May 12, 2011
More than twenty-five years ago, when I was still a seminarian, I had the opportunity to work for a summer in a day camp for children with hearing impairment. Most were profoundly deaf. Others also had some serious handicaps. It occurred to me at that time, and it still does, that many of my experiences there with the children and the challenges they faced can serve as metaphors to describe the situation of our society in relation to the dignity of human life in all of its stages. My encounters with the children and their needs taught me that, with respect to the cause of life, we need to be very attentive to the language we speak, not only by our words but above all by our actions. From them I also learned the need for fervent and persistent prayer for the conversion of hearts.
The children were deaf. This necessitated learning another language so that the basic human need to communicate could be met. The language "spoken" was that of sign. Through a combination of facial expression and hand gestures children were able to communicate with one another and with staff.
It is painfully obvious to all of us that our Western society is largely deaf to the word of life spoken not just by the Church but also by science. As was the case in seeking to communicate with deaf children, the deafness of society demands that we find a new language that will reach our contemporaries. And as with the hearing impaired, the most effective language to use is that of sign. In the Christian context, this means the language of witness, of testimony. As Pope Paul VI said in his apostolic exhortation on evangelization, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." The need for effective witness is underscored by the nature of modern deafness to life. The children were deaf through no fault of their own. Deafness to the truth of life is something chosen. Since our words in defense of human life from fertilization to natural death are supported by scientific fact, the deafness that we encounter is clearly wilful.
What witness is needed in these circumstances? What testimony is actually being given by our particular sign language? Direction is given to all of us by Pope Benedict XVI, who in his very first homily said this: "Only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." What we must communicate is the beauty, dignity and necessity of each and every human life, and we must do so through witness. Since our conviction concerning life is, as the Pope says, rooted in our encounter with God in Christ, our witness must be one of joy and communion. Our joy springs from having been made sons and daughters of God by the paschal mystery of Christ. Our communion is the will of God himself, who sent his Son to gather into one his people scattered by sin. The signs of joy and communion are the hallmarks of a true culture of life, and speak clearly to a society whose growing embrace of death leads to sadness, despair and terrible isolation. As a people dedicated to the cause of life we must be careful to ensure that the sign language of our witness remains always fully consonant with the Gospel.
We must also be a people committed to intense and constant prayer for the conversion of hearts. This was brought home to me rather forcefully by the examples of two children that I remember from my days at the day camp. One child was autistic and needed to wear protective headgear. He could easily hurt himself without even being aware that he was causing damage to his body. We see the situation of this child reflected in a society which has grown indifferent to the horror of abortion or is unconcerned by embryonic stem cell research or the possibility of legalized euthanasia. It should be obvious to all that the killing of the innocent does incalculable harm to society. Failure to respect the inherent beauty and dignity of the most vulnerable places everyone at risk. Society is hurting itself and has grown insensitive to it. Or I think of another child with a disorder I had never encountered. He would need to be prevented from biting himself because he found this pain a source of pleasure. How often our society holds up what is inherently evil as something of which we should be proud! Abortion is presented as good in the name of a woman's "right to choose" or euthanasia as something to be desired as an affirmation of a person's "right to die". Evil held up as good and pleasing. The example of these children helps us to appreciate the deep need our world has for healing, a healing that can only be brought about by the grace of God.
Therefore we gather in prayer. We came together last night in vigil for this purpose and we bring our needs now to the Eucharist. Here the Lord, through whom all life came to be, makes himself present to us. He makes clear in the Gospel that he gives himself in the Eucharist for the life of the world. For the life of the world, not for its death. God's will is life, and we are drawn into communion with that will when we unite ourselves to Christ's own self-offering through the Mass. So, as we offer our lives through Him in service to the cause of life, let us pray that hearts everywhere will be touched by the mercy and love of God and thus be converted and healed. May that same mercy and love touch and transform us to make us ever more joyful and united witnesses before others to the beauty and dignity of every human life.
+Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
May 12, 2011