Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The past three days have been an extraordinary time for we who believe. We have been given a vision of the Son of God, dying and rising from the dead. We have heard the voice of the angel that said to the women, There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus Who was crucified. He is not here for He has risen as He said He would. Do not be afraid.
Let me tell you what is at the heart of the joy we experience today. It is the joy of the mystery of life itself – its majesty, its meaning, its hope. In proclaiming that Christ is risen we in the community of believers which we call the Church witness to the eternal validity of hope and meaning and love for all the world to hear. In some ways, it is a secret; for meeting Jesus – on the Cross, in his Resurrection, on the road to Emmaus – is something intensely personal, something we cherish in our hearts, something we cannot easily explain. Yet we cannot, and we should not, keep quiet about it. We say, with the psalmist, These things will I remember as I pour out my soul. How I would lead the rejoicing crowd into the House of God, amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy.
Dear Friends, what we have lived through in these past few days is the core of our faith. We call it Easter-faith, because essentially it is faith in the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead. It is not an easy belief. Even several hundred years after the Resurrection, bishops always felt it necessary to defend the credibility of Jesus rising to those preparing for baptism. And even at the beginning, we are told, in the gospel of Luke, that when the women first took the message to the apostles, this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense and they did not believe them. But then the Risen Lord showed himself to be, unmistakeably, the same Jesus they had known. Just as they slowly began to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, they took time to recognise him in his risen form – Thomas needed physically to touch the wounds of the Cross before he would accept. But then he said, as countless millions have said since: My Lord and my God. Jesus told him: You believe because you can see Me; happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.
Happy are we! It is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, which gives us the grace, the help, the confidence, the Easter faith, that this life of Jesus, in its obedience and its love, is not lost but is eternally saved, that it is infinitely precious in the eyes of the Father. Our Easter faith does not answer the thousand and one questions which our life poses. But it turns those questions around one, magnificent fact: that we were worth God dying for; and we were worth God rising for. We are all worth it! That is the source of our hope, my friends. Jesus’s death and resurrection becomes for each one of us a kind of home, a kind of promise of life both here and in eternity. That is why, whatever befalls us, and however great the suffering of the world, we are an Easter people, an Alleluia! people.
That is the source of our hope; it is also the source of the hope of our society. What the Resurrection has meant for Britain today is hard sometimes to see only because it is hard to see what is most important. If you are a secure, loved child, very little of your time will be spent pondering what life would be like if suddenly you had to fend for yourself. In the same way, we do not often consider how lucky we are to live in a society where the helpless and the vulnerable and the persecuted are considered to deserve our protection most. The assumption behind that idea has everything to do with what happened 2,000 years ago, when God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. If the Resurrection had not happened, as St Paul says, then our preaching would be in vain. History would have recorded only that there had lived a remarkable man who did remarkable things, but who died the death of an abandoned pauper at the hands of the authorities. But because he was raised up, because God demonstrated himself to be in the Son and the Son in him, we know that God is in the poorest and most vulnerable and most helpless of people. We know that God is the author of life, and that all life, however apparently worthless, is of infinite worth to God.
Tonight we all remember, with thanks, the witness of Pope John Paul II, who has dedicated himself for so long to pleading for the vulnerable and in defence of life; and who now, in these days, continues to teach us so much about the value of suffering, the dignity of human life, the acceptance of vulnerability, the serenity that comes with embracing God’s will. We give thanks to him; we pray for him; and we send him messages of affection and concern from the people of these islands.
How lucky, I said, to live in a society still informed by the assumption that the most vulnerable are deserving of our protection. But is it? The best way to know if Britain is still in any way a Christian society is to see how it treats its most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty or strength or intelligence.
In the United States this week we have had the moving case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman who is now starving to death
because a court ordered her feeding tube to be removed; the view of the court is that her life is not worth living. People say that withdrawing her tube is to let nature take its course. But how natural is it to starve to death? She is totally dependent on others for food and water, it has been argued. But so is a baby. So are many elderly people. What is wrong with being helpless and dependent? Our true nature is one of dependence – of dependence on God for life, on our parents for nurture, on our friends, and our colleagues. Human beings were created interdependent; only our fallen nature believes we can make it alone.
How well do our institutions and our laws safeguard protect those most deserving of our protection? In Britain, there are now 180,000 abortions a year – the highest ever – because these are not lives considered worth saving. Research embryos, surplus to in vitro treatment, are created, then discarded, because they do not have the right tissue type; they did not meet the criteria for life. The pressure to allow euthanasia is mounting; is it any wonder our elderly people are increasingly disrespected?
In all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings. But that way, as we have seen so often in human history, lies disaster for us all.
The intrinsic dignity of human life – the source of our hope - comes from knowing that God died for us, and raised up his only Son, his only Son who died the death of a worthless criminal. The dignity of life is not naturally apparent to human beings; it is the gift of faith, God’s gift to us. A Christian country is one that starts from that gift, that believes that the most helpless are those who most deserve our protection – even the poorest and most despised of creatures. They deserve our protection because God created them, God died for them, God rose for them. But do we in Britain really embrace this? Do we raise our voices on behalf of those who no one to protect them? Do we really believe that God is the author of life, our Father?
Dear friends, what we have lived through during these days has shown, through sign and symbol and sacrament, that Jesus is the beating heart of the human world. Jesus made himself helpless like these helpless ones, in order to show us that God is in the weakest and most vulnerable; and he rose to declare that God is the author of life. This is the source of our hope. Because it is also the hope for our