When David Mullins was 18, he spent a year in the Franciscan postulancy. After the year finished, he decided to take a break, intending to return at a later date. “But things changed,” Mr Mullins tells The Irish Catholic, “and I got married and now I have five kids!”
He maintains a great respect for religious life, but says that in the current cultural environment, “it’s more important than ever to foster the Faith in the home”.
“Myself and my wife, we’ll bring them to Mass, it’s crucially important,” Mr Mullins continues. “For all of our kids, the eldest is 17, down to 5. We’re not sitting down and saying the rosary every night of the week. But at the same time, my wife in particular would nourish the Faith of the children, every night there’s prayer with them in bed. It’s not a big formally structured thing, it’s natural, it’s about giving thanks to God.
“We bring them into the Church, lighting a candle,” he continues. “For myself and my wife, it’s important that they see us practising the Faith. Going into church, kneeling down before the Blessed Sacrament, that we teach them stuff like that. I think it’s through example, my wife and I are big on that. We live the Faith by example, obviously failing like everyone else!”
“But we do it because we think it’s important. Especially during the current cultural environment, where we can’t be sure what they’re taught in school, you can’t be certain through the culture. So it’s more important than ever to foster the Faith in the home. In a relaxed way, but also being serious.”
Mr Mullins has always maintained a firm connection to the Faith, not only in his family life, but in his work as well. Having left the postulancy, he attended Maynooth University, where he studied theology, before completing a masters in bioethics. The decision to follow this line was in part determined by his commitment to the Faith, Mr Mullins says, adding that “At all times you try to be as faithful as possible to the guidance of the Spirit and your own conscience”.
His decision to study bioethics was also informed by a natural inclination to think analytically: “Part of it is that I have a naturally analytic mind and ethics and bioethics – I think they’re given to that. It’s also interdisciplinary, you’re not just dealing with theological aspects. There’s also social, the philosophical, the political – it all converges into the area of bioethics.
“Professor Padraig Corkery, who I had in college for moral theology, he was just such a good teacher, so clear and gave great guidance on the issues. The staff generally, when I was there in Maynooth, a lot of the professors there encouraged you to the areas you would be drawn to.
“At the time when I was doing it, the degree and then the masters, the whole area especially in terms of embryonic stem cell research, was huge at the time. There was a huge cultural moment around the possibility of embryonic stem cell research. I was naturally drawn through that as well.”
Mr Mullins, who now works in politics and journalism – two fields frequently hostile or indifferent to religion – believes it’s important for Catholics to be “unashamed” in drawing on the wealth of the Church’s teachings.
“There should be nothing wrong with someone putting forward a Catholic perspective in terms of the social doctrine of the Church, or in terms of how their politics has been informed by teaching like that,” he says. “We should be quite unashamed about that, without becoming theocratic. Politicians who are Catholics, should not be embarrassed by responding to political issues from an understanding formed by Catholic social teaching, which is inherently respectful. It is inclusive in the proper sense, it’s not intolerant, that we try and engage.
“The Church has such beautiful things to say and such powerful things to say,” he continues. “I always felt it was a great pity, that how the Church understands these issues regarding the protection of life at all stages isn’t better known or understood. Part of me was drawn through that too, as well as deepening my own understanding, and saying, how do we as the Church respond at a cultural and political level to these, how does it promote a greater sense of the dignity of life at all stages?”
When asked if he ever found his analytical mindset and his religiosity coming into conflict, Mr Mullins answers firmly in the negative: “Part of me used to laugh, part of me used to get really annoyed when people would say, oh, religion and faith are just for people… you’re just accepting what the Church is telling you, you’re not critically engaging with it. Your Church is just handing down this doctrine and you’re just accepting it. For me it was always the complete opposite. It’s about committing to truth.
“A lot of it was basic ignorance on the part of people. When I was in college, it was the New Atheists and Dawkins was taking off – it was a huge thing at the time. But the Church has powerful responses to these things, historically, philosophically, politically, but it’s getting people to be able to say, we’ve wrestled with these issues for not just centuries, for millennia.
“It’s all there for the taking, a vast rich heritage, a stream of thought within the Church that is unfortunately going untapped. That’s the tragedy, there’s a huge wealth and it’s a pity more people don’t know about it.”