Motion 312 sponsor Stephen Woodworth, MP
The Hon. Jason Kenney, MP
The Hon. Rona Ambrose, MP
In a recent issue of Convivium, the fine new magazine edited by our good friend Father Raymond de Souza, a journalist tells when he first understood how societies change. He was interviewing a committed Quebec separatist before the 1995 referendum who told him that, no matter how it turned out, his cause would continue.
“Separation,” the man said, “is not a moment. It is a process.”
Up to that point, the reporter—Peter Menzies of the Calgary Herald—had seen the world in terms of events, or “moments.” Since then, he has tended to see each moment as simply part of a more important process. Moments, he writes, are simply “when the process is unveiled.”
Mr. Menzies, who later became the Herald’s publisher, had a second experience of the nature of social change when the City of Calgary published a bold new urban plan. It was an ambitious and broad blueprint for the city’s future, and accommodated everything you’d expect to see in a vibrant city—theatres, stores, housing, offices, public buildings, even spas. Everything, that is, except churches.
He analyzed this omission very simply: the people who wrote the document “almost certainly had never made a decision to exclude faith. But when the document excluded faith, they had decided.”
Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m telling this story. Quebec separation and urban life in Calgary seem a long way from us, or at least a long way from what concerns us in church on a Sunday morning.
But Peter Menzies tells us why the story matters a great deal to us: because it tells us “that somewhere along the line each of us participates in the process of cultural change either through our initiative, our acquiescence or our ignorance.”
“As often as not,” he concludes, “those who don’t decide are the ones who do decide.”
Or in the words of another Albertan, Joni Mitchell, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
We can certainly point to moments when society turned away from the protection of the unborn: the bad law of 1969 and the worse Supreme Court decision of 1988. But another moment happened this week, and it shows that the process continues, slowly but surely.
What happened this week was no surprise: the defeat of a private member’s motion calling on the House of Commons to create a committee to study when life begins. But what followed was astonishing, and marked a new milestone in the advance of the culture of death.
As well-reported in the National Post (here and here ) those ministers who voted their conscience on the motion were attacked viciously by opposition politicians and by interest groups.
Rona Ambrose, the courageous minister for the status of women, who voted yes on the motion, was called upon to resign. A prominent doctor said the minister should be ashamed. All for supporting a committee just to discuss the biggest unanswered question in Canadian life.
No less surprising was the reaction to the yes vote of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Pundits analyzed Mr. Kenney’s vote as a move to challenge the Prime Minister, or at least as an attempt to position himself for the next leadership race.
I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve only met Jason Kenney a few times, but if he spent more than thirty seconds deciding to vote in favour of this motion, I’d be very much surprised. It seems that someone in public life can no longer be given credit for having a personal conviction of what is true and good.
The level of public discussion and debate has now sunk so low that the question involved here—is life in the womb human life, or not?—can’t even be talked about.
How many of us wrote letters or e-mails before or after the vote last week? How many of us even took the time to figure out what was being proposed?
To return to Peter Menzies: “silent voices change the world.”
And not for the better.
Today’s Scripture readings are complex and varied, and in many ways unpleasant. The first reading and the Gospel both remind us that religious people can be divided inside and outside the Church. The reading from St. James is a grim prophecy of hard times for the rich who exploit the poor. And Jesus is no less harsh when he warns us of the consequences of scandalizing others.
It’s not difficult to wiggle out from under these readings. Most of us have no farm workers to cheat, no-one in the parish is fighting over the right to perform miracles, and we recognize that Jesus does not want us to start amputating limbs.
But what do the readings say to each of us? Aren’t there a dozen ways in which I cause others to stumble—by my lukewarmness, my acquiescence, or my ignorance? Do I, as a priest, water down the demands of Jesus, so that parishioners do not become discouraged or even angry? For if I do, I place a stumbling block in your path. Parents who live the faith casually do the same to their children.
It is hard to preach much less to live the Gospel without compromise in a society that is virtually based on compromise. Yet if there is one thing Jesus tells us this morning, it’s that compromise is not compatible with his call.
He may not intend us to take him literally when he says it is better to enter the kingdom missing one of our eyes than to go to hell with both, but he does intend to be taken seriously.
Let me return to Peter Menzies’ observation that “As often as not, those who don’t decide are the ones who do decide.” The famous words attributed to Edmund Burke say much the same thing: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The triumph of the culture of death is not a moment. It is a process.
This afternoon we—you and I—have an opportunity to do something. There is a one-hour Life Chain in front of Lion’s Gate Hospital at 2 o’clock, a quiet gathering that raises our voices in defense of life. I hope you will join me there.