Monday 29 August 2016

Abortion: not a single narrative

"I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights,"...
is the strap line of a beauty contestants recent intervention in Ireland. But the reality of legalised abortion does not follow that single narrative of the empowerment of women with respect to their bodies.
For some of us the availability of legal abortion releases us from the emotional and physical trauma associated with an unwanted pregnancy, but for others there can be various feelings which differ in intensity and depth. Therefore we can only be approximate about the possible effects of abortion and point out those who may be exposed to the threat of extreme long-lasting feelings. Those who appear to suffer, from moderate to severe feelings, tend to be women who:
- have little support, from family, friends and partners;
- wanted the baby but were pressurised into having an abortion by others;
- are already stressed, eg a recent bereavement;
- have a psychiatric history;
- show ambivalence during the  decision phase;
- do not involve their partner in the experience;
- experience late abortion;
- are young;
- consciously or unconsciously use the pregnancy to resolve conflicts, eg bring their relationship back together;
- are deserted by their partners as a result of their pregnancy.

Source: Abortion and afterwards  Vanessa Davies (1991), page 120.

It is only fair that women such as these, with different narratives, should also have their voices heard.

Monday 22 August 2016

The Sleep of Reason

The novel entitled The Sleep of Reason is the penultimate novel in C P Snow's sequence Strangers and Brothers. It is set around the trial of two young women, living in what we would now call a same-sex relationship, who had kidnapped a young boy from a city play area to a country cottage one weekend and subjected him ill treatment before killing him. The crime appears clinically planned, and the two women are duly found guilty of murder. The central point at issue in the trial is not the events of the crime themselves, but the question of the responsibility of the two women for their actions, as their defence lawyers argue for a diminished responsibility that would mean they were guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.

The question of responsibility for actions, and particularly responsibility for actions of a most evil kind, is therefore a theme of the novel. It particularly reflects back to an earlier novel in C P Snow's sequence, George Passant. I have yet to read that novel, but George would appear to have been the centre of group of young people encouraged to reject all societal limitations and live in a complete freedom from any constraints whatsoever. The two women on trial in The Sleep of Reason were around the edges of a later generation in this group, a group with which Snow's narrator, Lewis Eliot, was associated in his younger days. The narrative of The Sleep of Reason speculates as to whether or not Cora and Kitty would have behaved differently if they had not had the association with George Passant's group, whether that association with a lifestyle lacking in any constraint could have any causal link to their actions against the boy they kidnapped. The insistent answer given is that one could never know one way or the other, though Lewis asks himself whether one of the two might have been the leader of the other.

The novel gains its title from the following passage, towards the end, when the protagonists are reflecting back on the outcome of the trial:
Reason. Why had so much of our time reneged on it? Wasn't that our characteristic folly, treachery or crime?
Reason was very weak as compared with instinct. Instinct was closer to the aboriginal sea out of which we had all climbed. Reason was a precarious structure. But, if we didn't use it to understand instinct, then there was no health in us at all.
Margaret said, she had been brought up among people who believed it was easy to be civilised and rational. She had hated it. It made life too hygienic and too thin. But still, she had come to think even that was better than glorifying unreason.
Put reason to sleep, and all the stronger forces were let loose. We had seen that happen in our own lifetimes. In the world: and close to us. We couldn't get out of knowing, that it meant a chance of hell. [Both at the time of C P Snow's writing and in the setting of the novel, this reference includes the events of World War II.]
Glorifying unreason. Wanting to let the instinctual forces loose. Martin said - anyone who did that, either hadn't much of those forces within himself, or else wanted to use others' for his own purpose. And that was true of private leaders like George as much as public ones.
(Were others thinking, as I did, of those two women? Was it true of one of them?)
To move to a different context, one wonders whether, since the legalisation of marriage between people of the same sex, those who have praised the consequent freedom to "marry the person they love" have really considered the relationship of reason to the life of passions and emotions. How does the readiness of the great and good to use the word "love" in a way that lacks substantial definition compare to a reasoned study of the affective life such as that proposed by the recently produced programme of the Pontifical Council for the Family, for example? Have we, in this context, also put reason to sleep?

Thursday 4 August 2016

Opening our hearts

New City Magazine is the magazine published by the Focolare movement, and has a United Kingdom edition.

Opening our hearts is the title of a testimony offered by a couple to the part played in their family life by two young people with physical or learning difficulties, and appears in the August/September 2016 issue. It is a very moving read.

As the story of Cara and Mario unfolds, one can see something of the possibilities of the "accompaniment" of which Pope Francis speaks in Amoris Laetitia. There is a journey from a marital situation that is "irregular" towards a marriage in Church, by way of a choice to foster vulnerable young people. One cannot but see also an action of grace in the acceptance into their family of a baby who was otherwise going to be allowed to die. The story of their family also verifies something of the experience of L'Arche, that those who are the carers can receive much from the people for whom they care. The lives of those with physical or learning difficulties are not a waste of time.

Cara and Mario's story provides an example of how grace can still be seen and recognised to be at work in the circumstances of a marriage that the Church might rightly recognise as being "irregular", the idea that is the basis for the accompaniment that Pope Francis suggests.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Eyewitness: WYD Krakow

A number of years ago now I took part in a "fundamental retreat" at the Foyer of Charity at Chateauneuf de Galaure. I took the opportunity to undertake a similar retreat there a second time shortly afterwards. This community is the home from which the Foyers were founded. The charism of the Foyers of Charity is described in English here.

My experience of the Foyers made this account of a participation in the World Youth Day in Krakow particularly attractive. The inspiration of the "fundamental retreat" foreshadows what is now the idea of a "new evangelisation", so it has a particular relevance to World Youth Day.

Monday 1 August 2016

Pope Benedict and nuclear fission: Pope Francis and the social media

I am unable to resist placing Pope Francis' use of the image of the use of social media at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2016 alongside Pope Benedict XVI's use  of the image of nuclear fission at the corresponding point of World Youth Day 2005.

First Pope Francis, speaking during a year celebrated as a "Year of Mercy":
We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on. The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone.  He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams.  How greatly he desires that you bring all this to him in prayer!  How much he hopes that, in all the “contacts” and “chats” of each day, pride of place be given to the golden thread of prayer!  How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!
In asking to come to your house, Jesus calls you, as he did Zacchaeus, by name.  All of us, Jesus calls by name.  Your name is precious to him.  The name “Zacchaeus” would have made people back the think of the remembrance of God.  Trust the memory of God: his memory is not a “hard disk” that “saves” and “archives” all our data, his memory is a heart filled with tender compassion, one that finds joy in “erasing” in us every trace of evil.  May we too now try to imitate the faithful memory of God and treasure the good things we have received in these days.  In silence, let us remember this encounter, let us preserve the memory of the presence of God and his word, and let us listen once more to the voice of Jesus as he calls us by name. 
Pope Benedict spoke during a year dedicated as a "Year of the Eucharist":
By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. I Cor 15: 28).
In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world:  violence is transformed into love, and death into life.
Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word.
To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.
All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption:  what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.
 Re-reading both homilies fully, one after the other, it is instructive to note the absolute continuity in the messages of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict to the young people of the Church and of the world.