Reflection on the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Statement

26 November 2009

"Congregations must understand that people with unwanted pregnancies are making choices about someone who, in a very real sense, belongs to the entire congregation. If the baby is born it will be baptized into the community and become part of each member's life...if aborted that spot will be filled only by a hole... The congregation, then, must respond to either that baby or that empty space by recognizing their complicity in the structuring of a world where such a decision was made ... congregations can respond this way only if they understand that what is growing inside that woman's body is part of the life of the congregation..."

Kathy Rudy, "Thinking through the Ethics of Abortion."

At this time of the year we pay particular attention to the retelling of the old, old story that is at the heart of our Catholic faith – the Word made flesh - Jesus, the Son of God, and the son of Mary and Joseph. In the light of this story we make particular efforts to reach out to our families and our communities – we give gifts of time and food and money and welcome – because, as we say, that is what Christmas is all about.

How might we respond then to the gaps created by abortion? Gaps in our communities, gaps in our families, gaps in our congregations and gaps in the generations...Have we even noticed that anyone is missing? It's staggering to think that last year nearly 18,000 New Zealanders, about one in four pregnancies, never made it to birth – 17,940 abortions! One in four unborn New Zealanders cannot, for whatever reason, find a welcome at birth...

Most agree that the abortion statistics are far too high. So why would we want to make abortion more accessible? And making abortion available to girls under the age of sixteen without their parents' knowledge or consent – where will that take us as a community? What will that do to our congregations and to our families?

It is not only the longing for the old, old story that captures our imagination at Christmas; it is also our understanding of the story's implications... the implications of the Word becoming flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Once a year we seem to get it right. As Father David Roberts observes, at "Christmastime we have been singularly successful at not simply 'telling' the story, but using symbols within the tradition to communicate it. We do not simply engage peoples' minds but we stir their hearts and imaginations."

How then might we take the power and beauty of the Incarnation and apply it in a fresh way to the care of the unborn in New Zealand? How might we do this with all the enthusiasm and creativity that is so evident in the Seasons of Advent and Christmas? And how might we extend the welcome of the crib to those who never get to celebrate the miracle of their birth let alone the joy of Christmas? After all every new life reflects the image and likeness of the Word made flesh.

Reflection prepared by Rev Michael McCabe, Director, The Nathaniel Centre