The fullness of life
By Br Isaac Maria Wharton | These last weeks have seen an intense focus on the plight of Alfie Evans and his family. Many questions have been raised. Questions about the relationship between parents, children, doctors and the legal authorities. Questions about when it can be legitimate to gently withdraw burdensome treatment. The need to restate that that the administration of water and food is a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act and should be considered morally obligatory in the case of those in persistent vegetative states.
These last weeks have seen an intense focus on the plight of Alfie Evans and his family. Many questions have been raised. Questions about the relationship between parents, children, doctors and the legal authorities. Questions about when it can be legitimate to gently withdraw burdensome treatment. The need to restate that that the administration of water and food is a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act and should be considered morally obligatory in the case of those in persistent vegetative states. All of these questions will be examined much over the next weeks and months, but now is not the time to do that. Rather now is the time to look behind these issues to see what lies at the heart of the battle we have seen over these weeks.
At its heart has been the conviction that Alfie Evans was worth fighting for. That even with the undeniably progressive nature of his condition, his life still had infinite value and worth and dignity. A dignity that needed to be respected and defended. Alfie’s plight tapped into an innate sense in lots of people that this baby was worth trying to help and in some ways, his battle for life became all of our battle. He came to represent the hopes and dreams of family, of a city, of a nation, and even of the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
In her only novel, “The Dry Wood” Caryll Houselander tells the story of a small child, Willie Jewel, who himself is dying. She writes,
Why had he come into this world, this child of hers, this poor man’s child, who could not run or play or speak, who was in the hands of people as the Host is in the hands of the priest? Why had he been born from pain and love, and lived in pain and love, and died? The people passed by the bedside, one after the other, old, broken, shapeless women, thin, flamboyant little factory girls, shy and sometimes weeping sailors, burley dock labourers, mothers of large families holding their little infants in their arms, and his mother stood by, watching them, seeing the meaning of her son’s life, and the meaning of his death in the faces of love and grief. Her son had gone away and left her for the great work of the business of God. He had increased the life of the world. She had brought one into the world, who had so increased the world’s love, that he made all who were childless his mothers; he was the son of all who loved him, he belonged to them all. (The Dry Wood, 203-204.)
The death of Alfie is tragic beyond words. But Alfie does not need our prayers now; as a baptised child, under the age of reason, he has already been received into the tender embrace of God himself. He now enjoys the beautiful vision of the sheer splendour of God, and what’s more, he is now praying for us. Such is the wonder of the mystical body. Those who die in friendship with God enjoy his beauty forever, and while we still labour on earth, they spur us on with their prayers. He is a saint; quite literally. We too can pray to him.
But his parents now need our prayers more that ever before. They are walking down a road no one ever wants to walk along. There is simply no grief like it. So we must hold them before Jesus and Mary. We must ask Jesus to reveal his presence to them. We must ask Mary to shelter them in her mantle. She who knows the cost of love and grief. The unalterable pain that only a mother can feel.
Very soon the people of Ireland will vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The people will be asked to decide on whether they want to permit abortion up to 12 weeks, and, according to its promoters, will also allow abortion up to 6 months in certain circumstances. A vote for it is undoubtedly a vote for abortion on demand. Since abortion was legalised in our own country, 50 years ago, almost 9 million children have been killed.
We know that abortion is not a part of the Father’s plan for us. We know that the intentional killing of the unborn is a crime which cries out to heaven for repentance and reparation. We know that mothers and fathers, and families, suffer terribly from its effects. But we hold the key to the ending of this tragedy. We know where the healing for all those caught up in it can be found. In the sweet love and mercy of Jesus. So first we must pray. Pray for those considering abortions; for mothers trapped in sexual violence, fear and poverty. For those who fear that they have no choice. Pray that they will choose life and love. Pray also for those who perpetrate these acts; for doctors and nurses, who in a misguided desire to help, carry out acts of utter brutality. Pray for their repentance and conversion. And pray for those who seek to help mothers to choose life. For those who stand and pray outside abortion clinics offering mothers another choice. Groups like the Good Counsel Network and Life do great work to help mothers in crisis.
But this help is in danger. Just this last month, Ealing Council voted to impose a ‘buffer zone’ outside the abortion clinic in Ealing. The zone is designed to prevent mothers from reaching the help offered outside the clinic. I have now been very privileged to meet 11 children saved by these vigils outside clinics, such the power of prayer and witness. What helped to change their mothers minds? The offer of practical help in the form of housing, money, clothes, a cot … yes. But deeper than this, was the realisation that someone really cared for them and their unborn child. Such is the power of love made incarnate. Such is the power of Christ living in us. So for some us our response might involve joining a prayer vigil. We will be holding an all night vigil in the Rosary Shrine on Friday 4th of May to which all are most welcome. Or it might also involve taking part in the March for Life on Saturday 5th of May.
At the heart of all of this is the simple conviction that all life is sacred, that no life is futile and that no one is a mistake. Why do we hold this conviction? Simply because God loves each and every one of us. Everyone is planned, wanted, and loved beyond measure. Everyone has something utterly unique to give in the Body of Christ. Everyone is worth fighting for. Christ shows us this in his incarnation and passion. We too now have the opportunity to show it in the way we live and act.
Let us pray for Alfie’s parents, for consolation in their darkness, and for healing in their unimaginable pain. Let us pray for the people of Ireland, they will choose life for the unborn, and hope and freedom for mothers and families. And let us pray for ourselves, that we too might live the fullness of the Gospel of life.
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