Last Sunday after Pentecost
The last Sunday of the liturgical year gives our Holy Mother the Church the opportunity to place before our eyes the spectacle of the end of time. Let’s be honest and admit that the revelation of Our Lord frightens us: the darkening of the sun, the moon failing to give her light, the stars falling from heaven, the powers of heavens being moved, the entire earth given over to wailing and howling at the terrifying end of the cosmos. For the cosmos, the universe, shall indeed end, on the day and at the time that it has been decreed by its Creator. All of creation served only one purpose: the glorification of God through the salvation of souls. As soon as the last soul to be saved reaches Heaven, the end will be upon us. But that hour is hidden from us, so that we may remain constantly vigilant.
One of the most mysterious points of today’s Gospel is the reference to the “abomination of the desolation standing in the holy place”. What is this abomination? The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us this: “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realise within history that messianic hope which can only be realised beyond history through the eschatological judgement… The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world” (CCC 675-677).
Every time then that men seek to find their fulfilment in this world without reference to God; every time they proclaim that they are self-sufficient, do not need God, and can decide for themselves what is right and wrong, we have a form of Antichrist knocking at our door. Today, there are many of them. Here in Tasmania, one of the tools of the Antichrist is the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Given the present debate in parliament, Archbishop Porteous has asked the priests to say a word about this today.
There is no better reference on the subject than the monumental encyclical Evangelium Vitae, published in 1995 by Pope St John Paul II. This is truly one of the most important texts of this holy pope, one which I invite you to read in its entirety. It has lost nothing of its relevance since it was written 25 years ago, on the contrary. He speaks of the eclipse of God in today’s world and its deadly consequences, leading to the culture of death. The moral conscience, he writes, is today subjected to an extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. He compares contemporary society to that humanity which St Paul describes in his Epistle to the Romans. It is composed ‘of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth’ (1:18): having denied God and believing that they can build the earthly city without Him, ‘they became futile in their thinking’ so that ‘their senseless minds were darkened’ (1:21); ‘claiming to be wise, they became fools’ (1:22), carrying out works deserving of death, and ‘they not only do them but approve those who practise them’ (1:32). When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls ‘evil good and good evil. (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness.
Faced with such a tragic situation, the pope thought it necessary to declare, with the fulness of his apostolic authority, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral….. Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.
In order to leave no loophole in his teaching, he goes on to teach that suicide, like murder, is always a gravely evil choice, even though a person who commits suicide may be the victim of certain psychological and social conditionings which lessen or remove subjective responsibility; nevertheless, viewed objectively, suicide is a gravely immoral act. The Pope explains why. It involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one’s neighbour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole. In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God’s absolute sovereignty over life and death.
It follows from this that to help another person commit suicide through so-called “assisted suicide” means to cooperate in, and to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested. Euthanasia, even in the form of assisted suicide, is always a false mercy; it is a disturbing perversion of mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.
What then are we to make of the legalisation of suicide and euthanasia? Quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul writes that human law is law only inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence. In other words, regardless of the intentions of the legislators, bills such as the one presently before the parliament, were they to be approved, would be no law at all, but an act of violence. Such laws, like those which allow abortion, have no foundation whatsoever in reality. There is no obligation in conscience to obey them, but rather a grave and clear obligation to oppose them in every possible way. This is why the Archbishop is asking us all to write to the Members of Parliament in order to attempt to dissuade them from such an egregious crime against the people of Tasmania.
We might be tempted to ask ourselves what purpose it will serve. And indeed, the question is a good one. The simple fact that the bill has made it this far bears witness to a sad loss of values in those very ones who have been elected to provide for the common good. But we must never despair of the power of grace. Pope John Paul points out that all the conditioning and efforts to enforce silence on the truth fail to stifle the voice of the Lord echoing in the conscience of every individual: it is always from this intimate sanctuary of the conscience that a new journey of love, openness and service to human life can begin. As a good shepherd, the pope points out that the voice of the Lord can always be heard in the sanctuary of the conscience, and this can lead those who have gone astray to return to the path of salvation. So let us pray that those who preside over our future will listen to that voice of conscience, the true voice of conscience, which is none other than the voice of our God-given nature, that they will backtrack before they have an awful lot of blood on their hands, and take us one step further towards the abyss of anarchy.
The orations for today’s Mass bear witness to a beautiful realism and confidence in the grace of God. In the secret prayer over the oblates, we will ask the Lord to convert the hearts of all to Him, that being delivered from earthly desires, we may pass on to heavenly ones. And after Communion we will ask that what is corrupted in our souls may be restored by the healing power of the sacred gift we receive.
At the end of his encyclical St John Paul, as was invariably his custom, turns to Our Lady, hailed as the “Mother of all the living”. He offers a beautiful meditation on chapter 12 of the Apocalypse where we see the dragon who is ready to devour the fruit of the woman clothed with the sun. Mary, as the one who gave birth to eternal life, is ever at the heart of our battle against the cruel enemy. Let us turn to her with the words of the holy pope:
O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life. Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy. Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time. Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build, together with all people of good will, the civilisation of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life. Amen.