Pastoral Message, Kieran Conry, Holy Family 2001
Back in the 1980s, Clive James used to write very witty TV reviews for the Observer. In one of them in September, 1980, he reviewed a programme about an American mini-submarine that took a camera down to the very deepest parts of the Pacific. He described how the camera picked out fish and other marine life that had not been seen before, living at such a depth. The fish sensed the camera lights and swam towards the window of the submarine, "obeying," he said, "the universal instinct of all creation - to be on television."
One of the highlights of the year's TV must have been the BBC's Blue Planet, which did what the Americans had done in Clive James' programme. They took us into the deepest parts of the sea to show us things that had not been seen before. And what was so striking was not just the enormous variety of life on our planet, but its great tenacity and ability to survive. What we were expecting Clive James to say was that the universal instinct of all creation is to cling to life, not to give up to death and annihilation.
Today we are asked to observe a Day for Life. With a title like that, we might expect the day to focus on the usual life issues that tend to speak of the two most hazardous moments of life, its beginning and its end and the issues of abortion and euthanasia.
But the day has a broader focus than these two issues. It asks us to look at the whole of life as an issue that is important for our contemporary society. It asks us to value all of that life and to stand up then, for the dignity and importance of all who have life.
The events of September 11 and their aftermath raised the question of life and threw it into sharp focus. The attack on New York and Washington showed us again how fragile and insecure our very existence can be. People went to work on an ordinary Tuesday morning in New York and Washington. People got on routine domestic flights within the USA. And within a few hours thousands of them were dead, wiped out in one of the most horrifying terrorist attacks that the world has seen. The callous disregard for human life was shocking and frightening.
But the response to this terror was frightening in a different way. The people of a country that was already suffering famine were then subjected to the horrors of modern warfare, and many that were not directly or indirectly implicated in the attacks on the USA became further victims. It is sad that we still believe that warfare is the first option available for the solution of many of the world's problems, that human life becomes a casualty of political inflexibility and national pride. This is most apparent of all, perhaps, in the situation in Israel and Palestine.
What value, then, has human life? It would appear that it has only secondary value, that other considerations can easily displace it. While this is the case, we will never be living the life that God has called us to live. It is almost as if we are not using the intelligence and capacity for love that God gave us and so set us apart from the rest of creation.
This all seems rather distant and abstract, however. As individuals we can't do much to solve problems in the Middle East. We can have no influence on allied foreign policy, either. But this does not mean that we have no responsibility at all. If respect for human life is respect for all human life, then there are two very important things we can do.
We can respect our own lives first of all, and pay proper respect to ourselves. We have been given the highest calling, to live as children of God, made in the image of God himself. We should do nothing to spoil that image and deny that calling. We should remain constantly aware of our own dignity and value, no matter who we are or in what conditions we find ourselves. No one of us is more important or less important to God.
And then we should make sure that the dignity of each other individual is respected, regardless of their age, sex, religion, culture and position in society. While we make distinctions, then we see the consequences in racial violence and distrust, in social inequality and in the devaluing of those whose lives may have gone wrong in some way. These are not things that are distant from us or abstract. They confront us each day and they should challenge our assumptions and our behaviour.
Finally, life is not confined to human life, either. The beauty of the earth on which God allows us to spend the brief span of our lives, this beauty must be respected and preserved. All life is sacred, and the care of the environment is what God first entrusted to Adam. It is a duty passed on from generation to generation. If we are not careful, one day there may be no beauty left to pass on.
Let us make this year a time of special care for life, for respect for one another and care for ourselves. Let us make it a time of careful attention to the fragile world in which we live, so that our memories of 2002 might be happier than those of 2001.
With Assurance of my prayers and good wishes
Rt. Rev. Kieran Conry
Bishop of Arundel and Brighton