I keep a statue of St John Fisher on my desk - he's looking at me now as I write this post. I bought it on a visit to London, and I did so for a particular reason. As Henry VIII was attempting to get rid of his faithful wife to marry his mistress, when he turned to the bishops of England to support him in his task to force a divorce (annulment) out of the Pope, only one stood his ground and remained true to Christ's teaching on marriage and the communion of the Church: Bishop Fisher of Rochester, all the other bishops folded. This statue on my desk is to remind me that even a successor of the Apostles may not have the courage, virtue or even decency to stand by Christ and his Church when fear and threats assail him.
It is also a timely warning to me: I may well be found wanting (as I often am, God forgive me!) at a moment when real witness is required, so I must beg God for his grace, the gift of courage and seek to be faithful to him and to his Church for the sake of the flock that he has put in my care. I am all too aware that human weakness can at times make traitors of us all.
Remaining faithful to what is right should be no problem, after all to do so will create harmony and justice in our world and confer peace in our hearts. But when what is right is muddied and confused by subtle evils and distorted human desires, it can be difficult to discern what to do, particularly if we have not had proper education in the ways of morality and virtue. Many Catholics today, having been raised without solid formation in the faith, exposed to radical secularism and taught by the example of public figures to give precedence to their desires and to seek pleasure as one of the highest goods, find themselves in a mire when it comes to evaluating what is right and true and then choosing the morally good and virtuous. That many of the clergy have taught a diluted Gospel in which the individual has been put centre place and the highest virtue and means of salvation is said to be nice to others and good to oneself, has led many astray. And so many members of the Church live and choose in a manner contrary to Christ's teaching all the time actually thinking that what they are doing is morally right. God loves them and so he endorses all they do so long as they do not kill anyone, or so they think.
Why this reflection? Because I think this may partly explain what happened in the last couple of days when Catholic TDs in our parliament voted to support Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Abortion Bill. I do not think that all of them were acting out of a secular, anti-Christian, anti-life ideology (some were, but not all). Many of them, I am sure, thought that what they were doing was right and good and the only way to save women's lives. Now that is not true, there is no need or justification for the Kenny Abortion Bill as consultants, GPs, psychiatrists and legal experts have explained, yet in the moral mire than now exists, professional opinions can be dismissed in favour of the sentimental which now has greater influence in moral evaluation. And I believe that state of affairs exists for a number of reasons, one of them being the failure of the Catholic Church in Ireland to catechise effectively. In the catechesis that I and many after me received, the truths of the faith, faithful adherence to the Gospel, participating in the Liturgy, all of that had been reduced to sentiment. And so when it comes to moral difficulties and vital questions of life and death, pure emotion is often the basis for decision making. And so we see that pure emotion - blind emotion, has led to the deaths of over 2 billion children in the last forty to fifty years. Can that be right or good?
I have to say I was deeply saddened that only twenty-four people voted against the Kenny Abortion Bill. I know it is double the "twelve good men", and more than the one who stood against Henry VIII. But to think that in our parliament the unborn child can only find twenty-four human beings to defend their right to life is shocking. Now I know some voted for the Bill in order to get amendments through and save lives, and at this stage there is some moral justification for that, their intention is not to endorse but to get it to a stage to change it. But now that those amendments were rejected at meetings of the Dail Committee yesterday, more TDs will stand against it, but I fear, not enough to stop its passage. The Minister of Health will present more amendments on Wednesday next at the Report Stage, but they will not change the tenor of the legislation nor remove the offending articles.
That said I have to congratulate those TDs who stood for life. Those in Fine Gael defied the party whip and for their troubles have now been expelled ("excommunicated") from their party. I know from sources that these pro-life TDs have been subject to appalling pressure and intimidation, some of it, I am told, from the Taoiseach himself. That they stood their ground to do what is right, true and good, is a testament to their courage and integrity. They deserve our respect and support. The Taoiseach has informed them, as revealed in an interview yesterday, that these TDs will not be selected as candidates for the next General Election. I would call on pro-life voters in the constituencies of which these TDs are representatives to put aside party affiliation, and consider voting for them in the next election should they decide to contest it as independent candidates. That they respect human life at its most vulnerable stage reveals that they can be trusted.
Let us pray for these good men and women who support life. May St John Fisher and St Thomas More stand by them in this difficult time.
Let us also pray for our government, that they have a change of heart. That they may see that there is another way, a way that respects life, a way already made clear by doctors and other professionals.
And let us pray for those in government and parliament who are immersed in the ideology of the culture of death, that the Lord may touch their hearts and convert them.
And we pray for the pro-life movement. May the Holy Spirit guide us, support us and give us the wisdom we need. For it is not flesh and blood we fight, but powers and principalities.