A child is born for us, and a son is given to us (Isaiah 9:5)
The Mass of Christmas Day begins with these joyful words of Isaiah’s prophecy, recalling how God spoke to the whole of humanity in the birth of a child, the Holy Child of Bethlehem. The joy of Christ’s birth leads us in the Communion Antiphon to declare that: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God”. Saint John of the Cross reflected on this revelation in memorable words that have found their way into the Church’s Catechism, “In giving us his Son, his only Word, he spoke everything to us at once… and he has no more to say…” God chose to place himself into our hands in the vulnerability of a tiny Child, as the same Lord Jesus gives himself to us now in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Every Christmas, we witness something startling in societies marked by an apparently impenetrable religious illiteracy, by so many being touched and enthralled by the mystery of a Child born 2,000 years ago. It might puzzle us that de-Christianised societies take such note of the ultimate claim of Christian faith, that the Child “born for us” is God-made-Man. Yet this is less surprising when we consider the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that “By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man”. The great exponent of the Council’s defence of the human person, Pope Saint John Paul II, reflected upon the joy of the Saviour’s birth as also revealing “the full meaning of every human birth”. The Fathers of the Church had reflected on this truth long before; Saint Gregory Nazianzen wrote: “This is what the great mystery means for us: this is why God for our sake became man and was born… so that he might raise up fallen human nature and bring salvation to man who is made in his image.”
We might describe this as the definitive act of inclusivity for all 7.8 billion people now on earth: Christ chose to unite every human being to himself from the moment we are conceived and call each of us to grace and glory. No one remains untouched by the Mystery of Christmas. For, as Pope Benedict XVI said: “In the Child of Bethlehem, the smallness of God-made-Man shows us the greatness of man and the beauty of our dignity as children of God.”
So we can reflect upon the fact that every human life which is threatened is a life united by the Incarnation to the Son of God Himself. For the same Pope, and indeed great Saint, who led the Church into this new millennium, foresaw a struggle of apocalyptic proportions to uphold the sanctity of human life. Saint John Paul II helped us to recognise that every rejection of human life “is really a rejection of Christ” himself. We see that a shadow quickly falls over the scene of the Nativity when the life of the Christ Child is threatened by a homicidal ruler. Pope Francis warns today that it has become “normal” in many societies to accept a “homicidal” rejection of life which threatens to discard the lives of the unborn and the elderly.
In all the proliferating attacks on the lives of the vulnerable, we cannot fail to see the rejection of God-made-Man. The Book of Revelation describes this struggle in terms of monstrous evil seeking to devour the Child born of the Blessed Mother. This attack is now being perpetuated by everything that rejects and destroys human life from the beginning. Outside of this “mystery of evil”, it would be difficult to explain in logical terms why a society that mobilised itself in a pandemic to make great sacrifices to protect the lives of the most vulnerable, would also seek to extend the killing of the unborn and consider assisting the suicide of society’s most vulnerable members.
If we had once been confident that a “culture of death” would be quickly overcome; assumed that public opinion would never tolerate the killing of the unborn on an industrial scale; believed rational argument would inevitably prevail; and that to move consciences it would be sufficient merely to expose the cruel reality of abortion, we quickly understood that a culture of death advances remorselessly, precisely by dulling consciences. This is a process which makes it possible to propose the killing of pre-born children with disabilities up to the point of birth. We recently heard the brave voice of Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down’s syndrome, declaring: “The law does not respect my life.” Remarkably, this cry elicited barely a moment of public concern.
Meanwhile, the euthanasia lobby that has campaigned since the 1930s – a time when unspeakable crimes were committed in the name of eugenics – tirelessly brings forward bill after bill to break the legal protections surrounding the care of the sick and the dying. If we are ever dismayed by the constancy of these threats and setbacks to the cause of life then in the light of Christmas, we glimpse that the struggle to hold human life sacred is ultimately a spiritual battle. Pope Benedict concluded that “the ultimate root of hatred of human life, of attacks on human life, is the loss of God. Where God disappears, the absolute dignity of human life disappears as well.”
The pro-life movement will surely stand as one of the noblest movements in human history, whose ultimate victory is assured. In the Book of Revelation, we hear a loud voice declare “Death shall be no more!” The promise that every manifestation of evil threatening humanity will finally be dispelled by the total victory of life. Yet the path humanity walks to this victory faces many contradictions.
The Second Vatican Council spoke of a dramatic struggle that continues through the whole course of human history. And we must expect a protracted struggle in the century ahead, to protect human life and be prepared for the repeated assaults upon both the laws and social environments of care which have long protected and cherished the lives of the weakest.
The Christmas celebration of the child who was born for us now enables the ends of the earth to see the salvation of God, inviting whole societies held in the grip of a culture of death, to glimpse once more the full meaning and value of every human life. England’s national shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was established almost a millennium ago, with the expressed intention that the joy of the Incarnation should never fade from national memory. In the same way, joy is the hallmark of our Christmas faith. In a similar way, the pro-life movement must stand as the most positive of all movements. Yet many seek to portray our witness to the value of life as being in some way negative.
Christmas is the time for us to be renewed in the joy that must be the mark of the cause of life and what Saint John Paul II called “the Gospel of Life”. The joy anticipated by the prophets, revealed in Bethlehem and shared by all who share in “Christ’s Mass”, will be the light to guide us in facing the challenges of the century ahead.
The Rt Rev Mark Davies is the Bishop of Shrewsbury
This article is from the December 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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