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Bishop Kevin Doran

Today, the Church in these Islands celebrates the “Day for Life”, with a particular emphasis on our response to women and, indeed, men who have been touched by the experience of abortion. At first sight the Scripture readings don’t seem to speak to that particular theme, but maybe we can look a bit deeper. The theme of vocation and mission comes across very strongly in the first reading and in the Gospel. The God of the Exodus is a God who carries his people “on eagle’s wings” and sets them free. Jesus very specifically sends the Twelve out “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. So there is definitely something in here for women (and men) who may be a bit lost or on the margins, or who are looking to be set free.

Alongside the theme of vocation, there is the theme of journey. In the first Reading, the people of Israel in their thousands, with all their animals, have arrived in Rephidim close to Mt Sinai. It must have been a wonderful sight; great to be a part of it. In the Gospel reading, the focus is on a different kind of journey; the departure of the Twelve on their mission to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God is near at hand, and to bring healing and wholeness to those who are, in various ways “broken”.

The people of God are always being called and being sent out. Generation after generation, we walk together along the path of life and often through the valley of darkness. That walking together is of crucial importance, because that is how each of us is supported and encouraged in following our own personal vocation. As we journey, the Lord travels with us, just as he travelled with the people of Israel through the wilderness. That walking together and walking with God is the essential meaning of Synod.

I have walked the Camino a few times with groups and one of the differences I have found is that, when we walk together it always takes longer, because we have to adjust our pace to take into account the needs of those who, for one reason or another are at risk of being left behind.

Today, as we celebrate the Day for Life we are invited to “listen”;

· to listen to women who struggle, often alone, with the reality of crisis pregnancy;

· to listen very particularly to those who, whether recently or many years ago, took the lonely path that led to abortion.

In the Day for Life message, Jane tells us: “When I was 15, I discovered I was pregnant and the fear clouded everything. I had one aim, and that was to solve the problem I had found myself in”. She describes how she found what she thought was the help she needed. “After the initial feeling of relief”, she says, “I pushed down the experience and avoided anything to do with the topic of abortion. It was difficult to be around pregnant women and I found the anniversary difficult each year.” She describes how, in spite of a growing curiosity about faith, she couldn’t bring herself to believe that God’s mercy applied to her. She was blessed to come across Rachel’s Vineyard, a voluntary organisation which offers spiritual and pastoral support to women (and men) who, like herself had been touched by abortion and were seeking healing. She plucked up the coursge to go on a retreat they were offering. There, for the first time, she was able to grieve for her child.

She writes:

This was the start of God turning the guilt, shame and unforgiveness into a deep love for my son, as any good mother would have. The healing has continued alongside my faith journey. I’ve taken responsibility for the role I played in my abortion, but with perspective and time, I can see that my ‘choice’ wasn’t really a choice at all. There were other people’s failures, and an inability to truly give informed consent as a teenager that also contributed. The option that was presented as a quick-fix solution has eternal consequences, and I truly believe that if I’d have known the impact abortion would have had on my life, even as a teenager, I would have made a different choice.”

There are many thousands of women all over Ireland who, for various reasons have had abortions, whether recently or many years ago. Many of them carry this painful knowledge locked in their own hearts. Society offers them abortion but seems to have very little interest in why they make that choice or in what happens to them afterwards. There are men too, who carry the pain of being associated with an abortion. These women and men are, in a sense, among “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Many of them, like Jane, are people of faith, however fragile that faith may be. They want to be healed and reconciled, but they often feel that this is not really possible for them.

If our walking together as Church means anything at all, it must include them and embrace them. In order to hear what they want to say to us, we may need to adjust our pace and walk more closely with them.

Each one of you here today is entrusted with mission; you are sent out to bring the healing presence of Jesus into the lives of others. God’s healing often comes through a family member, a neighbour, a friend who listens without judgement and who can accompany someone in finding the way to other supports that may be needed. God always seeks out the one who is lost or alone, or in need of healing, but you may be the “eagle” whose wings he uses to carry someone to freedom and to Himself.


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