THE GRAND VISION of Eamon de Valera (1882-1975), the leading figure in Irish politics for five decades, was, according to THE WEEK this week, (5th December 2009, page 11) “that Ireland should be a rustic, devoutly Catholic state, where rigidly enforced traditional morality would prevail over materialism or modernism”.

Now I don’t want to dwell here upon the visions, grand or otherwise, of politicans past or present. Rather I want simply to express the heartfelt hope  that no Christian bishop today would be so vain and misguided as to entertain a vision incorporating the belief that “rigidly enforced traditional morality”, or rigidly enforced anything at all, could be a good or wholesome plan. Rigid enforcements (or, more properly, vain attempts at them) poison our humanity with vile and tragic consequences.

In 1977 my soul thrilled to the sound of the sharp questioning put to the Church by the hermit priest Carlo Carretto in his sustained meditation on Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment to God :

Why such a prolonged alliance with power and wealth? No need to fear if something is going to change here. And change in the right direction it will. What makes me sure of this is that, when the (Second Vatican) Council asserted the primacy of the Word of God and the faithful began asking questions about the Gospel, the frozen terrain of institutions began to melt under the action of the heat of the Spirit. We are undergoing a most extraordinary experience, as though we have returned to the times of Jesus. (Summoned by Love, DLT, 1977. p12)

No “rigidly enforced traditional morality” envisaged in this groundswell, but rather a melting under the life-giving warmth of extra-ordinary experience. Lord have mercy. Power has gone to our heads. We’ve, all of us, sought to coerce and cajole others, and all this, ostensibly at least, in the name of the Divine. Shame has come again upon us – because all of us, in some way or another, have forgotten the vocation of a praying people.

But I recall that Carlo Carretto’s “Summoned by Love” spoke another word that became engraved upon my heart:

… let us have no more of these jeremiads: Our young people are lost to the Church … Vocations are drying up …  No one goes to Church anymore … It’s the end of the world. Complaining like this does no good. Indeed, it only serves to spoil the remaining years of our lives, making them sour and spinsterish and poisoning them with impotent dissatisfaction.

Would you like a piece of advice? Don’t keep saying, ‘Everything is about to collapse!’ Say, since this is nearer the truth, ‘Everything has collapsed already!’. You will find it much more cheering and rewarding to think of yourself as building for a new tomorrow, than as defending a past already old and moth eaten. (ibid. p8)

Rustic? OK, for some. No harm there. But “rigid enforcement” ought, by now, to have had its day.


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