Catholics everywhere are asking questions about whether it’s moral to have a Covid vaccine, as some of them have origins in tissues taken from an aborted child. Fr Bob Eccles helps us with this serious and difficult question, based on the readings from last Sunday, 2nd of Lent.
“Because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings upon you” (Genesis 22. 16-17).
What do you think, is it ever permissible to profit by someone else’s crime? Are we ever allowed to turn a person’s malpractices or dirty tricks to our own advantage? Are we compromised by morally dubious actions done in the past, that may benefit us now?
Most of us remember moments when we had a choice to make. A stranger offered to sell me a really cool suit at a knockdown price, but I strongly suspected him of stealing it! That’s an easy one, clearly you can’t profit from an obvious theft! In law that’s receiving stolen goods, “resetting” in the Scots.
But just suppose you’ve been remembered in Uncle George’s Will. Gets you out of a jam in the nick of time. Good old Uncle George! He made a huge pile investing in the arms trade and cigarette manufacture. So will you think twice before you take the money?
Now here comes the postman. Wow! you are suddenly next in line for a glorious country seat because all your cousins have curiously died childless. A lovely old house and nothing prevents you having it and it’s yours outright and no-one else’s, you need only pick up the keys. But your ancestor built it from the fat profits he made from (you’ve guessed it!) the slave trade. Will you lose any sleep?
Pope Benedict and Queen Elizabeth have had the vaccine and they encourage us to have it too, for the common good. It turns out that no-one can prove absolutely that sometime in the last century, some remote ancestor of today’s vaccines wasn’t developed or tested using products of abortions. Well, an American bishop says so, and who are we to know better? But the common good here consists of an incalculable benefit to the human race that will otherwise die like flies.
How do you expect Catholic thinkers to engage you in this discussion? Would you agree with the (impeccably Catholic) Anscombe Bioethics Centre whose researchers say about the early history of the vaccines that if it is true that the products of abortion were involved, but so long ago – at such an early stage – in a different climate, that can’t easily be recovered – and can’t be helped now – that for members of this present generation, the burden of responsibility has greatly diminished, is diminishing to vanishing point?
Need we remind ourselves? to be alive today is to be the heir, or the outcome, of many acts both good and evil. Ours the whole human story, the twists and turns of the human heart in all its choices and adventures. We all inherit the same immemorial human history of good and evil actions, “what I have done and what I have failed to do”, we are its descendants and can learn many things from it, but should we let ourselves get tangled up and stuck in the moral maze, paralysed by past faults and failures, we couldn’t be players on the world’s stage at all. We could no longer be moral agents.
Is that what needs to be said? At some point there must come a time to turn the page on the past and say, it was not we who did this. We would that it was otherwise. But we are not the ones to blame. The sins of the fathers are not to be visited on the children. We take responsibility for our own offences. There can be an honest pragmatism that will seize the moment, live in the now, make the best of our inheritance and set it to work for the common good.
Dear brothers and sisters, have you tumbled to where this train of thought began? Yes, it’s the point where God tells Abraham “I will shower blessings on you and on your descendants” and “all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by you.” How far does that go? Why it has to mean all the way down, and including us and our children, – yes this is what it means for us to be children of Abraham too, our father in faith. But it was the same Abraham who agreed to murder his only son Isaac for a living sacrifice. An absolutely wicked proposition, an utterly immoral thing to intend, and no less wicked because he was stopped at the last moment. It’s certain, he had been intent on acting out the crime. But, “because you have done this, because you have not refused me your only son (the child of the promise) I will shower blessings on you and all who bless themselves by you.” So – you and I we are the ones to benefit. We are the children of Abraham, our father in faith. Alright? Sit back and count your blessings then!
I think we have come upon a very difficult page of the Bible, incredibly difficult. Just when we were beginning to think we understood a little about God, the author and giver of life, the Bible brings us down to earth. Abraham surely thought he knew God, who spoke to him as a person speaks with his friend. But God has taken Abraham by a new road that leads out into Godforsakenness, a road on which Abraham does not know that God is only testing him. Because Abraham survives this test his faith will be a rock believers can depend on in every age. Our Lord himself speaks of God as the only one who can raise children for Abraham, and he has has raised them, more than can be numbered, raised them out of the grubby history of the human race.
The God who is the giver of all good things can withdraw them suddenly for his own purposes, his thoughts are not our thoughts or his ways our ways. And yet, he is the God of righteousness and peace, and he has not lost control. The gospels all agree, Jesus himself was put to the test, in the desert, in the agony in the garden, before Pontius Pilate, and at the cross where he cried out, My God, why have you forsaken me? Our Lord was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. In Jesus tested, we see ourselves tested. But he has won through.
The time of Covid 19 is certainly a testing time. Once busy town streets are our own desert, friends can be far off seemingly, even sacraments have been removed, we could not visit our sick. Those we love have died and our young people have lost out. Some have been tested to breaking point. Who dares admit they have struggled to keep faith with Christ and with the Church? That they have fallen back, overcome with a sense of being godforsaken even? But, Lord, to whom shall we go in our extremity? Help us to stay faithful!
When Christ Jesus appears in glory to Peter James and John, speaking with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, then we know the victory of God is not far to seek (Mark 9. 2-10). We too were with him on the holy mountain, in the persons of his closest disciples. And we have Paul’s words to encourage us today (Romans 8. 31-34): “if God is for us, who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.
“Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! he not only died for us, he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.” Amen.