Written By: Lawrence Lam
Irish voters voted in favour of a constitutional amendment to allow Same Sex Marriage by a vast majority over the weekend. The subtext to these referendum results in Ireland last week are that the Church’s power has significantly waned, predominantly just over the past few years. Although this comes as a surprise to many who weren’t paying attention, it is a confirmation in my view of what happens when the church relies on its institutional power rather than the quiet strength of its own truth goodness and beauty. This is the exact same situation as that of Quebec, and the Irish – many of whom were born into the church over many generations – have over the past few years realized that their membership in the Church could not be taken for granted; their participation cannot be mandated as if they could be used in an identity politics game.
No doubt the forces of secularism, doubt, and scandal had taken over many minds. So much so that even straightforward moral teachings seemed not so straightforward or clear – or to what degree they needed to be aligned with civil law. When the Church appears to be a dominating force impinging the freedom of the average citizen, naturally one way to oppose it would be to fight against whatever it stands for, no matter how good or true. Even those who might privately vote no for themselves find little justification to vote no for others, when they have no greater compelling thing to say Yes to. Same thing goes for abortion, divorce, or any of the other “hot button” issues.
I’m reminded of the movie Calvary and how much more accurate the Irish culture is depicted in that film – a bleak desolate nihilistic landscape where nothing clearly leads to happiness. Yet the Church ticks on, beaten, spat upon, denigrated, constantly holding up the beacon of light, as powerless as it can be from a political point of view. Its true power lies in its ability to demonstrate beauty and goodness in alignment with the Truth. The soft influence of a vision of life steeped in Christ’s personality that cannot be suppressed by compulsion. The referendum confirms my feeling that in places like these where the Church’s reasons for pride are taken down by a few notches, the Church is reminded how badly it is needed to be not another bureaucratic agency but to truly image Christ as a humble shepherd, gently accompanying people on an individual rather than a collective basis. Those who speak for the Church need to recover the authenticity of clear catechesis and all who act on behalf of the Church must do so in the image of Christ.
Cardinal Collins had alluded to the need for the Church to be truer to herself when investigating the abuse cases in Ireland and as our polls even in North America demonstrate a sharper and sharper decrease in Church membership and involvement, we continue to witness the need for God as much as ever, if not more. The Church in the Third Millennium has so much more opportunity to renew itself in order to more perfectly renew others and help bring back colour and light to the grayish days of relativism.