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Love And Cruelty In Ireland

June 17, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

On the night of August 21, 1879, Mary, the Mother of God, appeared to a group of ordinary people in the village of Knock, County Mayo. She was flanked by St. Joseph on her right and St. John the Evangelist on her left. She said nothing and was described as being deep in prayer, her eyes lifted to Heaven. Those who witnessed the apparition stood or knelt in the rain for nearly two hours reciting the rosary.
The site became a national shrine. Each diocese in Ireland now arranges an annual pilgrimage to the Marian shrine while the nine-day novena at Knock attracts around 10,000 pilgrims each August.
On the centennial anniversary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II made a formal visit to Our Lady of Knock, reminding the Irish that, like the Poles, their history could not be understood properly without Christ in the picture.
He was the first Pope to set foot on Irish soil and expressed his delight to walk among the people “in the footsteps of St. Patrick and in the path of the Gospel that he left you as a great heritage — being convinced that Christ is here.” In one of his homilies, he challenged the Irish, who had sent so many thousands of missionaries into the world, to “Be converted” by evangelizing themselves.
On his two and a half day sojourn in Ireland, he visited Drogheda, 30 miles from the border of Northern Ireland, where, in 1649, Oliver Cromwell perpetrated the greatest massacre in Irish history. Around 2,000 perished in that massacre, including Catholic priests and friars. Those who barricaded themselves in the steeple of St. Peter’s Church were burnt alive.
Drogheda is also the site of the relics of St. Oliver Plunkett, archbishop of Armagh. On the first of July in 1681, this saint, being convicted of “promoting the Roman faith,” was hanged, drawn, and quartered.
In his denunciation of violence, John Paul told his audience that St. Oliver Plunkett forgave his executioners and should not be used as a symbol of revenge. He reiterated that Christianity forbids solutions to problems “by way of hatred, by the murdering of defenseless people….The command ‘Thou shalt not kill’ must be binding on the conscience of humanity, if the terrible tragedy of Cain is not to be repeated.”
On his knees, he begged the Irish to find ways of peace and warned: “Further violence in Ireland will only drag down to ruin the land you claim to love and the values you claim to cherish.”
He spoke to an estimated 300,000 young people in Clonmacnoise, a great center of scholarship during the Middle Ages. Speaking to them in a historical context, he said: “Sometimes one could have the feeling that, before the experiences of history and before concrete situations, love has lost its power….And yet, in the long run, love always brings victory, love is never defeated. Young people of Ireland, I love you.”
If nothing else, John Paul made the difference between love and cruelty crystal clear.
Four years after John Paul’s visit, the Eighth Amendment was passed by a national vote of 67 percent: “The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
What transpired, however, between 1983 and the 2018 vote that overturned this amendment is complex and difficult to fathom. George Weigel, in his 2017 book, Lessons in Hope, recounts asking Desmond Cardinal Connell whether the Church in Ireland has “hit the bottom yet.” The cardinal did not think so but reckoned that at least he could see where the bottom was.
That exchange took place in 2001. In retrospect, Weigel realizes that the cardinal’s forecast was far too optimistic.
An important pro-life strategy in upholding the Eighth Amendment was emphasizing compassion and care to both the mother and the unborn child. As Bishop Fintan Monahan of the Diocese of Killaloe pointed out, “The medical care offered to both mothers and babies in Ireland is among the best in the world. The Irish Constitution as it stands offers protection and care in equal measure to both women and unborn babies.”
Pro-life advocates had been routinely, though unfairly, criticized for emphasizing the unborn child and ignoring the mother. The strategy of emphasizing compassion and care for both seemed to be inclusive and realistic.
Nonetheless, the triumvirate of the government, celebrities, and the media thought otherwise.
Typical of the turn of mind in Ireland was an article in The Irish News (June 7, 2018). Author Diarmaid Ferriter claimed that the “Pro-Life Campaign’s definition of love is cruelly simplistic.” Citing some of the hard cases, he argued that pro-lifers were being simplistic in holding that love is an answer for women who desperately need an abortion.
One would have thought that focusing exclusively on either the unborn child or the mother was simplistic. But it is love that is allegedly simplistic. The euthanasia movement is buttressed by the claim that it is not loving to keep a person alive who desperately wants to die. Yet, what other solutions are there but love? Abortion cannot be a loving act for the unborn child. And it is a desperate act for the pregnant woman. Has the once unarguable distinction between love and cruelty been blurred?
If love is cruel, and compassion justifies killing, and care is counterproductive, do we not find ourselves in the heart of an Orwellian nightmare where contradictions render communication impossible?
The heartfelt pleas of St. John Paul II that he made in 1979 in Ireland do not seem to have penetrated very deeply into the 21st century. And yet, John Paul is the great ambassador of hope. And if there is one central message of his rich legacy it is that by attaching ourselves to secular ideologies, we betray Christian hope and, at the same time, lose sight of faith as well as love.

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