Here is Archbishop Eamon Martin’s address from Thursday at the closing of a novena in the parish of Saint Patrick, Roden Place, Dundalk, in the Archdiocese of Armagh. The archbishop was ordained coadjutor archbishop of Armagh on April 21.
The theme was “The Eucharist, Communion with Christ and with one another.”
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Not long before he died, Pope John Paul told the young people in Rome, ‘There is no authentic celebration or adoration of the Eucharist that does not lead to mission’. In a world where human life itself is under attack, we have a particular and critical mission. The other day a member of the Apostolate of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration told me – I am offering up my holy hour each week before the Blessed Sacrament so that, even at this late stage, the government may have a change of heart and not introduce legislation for abortion into our country. The organisation ‘Precious Life’ is calling on all of us to offer forty days of prayer and fasting from the 12 May for the protection of unborn children in this country. I support these initiatives, because if we are in ‘communion’ with Christ, the Bread of Life, at Mass or during adoration, then we are also ‘commissioned’ to bring the Good News about Life out there into our community. How can we be in communion with the Bread of Life at Mass or here tonight and not speak the ‘Gospel of Life’ in our daily lives, especially these days when unborn human life is under such a direct threat in our country?
We are being asked to accept that in order to protect life we can directly and intentionally take a life – that in order to save the life of a mother it is sometimes permissible to directly and intentionally target the life of an innocent unborn child in the womb. We are being asked to accept that if a woman is in crisis because of her pregnancy and feels suicidal, then sometimes the right thing to do for her in the long term is to take the life of her unborn child. Legislation is being proposed which will make it legal in this country to directly and intentionally take the life of an unborn child in order to save the life of a mother. Such direct and intentional taking of any human life is gravely immoral. It strikes at the very heart of our faith and belief because it directly targets human life which is sacred and a gift from God. The right to life is such a natural and inviolable right that no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy it.
How can it be argued that it is for the ‘public good’ to legislate for the direct and intentional taking of human life? How can it be claimed that this is the will of the Irish people who had enshrined in the Constitution the protection of the life of both a mother and her unborn child?
A massive effort is being made to produce legislation together with the systems necessary to make it happen. If a similar effort was redirected towards establishing with the relevant professional bodies clear medical guidelines together with robust support structures for medical personnel, towards supporting mothers who have very real anxieties or fears about their pregnancy, towards improving professional development, training and support structures for doctors, nurses and other professionals who are faced with these complex and very difficult dilemmas on the ground, then it is still possible to preserve Ireland’s reputation as one of the safest places in the world for mothers and babies during pregnancy.
None of us can leave our faith ‘outside the room’ when we are considering these matters. Those final words at Mass call us to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, to go and glorify the Lord with our lives. We cannot separate our communion with Christ in the Eucharist from the call to mission and evangelisation. We must face the challenge of putting faith into practice in our lives, and have the courage to follow our informed conscience, no matter what the consequences might be. And in this vital case our conscience has to be informed by our communion with the Bread of Life, by the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, and by the fundamental Christian belief in the sacredness of all human life.
My brothers and sisters, the notion of the Eucharist as ‘communion’ is not some kind of cosy comfort blanket to make us feel all warm and wrapped up in ourselves in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It is a call to personal conversion and to change in the way we live our lives and how we organise our communities. The Eucharist has the power to change us and, through us, to change the people we meet and even to change society. It unites us with Christ in the most profound way and that communion has the power to transform us, and to make a real difference in the world.
We gather before the Blessed Sacrament on this final evening of the Novena in honour of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Pope Francis said the other day, ‘in this moment of profound communion in Christ, we (also) feel the spiritual presence of the Virgin Mary alive in our midst, a maternal presence, a familiar presence’. Mary is the Mother of Life, she selflessly gave her body, gave everything to carry in her womb Jesus the Saviour of the world. And Jesus in turn, selflessly gave his body and blood as atonement for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. May Mary mother of the Church, mother of all mankind be with us in our hour of need. And may she, most clement, most loving, most sweet Virgin Mary, show us the blessed fruit of her womb, and open our minds afresh to the great mystery of Christ’s presence among us in the Eucharist – our communion with Christ and with one another.
Panis Angelicus fit Panis hominum. O res mirabilis. The bread of angels becomes the bread for all mankind. What a wonderful thing!