The fifth commandment that God gave to Moses is “Thou shalt not kill.” The Lord commands that we do not kill the innocent, and by extension, that we do not hurt our neighbour by our words or actions. Sadly, we live in a culture which allows for the killing of many innocent people. Since 1967, our Government’s statistics report that over eight million children have been killed before birth.
We are currently facing increasing calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide. In opposing this, we do not condemn efforts to relieve pain, to make people comfortable, to desist from extraordinary or burdensome treatment, but we do not accept that it is ever right to give someone a drug or treatment with the deliverate purpose of ending their life. The difference is easy to understand. If we are giving end of life care to relieve someone’s pain or make them comfortable, the success criterion is “Are they comfortable and free from pain?” If we are acting to end someone’s life, the success criterion is “Have they died yet?”
It is a responsibility for those who are able, to engage in public debate on these questions, but all of us can contribute to the good of society and upholding the sanctity of human life by speaking out within our own families and among our friends.
Unfortunately, many Catholics are confused on these issues. Pressure from the spirit of the age has led many to compromise on their faith, to excuse, encourage, condone or otherwise co-operate in the taking of human life before birth. As we see an ever more extreme undermining of the family and of human life, it is a good time to think again, to turn back to the Lord and His truth, to ask his forgiveness, and to know that such forgiveness is given generously.
By way of understanding the contribution of a reverence for the sanctity of life to the good of society, it is helpful to consider those who have been heroic in this regard. Let us take the example of St Theresa of Calcutta, canonised last year by Pope Francis.
St Theresa of Calcutta is known primarily for her care for the poor, and for her lifelong insistence that it is the love with which we care for others that matters. She said:
“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
“Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world.”
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
St Theresa was subject to virulent criticism both during her life and after her death because her love for the poor extended to those who are unborn. When she received the Nobel Peace Prize, she shocked polite sensibilities by speaking up for the right to life of the unborn. That was not supposed to be in the script. In fact, two of her most trenchant critics were invited to give evidence at her canonisation process so that all the objections could be heard.
Let us pray to St Theresa of Calcutta for all mothers in difficulty, for those suffering in their conscience for having made bad decisions in the past, and for those who helped them in these decisions. Let us turn to our merciful and loving Saviour for the strength to be apostles of life.