CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O BRIEN
Christmas Message 2008
As the season of Advent has progressed we have focussed increasingly on
the birth of our Saviour, on that familiar scene of the stable in
Bethlehem, and on the hope and the promise that new life offers to the
world. As I reflect on that promise I think of the centrality of the human
family in God s plan of salvation. We are all members of our own immediate
families, but there is also around us that family of society, comprising
the many families of the peoples of Scotland, and the international
community or family of nations where many bonds link and bind us together.
This year began with profound concerns for the international family as
violence erupted in Kenya. The world was shocked by news of the deliberate
burning alive of women and children who had huddled together seeking
refuge in a church. I was contacted by Scottish nuns who alerted me to
events, which were putting their lives at risk. More recently, I have been
contacted by priests in Nigeria where troubles and unrest have affected
them and their peoples. One priest wrote to me: I am sure that by now you
must have heard that we are under siege here in Jos by some militants.
Christians were attacked and killed and churches burnt. There was a total
security failure on the part of our Government. Even though the situation
appears to be under control after two days of carnage the atmosphere is
very tense .
As we yearn for peace as Christmas approaches, we remember those not at
peace who put their lives at risk in the service of the Gospel.
At home the increasing sexualised messages we send to the young people in
our Scottish families leave me and many others concerned and dismayed. We
should not be surprised that the gift of sex has been devalued. Children
are almost egged on to experiment through bombardment by ˜safe sex
messages. This inevitably results in unwanted pregnancies, abortions and
heartache. Many children now have to deal with emotional problems that
trouble the most mature of adults.
There is no doubt that a stable family is the key to so many benefits for
spouses and children. It saddens me that many people miss out on this
because they are presented with a distorted vision of sexuality at a young
2008 marked the 40th anniversary of one of the most controversial
documents in the Church s history, ˜Humanae Vitae . At its launch Pope
Paul VI warned that the contraceptive pill would lead to infidelity, a
decrease in respect for woman, the intervention of public authorities in
the private lives of families for population control and a general decline
in morality. Four decades later it is abundantly clear that every one of
these predictions has come true. At the core of that document was the
understanding that couples can participate with God in the creation of a
new life and that new life is a gift from God to be treasured. If we were
to take that message seriously and adapt our lives to it how different
family life in Scotland would be.
The idea of human life as a gift received a heavy blow in recent weeks, as
our MP s considered and then passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Bill. The Bill approved the use of various immoral treatments on embryonic
human life. At a time when many believe that adult stem cells have a more
promising future than embryonic cells “ the Government continues to
approve and fund unethical and unsuccessful therapies.
Fortunately, in a document produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith on
12 December. The church affirmed two fundamental ethical principles: Human
beings are to be respected and treated as persons from the moment of
conception; and therefore possess an inviolable right to life and the
origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage, where it is
generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man
and a woman.
These principles set out in ˜Dignitas Personae help us to distinguish
research or treatment that fails to respect the dignity of the human
person, and may even involve the deliberate destruction of human live,
from authentic medical science at the service of humanity and the common
good. Recent discussions about the ˜right to die also risk infringing the
common good. A life is a gift from God, given freely, so that our call
from life on this earth is also at the behest of God. I actively support
all those who campaign for the ˜right to live , for those who are
suffering and near death. But that right to live must be available for us
all in the loving care of our hospices or at home with our families and
proper palliative care.
Not without reason has the church taught repeatedly that the family is the
basic cell of society. If we damage that unit, it will be to the detriment
of us all. Perhaps we should turn again to that nativity scene, where Mary
and Joseph, entirely bereft of material wealth, are united in love and
adoration of God s gift of a child. The example of the ˜Holy Family
should fill us all with a renewed respect for ˜the family in society and
across the world as we face a ˜challenging future .