuilt after fire and rededicated on this day in 1928.

This church is known as “the mother church of Australia” and so it is not unfitting that we reflect tonight on threats to motherhood in our community.

He was destined to be a brilliant chemist and in 2006 to discover the elusive process for clean coal technology: electricity with no carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

As a result, the world’s temperature was to have stabilised by 2016 and millions of people be saved from becoming ecological refugees or the victims of climate-related economic and civil disturbances.

But clean coal remained just a theory, because our scientist died.

Then, there was the woman destined to be known as “the Mother Teresa of the 21st century”.

She was to initiate several new ecclesial movements and religious congregations, each devoted to people living with a different intellectual or physical handicap.

Under her influence the rights and needs of people facing such life-limiting challenges would be addressed in many countries where previously they were neglected.

Major new approaches would mean that their quality of life was hugely improved.

Except that she died first.

Thirdly, there was the immunologist who after having eight children by his first wife was widowed, remarried and had another six – children, that is, not wives.

Before he was 80 there were to be more than 50 descendants some of whom were already having a very positive influence on their community.

Somehow he balanced fathering with his research and clinical work which was to bring an end to HIV pandemic.

But all that was cut short by his premature death in 1990.

The first woman Secretary-General of the United Nations was a career diplomat and social scientist.

Her greatest achievement was brokering lasting peace between several ancient and more recent enemies in the Middle East.

No-one knows how many lives she saved by such critical interventions in various conflicts, but it might have reached into the millions.

A brilliant orator, a household name, a friend of all humanity – but she died first.

Four people whose lives were destined to change the world – except that all four were aborted before they were born.

Instead of marking history indelibly they were snuffed out before seeing the light of day. The cost to humanity of their loss is incalculable.

If roughly 82 children die every day in New South Wales from abortion, that’s on average of four every hour.

Maybe during this hour-long Mass four will die whose stories could have been like the four I just told.

Germaine Greer, the famous Australian feminist, who was long an advocate of abortion on demand but came to have some misgivings, has observed that when women ‘won’ the right to abortion what they really gained was “the right to undergo invasive procedures in order to terminate unwanted pregnancies, unwanted not just by them but by their parents, their sexual partners, the governments who would not support mothers, the employers who would not employ mothers, the landlords who would not accept tenants with children, the schools that would not accept
students with children.”

In many ways abortion- on-demand revolution only perpetuated and magnified the stigma suffered by women pregnant in difficult circumstances.

Our society says to women: “you can and should have lots of sex, sex without consequences; but if there is some undesired consequence, it’s up to you to fix it”. According to our best figures, more than 19 out of 20 of those abortion fixes in Australia are undertaken for reasons such as the mother feeling unsupported, fearingabandonment or abuse by her partner were she to proceed to term, being unable to afford the cost of a baby or dreading the reaction of those around them.

This means that 19 out of 20 women who undergo abortion in Australia feel they have no real choice; they are convinced they have no real option not to have an abortion.

This is a failure of gargantuan proportions by our community and culture.

It invites self-examination on the part of every member of a society in which many women fear carrying a child to birth.

We must ask ourselves what are the attitudes and subtle messages coming from employers, academies, media and social welfare programs?

How about our pastors and congregations, our schools and church agencies?

Do our situations, culture and relationships enable and encourage women to make life-affirming choices – or do they add to the pressures in the opposite direction when the newly-pregnant are most vulnerable?

My dream is of a world in which no woman is even tempted to abortion because abortion is unthinkable.

In such a world people would, like St Paul in our epistle tonight, think of each person as a temple of God (1Cor 3:16-17).

They would regard the killing of an innocent person as the desecration of a church and the aborting of a pregnant mother like burning down the mother church that is the cathedral.

But such a world will only come about if no woman is pressured into abortion by spouse or partner, by relative or friend, by employer or co-worker, by doctor or genetic counsellor, by economic circumstances or social stigma, by loneliness or fear.

Such a dream may only become reality if no new mother is left isolated and ashamed but rather every mother affirmed and encouraged in every way.

The Gospel of life demands that we offer women not merely finger-wagging and apocalyptic threats but real alternatives, real solutions; not the lie of the quick-fix at the abortion clinic, nor tokenistic support for other options.

Love calls us to use our creative energies to support both mother and child, so no woman feels compelled to make such a choice.

As Pope John Paul II put it, to be ‘radically pro-child’ we must be ‘radically pro-woman’.

Only that kind of communion with Christ and women and babies at risk will make us “the people of life and for life”.

St John Paul pulled no punches about the moral evil of abortion; but for women who’d been through that tragedy he reserved words of sympathy, calling them back into the loving embrace of the Church, insisting that no sin is unforgivable, giving them a reason to hope that their little one is safe with God and that they will be reconciled with both.

He understood, as Pope Francis does, as loving Christians everywhere do, the pressures people are under, that pregnant women are always vulnerable, often desperate, sometimes under duress.

They understood, as we must, that people are only likely to make better choices in the context of community and culture that support better choices, that reverence every human being as a temple of God, that put the weakest and struggling first.

So tonight we pray for and recommit to work towards a society in which expectant mothers may expect not just a baby but our community’s love and our culture’s support for having their baby.

More than ever in our muddled culture, so protective of human life and yet so violent towards it, Catholics must offer this sort of positive, consistent, compassionate testimony.

We must, each of us, be living Gospels of life and love.

This is the edited version of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the Memorial Mass for the Unborn at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on 2 September.