Now that the 40 Days for Life initiative is over for the year (update: inaccurate, as ED points out in comments - 40DFL resumes in the autumn), I think it worthy of reflection.
One thing I have noticed, watching the commentary on it from various directions, is that people's view about it seems sometimes to say as much about themselves as it does about what actually happened.
Thus the Grauniad, to take one example, knows a priori that it's a load of bigoted old men, wishing to restrict women's rights in pursuit of semi-delusional beliefs and an extreme right-wing agenda. So they send out their reporters and photographers, and guess what kind of stories their reporters file, what kinds of pictures their photographers choose to submit?
Then there are the fans: those who believe that prayer and witness are important. They go along and pray and witness; or if they can't, they watch and pray from a distance. They find it a prayerful experience, and some of them witness real changes of heart.
There are also those who have felt bereft of any spiritual leadership from our episcopate in this arena for years: they see a bishop who is brave enough to turn up, and are heartened.
There are also those of a more political bent. Some of these on the pro- side go along, looking to gain the political advantage that the increased media interest presents - looking for the PR edge. They see it as a political success.
Then there are those who doubted it was a good idea all along; sometimes for political reasons. sometimes because of a longstanding mistrust of others involved, sometimes for other reasons. They see it as a complete disaster.
Of course, these groupings are necessarily crude, and some individuals may overlap several, or fit none: I am not trying to stereotype or box people in: rather to look at how people starting from different places view things differently, all the while appealing to the evidence.
What does the evidence say? As so often, that depends on what evidence you pay attention to, and how you interpret it.
Do you pay more heed to the fact that hundreds of people turned up, prayed quietly and peacefully, and endured a level of abuse and vitriol that it is hard to imagine - or to the fact that the Grauniad carried some adverse coverage? Do you pay more heed to the fact that several pro-life voices were heard on the media, or to the fact that there were occasional awkward moments? Do you pay more heed to the many who behaved perfectly, or to the few who, apparently, didn't? And so on.
I am in the camp that believes in the power of prayer and witness: so you can deduce for yourself what I make of it all.
That does not mean that I am uncritical of any lapse of prudence or charity; but I also do not think it helpful - or charitable - for those on the pro-life side who started out critical of the event to use isolated incidents to attack the whole venture.
In particular there was the famous 'cameraman' incident. I do not know what he was doing or why he was doing it. Some allege he was filming those arriving at the clinic, others deny that. Clearly to do so would be to say the least, extremely imprudent. He was, apparently, asked by the organisers not to do so again. Then there was what struck me as synthetic outrage when he turned up again at the vigil on Friday - but this time without a camera.
That has led for some to call for the whole thing - and indeed the whole pro-life movement - to be taken over by the Catholic bishops, and put in the hands of paid professionals with PR expertise etc.
I think that is a flawed idea for many reasons. Whilst I would welcome greater episcopal spiritual leadership, I do not think paid PR professionals is the right way forward. Any attempt to spin this is a move away from the authenticity that gives this witness its power (at a human level). Moreover, it would inevitably, I think, lead to the pro-life issue being seen as exclusively Catholic, and also to it being viewed increasingly through a political lens. I see neither of those as desirable.
A graver charge issue is the claim by some of these critics that those involved in the vigil have no compassion for women. I do not know on what they base that evaluation, but in my experience, it is those who have a spiritual frame of reference, rather than a political one, who demonstrate their charity, both in the way they think and speak of women seeking abortion, and in the way they get stuck in to the practical business of finding ways to help them.
Fourth Sunday of Lent – 26 March 2017 (N.O. and E.F.) - We are grateful to Abbot Richard Purcell OCSO and Father Malachy Thompson OCSO for allowing us to publish this Gospel Reflection for Laetare Sunday. http:/...
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