‘Abide with me; fast falls the even tide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.’
This is the first verse of the great and beautiful hymn that we often sing at Night Prayer. The world we live in today in 2018 is a very different world to that of Henry F. Lyte in 1847. In his day poverty and the threat of violence was never far away. These realities together with his declining years are part of what feeds his sense that the darkness is deepening. As I have prayed and reflected in these pre-referendum days I too have a strong sense that the darkness deepens.
As soon as this is said there are some who feel the need to rush to point out all that is positive in the Church. It seems that many ‘church’ people cannot cope with even a discussion on the darkness without eagerly pointing out the light. There is of course a lot of good in the Church. I am not a pessimist. I am not without hope. As a follower of Jesus I always have hope. However this should never stop us being real about our world.
When I reflect on Irish society, and in particular, the Irish Church, I see much to be grateful for, much to be happy about. Young people have a great goodness, often evident in a strong social consciousness. Of course so do older people, albeit manifested in a different way. What often surprises me is the extraordinary generosity of people particularly those who have very little.
Having said that there is a dark underbelly. The reality is that many people are battling addiction. There is much violence, especially in our cities. Much of this is hidden, indeed much of it is in the home. Many struggle with mental health issues. Indeed many, especially young men, end up taking their own life.
It seems to me that the battle between light and darkness is intensifying. Or perhaps another way of phrasing it is that the battle between the culture of life and the culture of death is becoming more acute.
Obvious examples of the culture of death in our midst would include domestic violence, child abuse, rape, and incest. Less obvious examples of the culture of death might include a racist joke, bullying in the workplace, and making various groups the butt of jokes. This is not to minimize the latter group but rather to suggest that they may not readily fall into the category of the culture of death. It seems to me that the provision centers, in so far as they demean the dignity of people are also part of the culture of death.
Examples of the culture of life might include adopting and fostering children, the work of our emergency services. The work of the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland and Brother Kevin are all living breathing examples of the culture of life in our midst. As of course is good parenting and the heroic effort within countless families to pass on core values.
In the case of education this can contribute to either the culture of life or the culture of death. In so far as it promotes intolerance or reinforces stereotypes education promotes the culture of death. However in so far as it breaks down ignorance and builds mutual understanding and acceptance, education is a great proponent of the culture of life.
At times in the past sex education failed young people because it left them with little more than holy or abstract terms. Today it’s more likely to give them loads of facts with no emotional or moral context. Both approaches do young people a grave disservice. Both approaches in small and sometimes in large ways contribute to the culture of darkness or death.
I believe that the present proposal of the government to the people of Ireland in the upcoming referendum represents the greatest single slide into darkness that we have ever faced as a nation. I cannot think of any activity more central to the culture of death than abortion. Not only is it the termination of a life but it is the termination of a life in its most vulnerable moments. It is the willful termination of a life packed with endless potential in its most vulnerable and sacred movements.
When we reflect on the battle between the culture of life and the culture of death we know deep down that abortion is wrong. Abortion is wrong today. Abortion will be wrong on May 25th. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, abortion will still be wrong on May 26th. If abortion becomes part of our legislation we will as a nation have taken an irreversible step into darkness.
Instead let’s move closer to Jesus, the Light of the World, the Prince of Life.