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Looking back in anger, looking forward in hope

There is a special poignancy in our Irish Christmas this year. In some way it links aptly with this no less poignant famous picture of Joseph helping Mary and her unborn child along the road to Bethlehem, just over two thousand years ago.

It is Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem, from the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

In it, The Guardian newspaper (believe it or not), tells us that we see Mary and Joseph who are on their way to Bethlehem through a rocky landscape. She has climbed down from the donkey, perhaps afraid of riding down such a perilous, ankle-breaking slope. Joseph, grizzled and weary, is helping her along with all his loving kindness, his actions (rather than her physical appearance) suggesting just how pregnant she is. He is doing everything he can, as husband and prospective new father, to protect his little family from hardship and danger.

In Ireland the unborn have now lost the protection of the State. The fatal decision was made by a majority of the Irish people last May. That they did so, many still find very hard to come to terms with. Legislatures, at one remove from the will of the people, pass laws like this – but that a people should directly ask it legislature to do so is in some way harder to comprehend. But comprehend it we must.

The antiphon to the second Psalm, a substantial portion of which constitutes part of the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah, proclaims:

“His kingdom is a kingdom of all ages, and all kings shall serve and obey him. “

These lines challenge us, challenge our faith in the word of God. When I look around me at our crazy world and my apostate nation, I have the temerity to question these words as so much self-delusion. I’m inclined to say, “Really? Serve and obey? Will they really? You must be joking.”

Credibly enough, the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Quare fremuérunt gentes, et pópuli meditáti sunt inánia?” Why this tumult among nations, among peoples this useless murmuring? Indeed the more direct translation, “thinking up inanities” might be better.

Tumult certainly; useless also; even self-negating – all that self-grandising posturing which we call identity politics, signifying nothing; hang-ups over ‘diversity’ to the point where the world is becoming a new Tower of Babel.

And the political classes, left, right and center? They also fit into this picture, personified by the royalty of a former age:

“They arise, the kings of the earth, princes plot against the Lord and his Anointed. They shout, ‘Come, let us break their fetters, come let us cast off their yoke.’”

There is certainly a great deal of that around. How else are we to interpret the abuse piled on those who dare to defend the rights of medical professionals whose consciences are being trampled on by their own elected representatives? For our “rulers” conscience is now a fetter, a yoke to be cast off.

“Carol Nolan TD (a member of the Irish Parliament) has received a lot vitriol abuse from fellow TD’S for opposing the abortion bill,” we were reminded courtesy of Facebook a few weeks ago.

But then comes an even harder bit for the beleaguered remnants of Israel to take on board.

“He who sits in the heavens”, we are told, “ laughs; the Lord is laughing them to scorn. Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage. It is I who have set up my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

But where is he, we ask, as the division bell rings in the Irish parliament and “the kings of the earth”, the “princes”, troop to the lobby to pass death sentence on thousands of unborn children? The estimate is that close to 10000 Irish babies will perish next year under the legislation now passing through the two Houses of Parliament – with only a few brave voices offering resistance.

We look around and see a crumbling civilization. I walk through the campus of a famous university; I pick up a student newspaper – free because it is printed with money from taxpayers, in the name of education. What do I find in it? Very little that is not advocating licentious hedonism. Irony of ironies, this university was dedicated to the Most Blessed Trinity over four hundred years ago. If I were an advocate of “safe spaces” for young people I would certainly not be recommending this university campus, my alma mater, as one of them.

But then, in the midst of all these temptations to doubt the sacred texts, we remember the crumbling of Christ’s cohort of followers. Just four are left at the foot of the Cross, while faithful Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus face up to the powers-that-be and prepare to take him down from the gibbet to lay him in the tomb prepared by one of them. That makes six out of all those who, less than a week before, the were hailing him as the Son of David.

Then we hear the psalmist say with utmost confidence:

“I will announce the decree of the Lord: the Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day. Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession.’”

And the reckoning?

“‘With a rod of iron you shall break them, shatter them like a potter’s jar.’ Now, O kings, understand; take warning, rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with awe and trembling, pay him with your homage.

Lest he be angry and you perish; for suddenly his anger will blaze.”

Can all that really be balderdash? No. These words have been sung and believed in for more, much more probably, than three thousand years. They have also been scoffed at by kings, princes and peoples who delude themselves with “useless murmuring”. These words have been at the heart of the Christian transformation of the world foretold in the Old Testament and announced in the New. Strip away all that has come to us from these words and we will be left with a nasty and brutal world dominated by superstition and fatalistic myth, ruled by fools who think they can mold human nature into whatever shape they dream up or desire.

The final line of the psalm proclaims, “Blessed are they who put their trust in the Lord.” So, with those words, all doubt melts away – if trust in the Lord is the condition for Blessedness what more is there to say. If we were to value anything in the world over this then we make ourselves nothing more than useless murmurers and lackeys of the “kings of the earth”.

That trust, that Blessedness, will still be as real three thousand years from now, as real as it is today, as real as it was in the souls of Mary and Joseph as they struggled towards Bethlehem with the unborn child who is the saviour of mankind; and as real as it was three thousand years ago – in spite of the world’s Herods, dictators, pseudo-democrats and all the other varieties of rulers it offers us.

Power over life and death – a matter of conscience

 

As we write there are thousands of Irish children, already existing but awaiting birth, who do not have any votes in Ireland’s general election which takes place on 26 February. But the Irish Constitution does recognize their right to life. The outcome of this election will determine whether children like them in the future will continue to be guaranteed this right to life.

As readers of Garvan Hill will be aware, it is, among other things, a blog which defends the right to life of all human beings.

This has nothing to do with party politics as such, it has to do with a proposal which should not be on the agenda of any political party – the removal from the Irish Constitution of the provision protecting the life of human beings, children in their mothers’ wombs awaiting their birth.

What the link below provides is the result of the Irish Pro Life Campaign’s research as to which candidates in the coming general election are explicitly committed to maintaining this protection. As you will see, many have not given information one way or the other.

For  each elector with a proper understanding of where and when human life begins – and modern science, not to mention the evidence of our own eyes, should leave us in no doubt about that – there must surely be a moral obligation to confront candidates personally with the question about where they stand on this issue. Until there is an assurance that they will not remove the guarantee of this right for unborn children, how could one in conscience  vote them into a position of power?

Above you will see a beautiful video from Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign and a comprehensive guide to the position – or non-position – of candidates in Irish electors’ respective constituencies on this vital issue.

Your Vote Matters – Use it to protect human life https://youtu.be/xCZIwx18QP0 via @YouTube

Reliving the nightmare of Mary Shelly

For many this will be just one more reason to throw Christians – and particularly Catholics – to the lions again.

Planned Parenthood, the world’s leading abortion provider and promoter, has been put on the back foot again. Its political wing, the US Democratic Party, is hoping against hope that the storm created by David Daleiden will somehow be defused before it gains too much traction in the run-in to next year’s big election. Whether it does or doesn’t we can still anticipate that it will harden their resolve to continue moving conscientious Christians to the margins of the public square.

Daleiden is the man behind  the abortion provider’s exposure as a purveyor of body parts of aborted babies. His undercover videos have appeared online showing a Planned Parenthood official in California discussing, over what looked like a very nice lunch, the price of providing bits of babies’ bodies to a man and woman posing as buyers from a firm that procures tissue for medical researchers.
The New York Times and other fellow travelers, like the Democrats and the abortion lobby, cannot ignore the story. Today the Times carried a useful interview with Daleiden – the third item on its online headlines newsletter this morning. It could be described as even handed but between the lines I think you get a sense that they were looking for the story which might derail Daleiden and his activist group’s campaign. They didn’t get it.
In the videos the man off-camera is Daleiden. And, he said in an interview with the Times, more episodes are coming. Planned Parenthood’s estimates that he must have “thousands of hours of videotape” from infiltrating its clinics for two and a half years. Daleiden himself reckons he has enough recordings for perhaps a dozen videos that he can release at the rate of one a week for the next few months.
The time frame all but ensures political tumult ahead, according to the paper. “The videos will coincide with the Republican-controlled Congress’s final weeks of work on spending bills needed to finance the government after the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year. The first videos have already given impetus to conservatives’ push to hold those bills hostage unless they are amended to eliminate money for Planned Parenthood and other family planning programs. The risk, as in past years, is a government shutdown.”
All that is before we even begin to think of the Presidential election – and what Hilary Clinton is going to say in trying to defend her and Obama’s favourite NGO. Republicans are already shouting about this and Democrats clearly think they can use their interest in the issue against their political rivals and against Daleiden.

“By Boehner and the Republicans leaping into the middle of this, I think they further demonstrate the political nature of the attack,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “And as someone who’s done a lot of polling about Planned Parenthood, I feel reasonably confident that Americans, particularly American women, will see this as about politics, not about health care.”

What, we might ask, are politicians for, what is politics about, if they are not going to concern themselves with issues like this. Once again it all comes down to the definition and scope of the term “health care”. For some their duty of care only covers a portion of the population, for others it covers all the human beings living on the planet, before as well as after birth. This simple disagreement is at the root of the clash between two civilizations, a clash which at least matches that between the pagan Roman Empire and embryonic Christian world.
Daleiden’s storm is now gathering force and doing what he always hoped it would do over the past two years as he prepared the ground and put his plan into place. “When you know that you have something powerful, that’s going to shock a lot of consciences,”Daleiden said, it is “natural not to want to keep that under wraps.”
The Times interview tried the ploy of pleading the value to medical research which he might now be jeopardizing. He rejected that, saying, “Most fetal tissue work is real Frankenstein stuff.”
Daleiden said he had been an anti-abortion activist for more than a decade. He formed an anti-abortion group at his high school in Sacramento, a period when he met another young activist named Lila Rose. Until now, Rose had been better known to Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights advocates for video stings by her group, Live Action. “Lila and I have been friends for many, many years,” Daleiden said.
He attributes his anti-abortion militancy to seeing images of aborted fetuses as a teenager. He is also the child of a crisis pregnancy. His parents, who are now divorced, were juniors in college when his mother became pregnant. He grew up “culturally Catholic,” and does not see himself aws particularly religious. But he now calls Pope Francis “my inspiration,” moved to follow the Pope’s encouragement to reach out to the peripheries and his “emphasis on just being active, on going outside of yourself to accomplish things.” 

All this is indeed a chilling illustration of what Pope Francis reminds us of in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si‘, “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”,[83] as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”,[84] because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meagre awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”.[85] But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.

Apart from the immediate horror aroused by the vision of this trade in baby body parts, the related question which it poses and prompts to our consciences is once again that of the problem of men of science who do not see themselves bound by any conscience. If conscience plays no part in the way a scientist goes about his work then all we can expect is to relive the nightmare of that prescient woman, Mary Shelly – and it will be no nightmare. It will be the real world.  

The voice of experience, compassion and conscience

Ireland’s Rubicon moment

The stark choice, a choice in which each one faces a lifetime of guilt depending on the decision made, now confronts Ireland’s elected representatives. The voices of reason, experience and compassion are loud and clear. The Irish Government has refused to listen to them. It now remains to be seen if the joint houses of the Irish parliament will rubber stamp a proposed law which will put unborn babies and their mothers at the mercy of unscrupulous medical practitioners. The evidence from across the world shows that there is no shortage of these in every jurisdiction. Why would Irish politicians think that the situation would be any different there?

It’s is now all down to conscience and the letter from a good nun which appeared in yesterday’s Irish Times speaks clearly to the consciences of every Irish man and woman – but above all to each and every elected representative who will have to get up from his seat in the chamber next July and walk to the division lobby. On that day they will take Ireland across a Rubicon. What that journey will lead to is in their hands. Sr. Consilio Fitzgerald is very clear about what their choice involves. Would that they were all so clear. She writes,

Many of the distressed women who came to Cuan Mhuire over the past 50 years, came because they were suffering distress having undergone an abortion. Our mission at Cuan Mhuire is to help them understand their own goodness and their infinite value before God. They tell us of the difficulties they encountered at the time of their decisions. Despite all of our support and encouragement to help them rebuild their lives and relationships, many find it exceedingly difficult – almost impossible – to cope with their sense of loss.

It has long been accepted practice in Ireland that there are rare occasions where intervention may be necessary to save a mother’s life. This sometimes results in the unintended death of the child. This causes deep grief for the parents but mothers intuitively understand the reasons and may come to accept them.

The Government seeks to make abortion available in Ireland on the grounds of a “threat of suicide”. Medical and psychiatric evidence does not indicate abortion as an appropriate treatment for suicidal tendencies. In my experience abortion has never proved to be the appropriate response to the threat of a suicide. On the other hand we have helped many, many women who had abortions and had subsequently developed suicidal tendencies. Many of them did not really understand the consequences of an abortion and the devastation it causes. They needed love and care and non-judgmental support.

We – all of us – will have to live with our conscience if we allow, or acquiesce, in the enactment of this legislation. It is for this reason that all political representatives should be free to follow their individual conscience in deciding how to vote. Our medical, nursing and midwifery professions are central to the values, loving culture and quality of our society. They have long protected the right of an unborn child to live and fulfil God’s plan. Let us recall the words of Christ: “What does it prophet a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul”.

I am writing this letter – the first such letter I have ever written – in defence of the unborn child and the welfare of the mother. Also, I will know on my death bed that I have done all that I can to speak out on their behalf and on behalf of so many more were such legislation to be enacted in our name by our political representatives.

A need for more joined-up-thinking from Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen begs a lot of questions in his recent statements explaining his support for changes to marriage legislation to allow gay people to call their unions marriage. Apart from dubious definitions of “the Church” he professes allegiance to and its relationship with God, there is far too much vagueness in his concept of conscience to enable us to take seriously what he is trying to say to us. Where did he get his conscience, we would like to ask?

But the main point he seems to miss about the marriage issue is that it is fundamentally a political one, one about how we organise our society in the interests of the common good. Above all it is about what kind of social environment we are creating for the children who will be procreated through the union of men and women who join together in nature’s own natural bond – marriage.

Before Martin says anything else on this subject it might be very helpful for us all if he were to have a look at the book just produced by Michael Cook and MercatorNet, “Same-Sex Marriage: Dangers, Difficulties, Deceptions”. This book, full of incisive observations and powerful arguments, will make any reasonable person think twice about opening the Pandora’s Box of miseries which same sex marriage is going to inflict on society. For many people this question is tied up with conscience and religious belief, but before that it has an awful lot to do with rational thinking and common sense.

Fair enough, Sheen was asked, as LifeSiteNews reports, about the apparent conflict between his Catholic identity and his stance on marriage by the Wilshire & Washington blog, following his performance in a play that raised $2 million for a gay rights lobby group. Sheen played the role of one of the plaintiffs in the play “8,” a dramatic rendition of the Proposition 8 trials written by Dustin Lance Black, who also wrote the screenplay for the 2008 gay advocacy movie, Milk.

“My religion’s highest standard is conscience. Nothing can get between your conscience and God, not even the Church.” Sheen said, as quoted by the blog. How, we wonder again, does he think God chose to help him form that delicate flower, conscience?

Although known to support generally liberal views – he was a strong advocate for Barack Obama’s presidential run – Sheen has voiced opposition in the past to some leftist cultural positions, such as assisted suicide and abortion. Just last year, he spoke of his opposition to abortion, revealing that his wife was nearly killed by abortion after she was conceived in rape and describing how he supported unplanned pregnancies in his own family.

Martin Sheen’s moral judgement hits the nail on the head on some very important issues. However, one wonders about the logic and joined-up-thinking behind his political judgement. A bit more homework might be in order and then he might reach a different conclusion on this vexed issues.

(This article was posted to MercatorNet’s Conjugality blog earlier today)

Conscience sacrificed on the altar of personal choice and selfish convenience

“Excluding any known wishes of the patient or family to the contrary, a decision to preserve the life of a patient in a state of permanent unconsciousness based on respect for life itself is morally no more sound than a decision to take that life.”

Those words must surely send a shiver down the spine – or more likely, land a blow to the solar plexus – of any half sensitive moral conscience. They are reported on the Careful! blog of MercatorNet.com this morning and they come from an American doctor writing in the latest issue of the leading journal Bioethics.  There, Dr Catherine Constable, of New York University School of Medicine, tells us that artificial nutrition and hydration should be withdrawn from all patients in a permanent vegetative state – unless there is clear evidence that they want to be kept alive. She argues that the current presumption in favour of maintaining ANH is misguided. It is not in the interests of the patient nor, because of its cost, in the interest of society.

Surely we have reached the nightmare of moral chaos to which Joseph Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz, and his later incarnation, Francis Ford Coppola’s Col. Kurtz, descended in Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now when (in Coppola’s film) he confessed and protested his hellish vision of a judgement-free world – by which he meant the judgement of conscience –  in which the only criteria of choice is the selfish pursuit of our pragmatic ideologies and where the most sacred of all human gifts, life itself, is placed on the sacrificial altar of that merciless god.

“I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen”, Kurtz – a rogue US Marine commander fighting the Viet Cong – expounded his confused and contradictory moral reasoning to Willard who has been sent to “terminate” him. “But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror… Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies!”

Kurtz (Marlon Brando), the heart of darkness

It is hard not to conclude, reading things like those written by Dr. Constable, that we have already surrendered to that horror. Because some living human beings are not able to express their intentions it is deemed that they are no longer interested in living. Therefore, “because of its cost,” their lives are no longer “in the interest of society.”

Kurtz recalled the moment he surrendered his conscience to the evil of a world freed from the restrictions imposed by that inner voice:

“I remember when I was with Special Forces… seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it… I never want to forget.

“And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”

Can we not say that  forces of “enlightenment” at work in the propagation of this new morality represented by Dr. Constable are driven by the same dreadful ethic which Kurtz adopted in which the judgement of conscience is seen as a hindrance to the proper running of this world of ours. Let us set aside all those “taboos”, they say, with which we clutter our proper judgement and let us act coldly, clinically and ruthlessly for the end we desire. Kurtz knew – and Conrad knew – in his heart where all that led, to the horror of a hell on earth. The leaders of our new enlightenment, sadly, do not seem to know.

Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. It is all around us and is clearly manifested in the spectacle unfolding in the United States’ current political debate on the Obama “mandate”. The subtext of this entire proposal is the disregard and sacrifice of moral conscience – as understood for 2000 years in its fullest clarity, and for eons before that, albeit in a less clear way – on the altar of personal choice and convenience. It all emanates from a philosophy of freedom devoid of any judgement based on a rational and principled understanding of the truth of our nature. It is a philosophy of freedom where freedom is seen as the right to do what you like within the arbitrary bounds of the general will of a given group of people – which we know even from history can lead to the greatest atrocity. Slavery was once supported by such a general will. The deaths of millions of unborn human beings is now enjoying the same support.

Another more recent visit to the heart of darkness was Cormac McCarthy’s  No Country For Old Men, filmed by the Coen brothers in 2007. In the book, the wise and weary Sheriff Bell, who is pursuing the semi-mystical but diabolical Chigurh, reflects on the sorry state of our society in telling us of an encounter with a fully paid-up member of our brave new world.

The wise and weary Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones)

“Here a year or two back …I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin’ about the right wing this and the right wing that. I ain’t even sure what she meant by it…. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don’t like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well ma’m I don’t think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin’ I don’t have much doubt but what she’ll be able to have an abortion. I’m goin’ to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.”

The tragedy may be just this – that the conversation has ended. But perhaps there are a few more battles to be fought and with them the tide may be turned and sanity may return to the earth. If not, like Sherrif Bell said, we may all look forward to being put to sleep.

The Last Straw: booting Boots

This one is a little – perhaps more than a little – personal. My conscience has been troubling me over the past few weeks. I have not had occasion to go to my favourite pharmacist since the Boots chain announced its intentions of providing, from January 12, over-the-counter “emergency contraception” in its Irish stores. My favourite pharmacist is, sadly, a Boots pharmacist. While this is personal it is also a matter which touches directly on the common good of our society and the life and death of human beings. As such I feel I should make my personal response a little public.

It seems to me that, yet again, we have here an instance of corporations taking another step to obliterate all sense of the identity and value of human life in their ruthless pursuit of profits – and then boast of it as “service to the public”.

 I have written as follows to my pharmacist – but do not disclose here either the identity or my pharmacist or the Boots branch where, until January 11, I have been a customer.

 “I have been a customer with Boots for a good number of years now. From time to time I have had misgivings of conscience about this choice of pharmacy in view of some of the products which you provide to the public. Until now I have given the company the benefit of my doubts. However, on reflection, in relation to the latest service which you have announced which you are providing – effectively an abortifacient medication as a so-called ‘emergency contraception’ – I can no longer give Boots the benefit of the doubt. This is contrary to the moral norms which I consider absolute in relation to our responsibility for human life. I don’t think I need to spell this out.

“As a consequence I would request that you set aside for collection, or send to me by post, any current prescriptions which you are holding there so that I can transfer them to one of my local pharmacies.

 “I very much regret having to do this and wish to express my appreciation for your personal courtesy and advice over the past few years. Even though I moved house in September my appreciation for this help was the reason why I had hoped to retain my account with Boots despite some inconvenience. Unfortunately, powers – which I would like to think, are beyond your control – now make it impossible for me to do so any more.

Yours gratefully…”