Preaching on Abortion
Timothy Finigan FAITH Magazine March-April 2007
In any kind of preaching, we should be aware of the values and attitudes of those who are listening. In the case of abortion, many people are in a state of internal conflict. They know that abortion is the killing of an innocent, unborn human being, a child who is recognisably such. At the same time, they may have been a part of the “condoning generation.” Since 1967, many people who have not had an abortion themselves, have participated by counsel, consent, encouragement, silence, or defence of the ill done.
The discomfort of this conflict leads to silence, denial, and anger when it is confronted. Psychologically, a tried and tested way to overcome such negative feelings is to acknowledge them accurately and sympathetically and then to remove the obstacles to a resolution. In the case of abortion, the obstacles will often be overcome by factual information about the peaceful, compassionate work of pro-life groups, the damage done to women by abortion, the increasing information on the life of the child in the womb.
The resolution hoped for will be a repentance for past collusion or inaction, acknowledgement of the truth of the Gospel of Life, and a new openness to get involved in active pro-life work. This approach also helps to shift the discussion from unfairly focussing exclusively on women. How many men have in some way co-operated in an abortion because the pregnancy would be a crisis for them too? How many parents have given in to the pressure of health professionals in the mistaken belief that an abortion would help their pregnant daughter? The overall theme here is one of honesty, of facing up to the truth. We need to break the conspiracy of silence that surrounds the issue of abortion. As one pro-lifer put it to me: if a law were passed allowing one Catholic priest per month to besummarily executed, we would probably preach on it quite often. Our abortion law is responsible for the killing of 500 babies each day in the UK. It would be well to remind ourselves and our people that there will come a day – perhaps in the not too distant future – when future generations will look with horror at this episode in our history and ask “What did you do?” Some priests are unsure about preaching on abortion at all. They may think that we should not talk about abortion in a homily because there will be women in the congregation who have had an abortion. This is to give in to the proabortion propaganda which presents abortion as a solution to problems faced by women, and which presents the pro-life position as one which is condemnatory of women, hard hearted and potentiallyviolent.
In fact, Pro-life workers who offer post-abortion counselling will affirm the obvious: abortion traumatises and harms women – physically and psychologically. Through his Church, Christ offers forgiveness and healing. If we fail to preach the Gospel of Life, we will fail many women and leave them with the “default” impression that the Church condemns them as people. The presence of women who have had an abortion is one of the most important reasons why we should preach on abortion as a matter of pastoral compassion.
A good place to start is Evangelium Vitae n.99 where Pope John Paul offered “a special word to women who have had an abortion.” We need to get the message across that “pro-life” is also “pro-women”. We would do well to highlight the temptingly easy availability of abortion. It is often presented as the first option to solve the problem of a crisis pregnancy. We can also point to the work of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life, the Good Counsel Network and LIFE who offer positive, practical help to women so that they do not have to feel that abortion is the only way out of their problems.
We need to invite people to receive the forgiveness and peace offered by Our Lord in the sacrament of penance. If we are able to mention in general terms (with due caution regarding the seal) that many women have been greatly helped by the sacrament of penance, that can in itself remove a barrier for some women who perhaps thought they would be rejected if they were to come to confession. We can also affirm that mothers who repented of an abortion in the past may become great pro-life workers.
They can make a positive step forward in their own lives and recover a sense of self-worth. They will be highly motivated and compassionate in helping others to avoid the heartache they have suffered.
Can this pro-life message be properly part of the liturgical homily related to the readings of the day? The homily should relate the Word of God to daily life. We live in a country that has killed over five million of its own inhabitants by abortion. We cannot ignore the application of biblical themes to what Gaudium et Spes (51) called an “unspeakable crime” taking place daily in our midst. Justice, God’s gift of life, the command of love, the prophetic call to care for the poor and outcast, Christ’s victory over sin and death… it would be hard to imagine a biblical theme that would not simply and straightforwardly apply to the imperative of pro-life work and witness. Indeed, the warnings given by God to the prophets should make us fearful if we fail to preach on thistheme.
I have gathered many very helpful ideas for this brief introduction from the website of the US “Priests for Life” ( see “Homilies”) and I recommend it to priests for further reflection on this vital aspect of our priestly ministry.