I was sitting on the train, waiting to leave the station on the journey home. I noticed an advertising panel on the other side of the carriage. The poster highlighted the service to people with disabilities who travelled on the trains. The image spoke to me of kindness, generosity and encouragement. And I remembered an incident on the train in the recent past, when a passenger alerted the train guards of a medical incident in the carriage. We hadn’t yet left the station. Three guards came and cleaned up the mess. They spent time with the man who had been sick. They accompanied him for the next two stations and were replaced by other guards. And the man who reported his medical incident stayed with him, too, until he had to leave the train.
There are so many stories about Good Samaritans in our society and of groups and organisations committed to help the needy, so why do our governments pass laws to allow for abortion and euthanasia? Which narratives do they use and which values do they promote to shape our culture? What sort of mind does it take to seek to help the needy and then support people to deny the unborn the right to live and the terminally ill to end their lives at a time of their choosing?
The Christian ethic is pro-life and is founded on the belief that all people are created in God’s image. Fr Joseph Cardijn delivered the 1949 Godinne lecture series. In his third lecture, titled “The Mystery of Vocation,” he said: “We must bear witness to Christ, not by words only, not by some deeds only, but by the whole of our life. by our generosity and charity in all the acts of our life. As was said above, all the acts of our daily life are completely changed once they have become apostolic acts. We bear witness to Christ in all the actions of the day, witness to His charity and generosity, to His desire to save people.” Cardijn emphasises the totality of the Christian’s commitment to Christ.
Today is the feast of St Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, who lived in the eleventh century. A humble man, he shared what he had with the poor. He lived a life of penance and prayer. Like Cardijn, he believed that God gifts people with their vocation to live apostolic lives, bearing witness to the love of Christ for all people. In the Gospel reading for Mass in St Peter Damian’s memory, Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:1-8). Those who seek to be in union with him will bear fruit.
If Jesus’ image of the vine and branches was the dominant narrative of our culture, then our focus as a nation would be the good of all not only now but also in the future. Cardijn emphasises actions that are generous and charitable, that is, actions that reflect the love of God for all of creation. These are actions that unite rather than divide, such as the actions of that Good Samaritan on the train, who, like his model in Jesus’ parable, stayed with the sick man until it was time to move on. And St Peter Damian reminds us that such charitable deeds need to come from a life lived in God’s presence, that is, a life of prayer. As Jesus tells us, “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples” (John 15:8).
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The young person faces life – the 1949 Godinne lecture series delivered by Fr Joseph Cardijn