Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Fr Alan James Fudge. First anniversary.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Fr Alan Fudge, the much beloved pastor of St Charles Borromeo church in Ogle Street, London.
He made his final Passover at 3 o'clock in the morning of the 5th August 2011 as his companions recited the Creed. He died "Professing the Faith of Our Holy Mother the Church" as he had expressly hoped in an earlier letter concerning his wishes for his funeral.
With beautiful timing it was the day after the feast of St John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, and just before the feast of the Transfiguration.  

The Mass yesterday was beautiful. The church was packed, and the Homily was given by the recently ordained Fr Ivano.  Fr Alan had attended his ordination to the diaconate in June last year, just two months before he left us. Fr Ivano reminded us that he has left very clear instructions for his funeral. One of these was that he wanted no panegyric, just a simple announcement of the Kerygma. The Good News of Jesus Christ in whom death has been conquered. Alleluia! 
In his funeral, as throughout his ministry as a priest,  Fr Alan preached Christ to us.

I was sitting near the baptismal font where he baptised our youngest Marie-Aibhlinn and over which he had lain in his coffin the night before his funeral at the Cathedral. To see him resting there had certainly made vivid the powerful symbolism of the baptismal waters. 
I thought about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, about Christ's baptism in the Jordan, about Blessed John Paul II venerating his own baptismal font in Wadowice,  about all the souls Fr Alan brought into the life of Grace in that font and about my own death. I hope I die as holy a death as Fr Alan.

After Mass we went to St Mary's graveyard in Kensal Rise and prayed the Rosary together and sang the creed.

I was surprised he had such an ordinary little grave. I shouldn't have been of course. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God?
Ps 41:3

Friday, 3 August 2012

Responding to criticisms of 40 days For Life. Part One.

So here it is, as promised in my previous post, and slightly redacted here and there to remove personal details and irrelevant verbiage, my pro life apologia. Part one:

Dear A
I understand your concerns about the possible intimidation of women who are already in an enormously stressful situation. I would be horrified too if I thought that some of the reported accounts of what happens at 40 Days For Life were accurate. However I think it is a shame you didn't feel able to discuss this with me first, if only to give me an opportunity to explain a little more..

I think there is much about this issue and my involvement with it that you misunderstand. I try to keep in mind that people who hold contrary positions to my own usually do so out of the best of intentions. Often we want the same thing, but our vision for how to achieve that may differ considerably.

I too am greatly concerned about the rights of women, but I believe the rhetoric of choice, applied to abortion, is deeply misleading. Abortion hurts more women than it helps.

A woman doesn't 'choose' abortion like she chooses a home, a husband or a career. She chooses it like a trapped animal chooses to gnaw off its own leg to get away. This is the choice that confronts many women who choose abortion. For them, to choose abortion is to exercise a 'non choice'. They choose abortion precisely because they feel they have 'no choice'. Many of them are under enormous pressure from family, often a mother or a boyfriend to abort. They are told that unless they abort, they will get no support. Alone and abandoned they feel that they have no other option available to them.

For these women, an encounter with a pro lifer is often the first time they have encountered someone who has responded to their pregnancy as something other than an insuperable disaster. They are offered whatever help and support they feel they need, practical, financial and emotional. And that help is ongoing for as long as they feel they need it. Sometimes this will be many years. This is something that BPAS and Marie Stopes cannot offer. The only "help" on offer from such places is an abortion.

The decision to seek an abortion is not a straightforward one of choice. Many of the women helped by pro lifers are those who fall through the cracks of society. Some of these women are illegals, working in the black economy, with no access to benefits of any kind. Some are foreign students who have invested everything in the opportunity to study here and are without family or friend support of any kind. They can get an abortion free on the NHS but must pay for any obstetric care they receive. Where is the "choice" for women like these? For them, the idea of 'choice' is mere empty rhetoric, because they simply have none. There are many women such as these, who have been supported to keep their babies who would otherwise have aborted because they felt that they had no other choice.

A couple of months ago, one Sunday during an aggressive pro choice 'counter protest' outside the clinic, a middle aged woman got out of a car and approached a friend of mine wanting to know what was going on. When my friend explained about the vigil she became very emotional. She said that March was a very difficult time of year for her. More than 20 years previously, she had had an abortion and was still carrying the pain of that experience. She tearfully hugged my friend and said " I wish you had been there for me all those years ago, because no one was there for me then. I was all alone" This is a story we hear many, many times.

Many of the people involved in pro life work are themselves post abortive and have found healing in helping other women in crisis pregnancies, and also in helping other post abortive women who are struggling to come to terms with their experiences. Shattered by the pain of abortion, many of these women have become the most eloquent and impassioned defenders of everyone's right to life.

Having experienced a pregnancy full of panic, depression and feelings of being unable to cope, and having been helped through that by the unending kindness and patience of people like your sister D, whose goodness to me I will never forget, my heart is torn to pieces when i think about those women who find themselves alone, unsupported and afraid. And having subsequently lost one of the babies I so noisily complained about, I quail to imagine the depths of anguish that such women feel when their immediate crisis passes and they look back on what they have lost. This is how my pro life consciousness became activated. I suddenly saw that this was an issue of NON choice for many women. And that many, many women are silently carrying the unspeakable pain of abortion.

At least a woman who has had a stillbirth or a miscarriage feels that sympathy for her loss may be legitimately sought and received. The woman who has ended her own pregnancy is often left carrying the can for "her choice". This makes her suffering all the more ferocious.

The media has massively twisted what happens at 40 Days For Life. They have tried to present it as an American style 'protest' which it isn't at all. At all vigils there is a sign displayed prominently saying "we are here to help". And the help that is on offer is real, as many women will attest. No-one is judging, condemning or bullying but trying to offer a lifeline.

It is grotesquely wrong and unfair to conflate peaceful pro life outreach with the murder of abortionists. All pro lifers are appalled by violence, because we believe that all human life is worthy of our respect and protection. A few lone crazies do not represent any organisation or movement. It would be equally wrong to tar all peaceful Muslims with the 9/11 brush, or all atheists with the murderous purges of Stalin, Pol Pot or the French Revolution.

I don't want to see a return to "back street abortions", I am far more ambitious than that. I want a society where no woman ever feels she has "no choice" but to abort her unborn child. I want to promote a new way of looking at life. Abortion hurts women.

Despite the euphemistic language that surrounds it, everyone knows that abortion involves the ending of a human life, and that is why you quite rightly say that the decision to abort is "one of the most difficult and heartbreaking" that anyone is ever likely to face. 
It is always wrong, in my opinion, to kill a living human being. That is not to deny that some women face the most horrendous circumstances. They do. And there are no tidy solutions to some of life's grimmest problems. But far harder I think, to walk with a woman in difficult circumstances, and try to share some of her burden.

I don't feel the shame that you say is rightfully mine. I dont feel ashamed because I am so convinced of the inestimable value of every human life, and of our obligation to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our human society. This is a matter of conscience for me and although I am sad to lose your good opinion of me, it would be sadder by far for me to silence my conscience in this, or any other respect, in order to secure the esteem of friends.

All this said, I know that you are a wonderful person and that you see this issue in a very different light. I may not be able to convince you of my own good intentions, and I almost certainly will not be able to convince you to see things from my vantage point, but I hope that you will be able to find a way to accommodate, if not exactly celebrate, my 'diversity' in this respect.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

let the pro lifer be unto you as a heathen and a tax collector.

So. My book club of more than 10 years standing has ground to a sudden, juddering halt.
One minute we were rolling down the literary highway,  the next we were standing on the hard shoulder.
It was like having a blowout on the motorway.

I got an admonishing email from a book club buddy..
A VERY admonishing email. The kind that ends with a final deprecating "Shame on you"
Seems I've been rumbled. 
My involvement with 40 Days For Life would appear to be in the same category, pariah wise, as belonging to the BNP.
So my liberal minded book buddy had little option she felt, but  to call me out on my "behaviour". 
After all, as she put it, if I was a racist she would have a moral obligation to call me out on that too.  To remain silent she said, would  make her feel "complicit" in my actions, actions which in truth, she explained, horrified her.
Such is the heavy moral obligation incumbent on the right minded liberal thinker these days.
Liberal totalitarianism is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

So the email listed all the ways in which my "behaviour" represented such an affront that the book club really couldn't continue without addressing the issue and helping me see the magnitude of my error. And ultimately it seems,  my recanting.

The principal concerns were these:

That my presence outside the clinic is tantamount to bullying women who are at their lowest ebb,  facing "the most difficult and heartbreaking decision that anyone is ever likely to make"

That the right to safe and legal abortion worldwide is paramount, and that I, and 40 Days For Life,  put this hard fought right at risk.

That I open up the country to "more extreme elements", and increase the likelihood of violence such as the shooting of abortionists.

That I terrify women, making it more likely that they will "take matters into their own hands".  Her principal concern was, she said, above all for the safety of these women.

That for all the babies lives saved by 40 Days For Life , there are many others "damaged, destroyed and cut short" by their campaigns.

I won't go into all the too'ing and fro'ing, but suffice to say that it stirred up a hornets nest.
The next book club was slated as an air clearing session.
'Out' being better than 'in' after all. 
To be honest though, I didn't feel terribly enthusiastic about providing myself as a target for anyone to dump their disapproval on.
It's hard to enjoy the nibbles and Sauv Blanc when you feel like a counter revolutionary in a Maoist struggle session.
But along I went nonetheless, to face the music.

Oh, anyway, I don't think I have the heart to hash it all out here, but the long and the short is that the book club would now appear to be at an end. 
Having attended the 'air clearing' it wasn't quite the Star Chamber experience I was expecting. They didn't tar and feather me.
It was rather polite. And heartbreaking actually.
These are my friends of many years standing.
I'd been told that everyone was in agreement, but  in fact two or three of the book clubbers said they were on the fence on the issue and just wanted the club to continue regardless.
Having already sent two emails responding in detail to most of the indictments, I said very little. I felt I'd already said most of what needed to be said.
I felt that for me, the most significant question was whether I could continue enjoying the book club, and their company, despite feeling so 'disapproved of'.  Oddly perhaps, I felt I could. I wasn't expecting approval anyway.
And this seemed like one of those 'potential' moments, when the "tolerance in diversity" rubber really hits the hard road. I wanted to hang in there.
But the most significant questions was theirs.
Could they 'bear' me?

Well, at the heels of the hunt, the book club came to an impasse. Three of the book clubbers resigned. They felt that what had happened had made the book club itself untenable for them. 
And no one else has the heart to carry on.  

Having poured out my heart about the pro life issue in two emails, in which I answer the charges which were put to me, it occurs to me that it might be worth leaving the relevant parts of  my  responses here on my blog. In part because I know that my book club are not the only ones among my friends who are mystified or even angry or repulsed by my pro life activities. Some of them read my blog, others may stumble across it.
So I'm planning to post  my responses to the main criticisms shortly . Just for the record, so to speak.
More on this to follow.