On the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I reflect on the darkness engulfing Ireland. It is the feast of feasts because, unlike what has preceded it, it’s not about what God does for us. At the end of a cycle of Easter and Pentecost, to celebrate it feels, if you will forgive a slightly trite image, rather like a child celebrating Father’s Day. It forces a child to step out of a paradigm in which family celebrations usually are welcomed because of what is being provided for me, and invites a maturer consideration of who the provider of celebrations is and what it says about Him that he continually manifests the self-giving love which shapes my becoming myself as a person in relation to the love He generates.
It is hard enough to come to terms with the result of the Irish referendum without having to listen to the broadcast jubilation of those who see the right to kill babies in the womb as a giant leap forward for civilisation and a triumph for women’s rights. One commentator, supposedly a Catholic herself, implied that Ireland was like Afghanistan under the Taliban before Saturday’s vote. She went on to make another comparison, this time with the religious persecutions of the 16th century, saying: “Once clerical authority reaches for the cudgel of compulsion, it demeans itself and rots its own core.” She would appear to be blissfully ignorant of the irony that it was the state which claimed rights over people’s consciences at the English Reformation. It was the clerical caste, whose power she so resents, who were martyred not for morality but for treason. It surely will not be long before the same thing happens in the name of the much-vaunted advancement she is espousing.
Since arguments advanced to justify abortion are alway couched in terms of a putatively caring necessity (“But what about cases of rape or foetal abnormality?”), whence comes the jubilation at the thought of abortion on demand being legal, unless these very few hard cases were never actually the real issue? I can just about see how a flawed ethic might justify abortion as a necessary evil, but to welcome it as a universal good for the advancement of women? Ask the women of China how much it has advanced them.
Or the many women who are pressured into abortion by male partners who refuse to take responsibility for anything other than their right to take pleasure. Or the hundreds of thousands of women in campaigns like Silent No More, who attest to the devastating effects abortion has had on their lives.
And what a tortured mess it is when the same philosophy of being liberated from the shackles of human biology doses teenagers with powerful hormones or hormone suppressors in preparation for mutilation on the basis that gender is a social construct, fluid and nothing to do with your body, yet at the same time aborts female babies because no one really believes that female foetuses will normally grow up as anything except female. It is not just motherhood which has been damaged by the decision of the Irish electorate to legalise abortion. It is also fatherhood, not merely in a biological sense, but also in a spiritual one.
Spiritual fatherhood, of course, is always what is being rejected when any kind of legitimate restriction or authority is cast off in the name of liberation. I once heard a demon during an exorcism say in a voice full of a kind of hateful bravado: “I have no father.”
It is the original deception, to equate any restriction I dislike to the whim of a real or imagined patriarchy which desires to limit my freedom simply for its own ends, and to imagine that in overthrowing this my caged autonomy will fly free. There is no freedom without restriction; even God allows himself to need to be loved. Freedom is only such when freely directed towards something greater than my own comfort and convenience, when I live for others.
But the result is also a startling indication of the collapse of the faith in the West. The Irish Church’s credibility was fatally damaged by the abuse crisis, but I also think that some of the more naïve ideas informing Vatican II’s openness to the world concerning human brotherhood and natural man without grace need to re-examined in the light of the collapse of morality which followed the abandonment of the Church’s much-criticised “fortress mentality”. We need to start looking again to our defences.
Pastor Iuventus is a Catholic priest in London
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