There is no question that this has been a difficult year for the Australian Catholic Church.
Debates around the seal of the confessional and religious freedom, the ongoing troubles concerning Cardinal Pell, the decriminalising of abortion in New South Wales: each of these has hit us with a blow that has left us reeling, and from which we are yet to come back.
But standing in Sydney’s Martin Place on that cold August night, surrounded by thousands, protesting the removal of abortion from the criminal statute books, there was an extraordinary sense of optimism—nay, of certainty.
How could anybody even remotely consider legalising abortion in the face of so many – so very, very many – who rallied so strongly, so radiantly and so peacefully against such a thing?
It seemed impossible…
Afterwards, perhaps, in the harsh light of day, with the jagged scorn of the supporters of the bill, and the patchy reporting by the media—yes, afterwards, it was a different story.
But at the time, with the joyous crush and the rousing speeches and the beauty of the singing, it seemed an impossibility.
So perhaps the blow, when it came a few weeks later, was all the more so because of that certainty.
Perhaps the solidarity, the coming together of members of different faiths, the sense of differences being put aside in preference for that which united us, served to underscore the disappointment.
Because we did seem so strong.
And we did seem so certain.
We did care…
Yet that is completely how it should have been. Such a strength, such a confidence, when met with such a blow, serves to highlight even more the heinous nature of the situation. That which has been so hoped for, so longed for and so deeply desired, leaves an even greater wound when it is torn away. If we hadn’t cared as much, then perhaps it wouldn’t hurt as much.
But we did.
We did care—and we do care.
And we know that our own pain is nothing – nothing! – against that of our tiny brothers and sisters whose lives are ripped from them in such searing and horrific ways. And we reel backwards yet again, struggling to find our feet.
But God does not abandon us in this. If it has been a year of struggle, then it has also been a year of quiet, growing hope.
For, as in every age of difficulty, God has sent us a beacon of light, a spiritual companion to help us traverse this Culture of Death and move us towards a Culture of Life. He has sent us a small, fragile woman whose life was one of crippling pain and disability but yet who was sunny, joyous, full of faith.
Eileen O’Connor, Servant of God, co-founded Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor in the Sydney beachside suburb of Coogee in 1913, a work that continues today.
Many people attest to having received graces and favours from God because of her intercession, and, most interestingly, more and more are seeking her prayers in respect of life issues.
Life is precious…
And the reason for this is that Eileen stands completely in opposition to our modern world, which says that a life like hers should be discarded.
If a child were in the womb today and her parents were told that she would suffer in the manner in which Eileen had suffered during her short life, there is no question but that they would be advised to abort. And if the child was allowed to be born, there is no question but that she would be a candidate for euthanasia.
Eileen represents the absolute preciousness of all life. She is a beacon of light to us in these dark times, yes—but she is also completely revolutionary.
When I reflect upon that fervent, hopeful, glowing crowd in Martin Place, I find myself wondering how much of that extraordinary gathering was due to Eileen’s own prayers.
So let us take courage from her life and heart from her witness.
And let us seek her intercession daily – for the unborn, for the pro-life movement, for our country, for our Church – as we step with new hope into a new year.