“Our Catholic faith brings with it a responsibility to build a culture of life, where every person is worthy of the very best care and utmost tenderness; this is especially true of the most vulnerable and most defenceless persons … when we meet the Minister and his officials this week, a delegation from the Catholic Church will be making a robust and unapologetic defence of the right to life of both mothers and their terminally ill children during pregnancy” – Archbishop Martin
The first news of 2015 included happy stories of Ireland’s new-born children. Little Kian Anthony was born in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital at four seconds past midnight. About twenty minutes later, up North in Antrim Area Hospital baby Aoibheann greeted the New Year. God bless them, their parents and families and all those who have been born so far this year, especially those who are ill or who have birth complications.
I welcome you all to this Mass for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. A special welcome to our Baptism Preparation Team and to parents and children from the Cathedral Parish who came for the Sacrament of Baptism during the past year. No doubt you remember well the moment you first saw and held your baby; their weight, the expression on their little face, the relief that the childbirth was over. Today marks the end of the Christmas season, which has at its core the miraculous and mysterious birth of an infant at Bethlehem, who was the Son of God.
My mother once taught me this prayer for the Christmas season: “Jesus, true Son of God from all eternity, and true son of Mary in the fullness of time – who didst once repose in the hallowed crib in Bethlehem – infuse into our hearts a little of the joys and marvels that were accomplished, so well calculated to inspire.”
I imagine that for any mum or dad, there is no more awesome and inspiring sight than to gaze in wonder at your new-born child, this new person which God has placed into your arms to nurture and to love? Your child is sacred. Your child is unique. The other day a friend told me that one of his work colleagues showed them on his mobile phone the ultrasound picture of his first child. Perhaps you remember an ultrasound scan of your unborn child, and being able to see how your baby was developing in the womb, just as your baby now continues to grow bigger and stronger through your love and care every day. It is amazing that the baby you saw kicking or smiling or sucking its thumb in the womb, is the very same and precious baby you hold in your arms today – Michaela, Conor, Martin, Olivia – or whatever name you chose for your child in Baptism. God has written that name forever in the palm of his hand.
In deciding to have your child baptised, over the past year or so, you chose to offer your little one the beautiful gift of faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are choosing to hand on to them a gift that was given to you by your parents and grandparents. Please God one day these little infants will, in their turn, hand on the gift of faith to their children and grandchildren. The gift of friendship with God is one which can inspire and give meaning to their whole lives. What a wonderful privilege it is, as a parent, to be able to introduce your own son or daughter to your friend, Jesus; to teach a little one about how unique and special they are in God’s eyes, and about how much God loves them. What a challenge and responsibility it is to teach and explain to your own child the values of the Gospel of Christ, especially nowadays in a world which often promotes attitudes contrary to the Gospel.
Of course baptism does not bring some instantaneous change whereby, as if by magic, we suddenly become committed followers of Jesus. Being Christian involves a lifetime journey of renewing over and over again our commitment and friendship with God. It is a voyage of discovery, during which we make many choices; we learn every day what it really means to be a follower of Christ. As we grow older, we deepen through prayer our love and personal friendship with Jesus. We learn right from wrong. We become conscious of our sins and failings, but also of God’s boundless mercy and forgiveness when we repent and say sorry. We learn to change and do better, and to live more sincerely the values of the Gospel which Jesus taught. And, with the help of God’s grace, we find the strength “to reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises” and instead to become God’s witnesses in our families, communities and in the world.
One value which we should never grow tired of witnessing to, as Catholics, is the value and sacredness of human life itself. Life is precious from the first moment of conception through to natural death. Our Catholic faith brings with it a responsibility to build a culture of life, where every person is worthy of the very best care and utmost tenderness; this is especially true of the most vulnerable and most defenceless persons.
Knowing how much you have already sacrificed yourselves for the little children here in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral this morning, I take this opportunity to appeal to all Catholics to witness courageously to a culture of life. This is becoming increasingly important when we are surrounded by what Pope Francis describes as a “throwaway” culture which weighs one life up as more important and worthy of protection than another, and which would even discard the right to life of the most vulnerable.
I want to bring to your attention a consultation document  from the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland which proposes that totally innocent and terminally ill babies in the womb will no longer have an absolute right to life, nor the right to all the care and medical support that we would expect and wish for any child or adult who is terminally ill.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary and unprecedented attempt of the consultation document to exclude “pro-life” arguments from the debate, when we meet the Minister and his officials this week, a delegation from the Catholic Church will be making a robust and unapologetic defence of the right to life of both mothers and their terminally ill children during pregnancy and calling for all the love and support that we as a society can give them. This must include, I believe, the ready availability of quality peri-natal and post-natal hospice care and of counselling for those faced with the trauma and anxiety of having a terminally ill unborn child.
With the support of my fellow Bishops, I encourage all those who support a culture of life to respond this week to the consultation process of the Department of Justice and to ask their politicians where they stand on these issues.
To conclude, I want to thank you for bringing your infant children here today and I pray God’s blessing on you and on your families as you begin to walk the journey of faith with them. As parents you are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. As the Baptism ceremony puts it: “may you be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Amen.