Yesterday members of the pro-life groups of Ireland gathered in Dublin for their annual pro-life rally. Organizers estimate that about 30,000 attended, though Irish media have reported that there were only 10,000 - you can decide for yourself which figure is correct, bearing in mind the Irish media's rather fluid relationship with the truth when it comes to such matters
As expected there was a counter-demonstration by pro-abortion advocates, but this year they were even more aggressive than usual. I have taken part in many pro-life demonstrations and usually the pro-abortion protesters will hold up signs, chant and there would be a few who would be aggressive. However this year there seems to have been a escalation in the aggression, a serious escalation. Civility has gone, and has been replaced by anger, intolerance and verbal violence. All of this found expression not just on the streets with swearing, insults, offensive signs and explicit gestures - all in front of children, but also on Twitter (no surprise there) and with the hacking of pro-life websites. Nor, it seems, is any of this spur of the moment reactions to pro-lifers, it has all the hallmarks of an organised campaign - one centred on the campaign to repeal Constitutional protection for unborn children.
I believe the gay marriage referendum was a watershed in Ireland in terms of protest and demonstration. The ugliness and sheer brutality of a certain quarter has left us with a legacy which we may well find very difficult to exorcise from Irish society. Empowered with their victory it seems social progressives feel that they can do and say anything to their opponents to order to quash them. This does not augur well for the future here, not for the stability of Irish society. It may well be that the Nietzschean "might is right" principle will become the dominant philosophy in our brave new society and that will not be good.
I have often noticed that when a Christian society abandons its faith and Christian culture, it turns bad very quickly. The void produced by the expulsion of faith is filled with a primitive brutality, it loses not only civility but also its very civilisation as its citizens crawl back into the caves puffed up with the delusion that they are making progress. If you need examples of this just look to revolutionary France, or to Russia, Mexico, Germany and Spain in the last century.
When this happens, there is an onus on us Christians to get cracking and do what we can to resist this process and work towards the re-Christianisation of society, to move from the primitive back to civility. For us in these times that will be the work of the New Evangelisation proclaimed by St John Paul II and prepared for by the Second Vatican Council in which the Church sought to renew to meet the challenges ahead.
I believe a seminal document in this process is St John Paul's Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Inuente in which the saintly Pontiff urged us, the disciples of Jesus Christ, to push out into the deep to proclaim the Gospel. Beginning with our lives and families, we move out into the parishes (many of which need serious renewal), our dioceses, the universal Church and then the secular world. If I may use martial imagery, we are in the middle of a war and we must wake up and prepare for battle. The weapons we use are not those of the world, they are not violence and aggression, but virtue and holiness. However we must not be naive, as many tend to be. We need to be wise, strategic and resourceful - that is what Jesus meant when he told us to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. Piety is good, fasting is necessary, but so is engagement in society.
In this process we aim to make our enemies our friends, either through bringing them to embrace the Gospel or failing that, at least bringing them to mutual respect and the vision of the sanctity of human life and a recognition of what is ultimately good for true human flourishing. We will have an uphill battle but we must remember first of all that God is in charge, it is his work and we must be attentive to him and his will: every effort we make must be immersed in prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit. That said we must also make ourselves useful instruments, we must be informed and trained to have the knowledge and skills so God can use us as his apostles and agents in the war. I believe this is what Vatican II was urging when it spoke of the laity and their role in the Church - it was not empowering them to make the Church a democracy, to decide the doctrine of the Church by means of a vote, but rather empowering them through the faith and history of the Church to make the Church more missionary by sending them out into the world to evangelise.