During the past few years, our country has been through a great deal of change. Whether the changes which have come to pass are for better or for worse, I will let history judge. My scope for writing is to try to examine the effects of our action or inaction as Catholics.
The introduction of divorce in 2011 was not an ordinary legislative proposal which our parliament had to vote on. The fact that such a vote was held (forgetting the outcome for a moment) constituted an unwelcome landmark. For the first time, a bill to introduce divorce was actually debated in our parliament. A bit later, around three dozen MPs and the president of Malta brought about the solubility of marriage on the part of the state. Of the MPs who voted in favour, some said that it was time to bring Malta out of the dark ages whilst others claimed that they were obliged to vote in favour since a majority of the electorate had also voted in favour in the referendum.
In the six years since the introduction of divorce, proposals for embryo freezing, surrogacy, gamete donation, euthanasia, the redefinition of marriage and draconian measures to curb the use of normal and natural terminology have all come to pass. To date, our MPs have successfully made a mockery of marriage and in a mad dash for faux equality, have purged our laws of such common and normal words as “husband”, “wife”, “mother”, “father”, “brother” and “sister”.
By profession, I am a lawyer. As a lawyer, I know the theory of the legislative process well. As a result, I also know that almost any law can be changed as long as a majority of the House of Representatives so agrees. One needs to take a moment to realise how fragile laws are. A solid law can easily be undone if a majority of MPs decides to decapitate it. Similarly, a bad legislative proposal can easily become law if MPs are strategically lobbied and pressured (whipped) to vote in favour.
There is no escaping the fact that once upon a time, we had ministers and MPs who put God before all else. Most of them went to Mass every day, received Communion daily and went to confession frequently. During the last two to three decades, the number of MPs who go to Mass (except on occasions of national importance), receive Communion, confess their sins frequently and take their faith seriously has probably gone down drastically. Although popular opinion and legal argumentation are fickle, God is not. Jesus pulled no punches in telling us that He is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus did not tell us that He was one of many ways or that He was just an opinion or a lifestyle. On the contrary, Jesus made it clear that He is the only way to the Father. Therefore, the only way to have good law is to elect people who take their faith seriously. Regrettably, the toxic nature of modern politics may discourage faithful Catholics from running for office.
I am spilling no secrets when I confide that the legislative tide is unlikely to change direction to accommodate the authentic common good of all. So what is to be done? The answer lies in the call of Jesus to make disciples of all nations. The radical Catholic should not be afraid to love others as he himself is unconditionally loved by God. Telling people the truth, including truth which they may not enjoy hearing, is also an act of love. We can no longer afford to assume that those in authority take their faith seriously. On the contrary, we should assume that no one takes their faith seriously and seek to evangelise and re-evangelise over and over again. Those Catholics who are called to public life are in a better position to evangelise their fellow legislators and to put their faith in action through sincere attempts to advance the common good of all. In this pursuit, it is necessary to invoke the Holy Spirit incessantly, particularly in view of the fact that the political arena is frequently full of posturing and invective.
What Catholics need to do (especially Maltese Catholics) is to stop living in the clouds. Government is not some distant and mysterious entity. In a democracy, government is elected by the people. Therefore, it is well within our power to quiz candidates on how they intend to vote in parliament should they be elected. When they ask for our vote, it is our right and our duty to hold them to account. We need to tell our MPs how we want them to vote. Aspiring politicians must know what our priorities are. Let us not be politicised by our MPs, but let us take the opportunity to evangelise them.
We need to reacquaint ourselves with the Bible and with the teachings of the Church. It is not enough to know that abortion and euthanasia are wrong. When challenged, our response has to be deeper than to say that abortion is wrong because that is what the priest said last Sunday. We need to know about Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI and about Donum Vitae of Pope St John Paul II. We need to know that euthanasia and assisted suicide are contrary to the fifth commandment and a direct violation of God’s love and plan for each and every one of us. We need to know why embryo freezing is a grave violation of human dignity and human rights.
Let us also reclaim the territory of human rights. Christianity gave Europe monasteries and universities – the powerhouses of learning. At least three great orders – the Dominicans, the Augustinians and the Benedictines – combined prayer and intensive study. Christianity gave Europe a great deal of philosophers and theologians to whom we owe so much. Human rights may have only been codified during the last six or seven decades. However, the spiritual and intellectual ground work for human rights has been going on for centuries in the Church. The same applies to workers’ rights. It was not some hot-headed Marxist who came up with workers’ rights. Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, in which support for workers’ unions was expressed. This encyclical also rejected socialism as well as unrestricted capitalism. It was followed by Quadragesimo Anno (Pope Pius XI, 1931), Mater et magistra (Pope St John XXIII, 1961) and Centesimus Annus (Pope St John Paul II, 1991).
Pope Francis is fond of comparing the Church to a hospital on the field of battle. By nature, a field hospital denotes two things: firstly, that the Church cannot afford to get lazy and secondly, that once the warriors are treated, they are sent back onto the field of battle to continue the fight. The Church (that is to say, each and every believer) needs to pull its socks up and go forth. To paraphrase the late Cardinal Francis George, the Church needs to pick up the pieces and help rebuild society. This work can only be done if each and every individual believer knows the faith well.