The gifts which we place on the altar on Sundays are fruit of the earth and work of human hands. Farmers grew the wheat and grapes; they gathered, crushed and delivered them to others who “were only doing their duty” as they changed them from flour and juice with time and skill into bread and wine. Other signs and symbols remind us of the gifts of God’s creation: we use candles – the work of bees; we bless with water – a sign of life; we use the smoke of incense to venerate; we use the oil of olives to anoint and heal.
In the words of St Paul to Timothy today, these gifts of creation remind us that our faith and are lives are a precious gift which needs to be fanned into a flame. Sunday Mass is a time when we are “only doing our duty” – as parents, godparents, children, godchildren, choir and musicians!
Pope Francis too is also merely a servant “doing his duty” when he reminds us that everything in God’s creation is connected. We are called by Pope Francis to be consistent, respectful and generous to human life and to the world around us. In this way, all in God’s creation – like the mustard seed – will be able to reach their potential.
Sadly, at the same time that society is developing a more urgent sense of the need to care for our planet, we hear many slogans emerging which seem determined to remove some rights including the right to life of unborn human beings.
On this Day for Life which is being celebrated around Ireland, our bishops – like Pope Francis – are inviting us to celebrate the fact that every unborn child is not just “a potential human being” but is already a human being with potential.
In the 1980s, I was in school in Mullingar in St Finian’s long before the days of Green Flags in schools which led to an awareness of the environment. Our geography teacher Mr McNamara spoke to us about the destruction of nearby Lough Sheelin by pollution and by so many fertilizer products. For us, he connected so much in nature with human behaviour and our responsibility for each other. Thankfully two decades later after plenty of hard work, by locals and by Government agencies, Lough Sheelin is back to its excellent stocks of trout and is the envy of many in Europe.
Years after the deaths and damage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we can remember clearly the the impact of Chernobyl. Thankfully the reaction of Irish communities was to welcome children from Chernobyl and surrounding regions, to protect them, to proclaim their dignity and to help them – like the mustard seed – to discover their God-given potential.
The psalmist today speaks of hardness of heart. In a world where hearts have been hardened by cynicism, comfort, and greed we could echo the psalmist’s prayer to soften our hearts and to protect the heartbeat of the unborn and of all who are vulnerable.
Everyone in Ireland invests in this tender care for life – not just those who are charged as heads of Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Health; Children and Youth Affairs; Communications, Climate Action and Environment!
We see how government policy is designed to get the very best, to care for and to cherish creation. So too with human life! Nine months before we were born we were not even the size of a mustard seed. We grew and grew in a safe, protected environment of care. We were wonderfully comfortable until a dramatic moment which we do not remember – but our mothers so. All was going just fine for us until the waters broke!
Since then, nobody has been able to equal the quality and constancy of care during pregnancy. No advances in communication or technology can replace umbilical care and sense of connectedness of those nine months.
Today’s Day for Life enables us to admire the many layers of potential in God’s creation. This is the day on which we remember that God rested after His work. He saw that all was good. Sunday is the day when we have extra time for re-creation with our own families and parish communities.
I’d suggest also that this Day for Life could be a perfect opportunity to speak about the birds and the bees! We’re told that the number of beehives in Europe is falling because of the amount of pesticide sprays and agriculture products. Bees which up until recently have provided valuable support to our crops and fruit trees and plants. In other parts of the world we lament the extinction of bird species, of wildlife or of fish because of excess pollution or because of plastic poisoning them in their rivers.
Could I propose on this Day for Life that we draw some help from the feasts and the saints whom we celebrate at this time of year? Tomorrow the Michaelmas Law term begins. The archangels whom we celebrated last Thursday remind us of God’s care for us. Michael protects and defends life. Gabriel heralds new life to Our Lady and proclaims life; Raphael is the one who restores life and health.
We celebrate today and every 2nd of October the Feast of our Guardian Angels. On Tuesday we will celebrate St Francis – an apostle of life, an apostle of creation.
Shortly like St Francis we will receive the Holy Eucharist which reminds us of our connectedness and of God’s wish to connect with us.
Christ will be close to our hearts as we were to our own mother’s heart before we were born. May this Holy Mass help us all to “do our duty as servants” who protect, proclaim and heal like the archangels. We are called to protect like Michael, to proclaim like Gabriel and to heal like Raphael … and to witness like St Francis to the many rich and beautiful layers of life in all of God’s creation.
Rev Robert McCabe CC