I was in Carrickmacross last week, visiting my uncle, Brian Mac a’ Bhaird. You might have seen him on Prime Time earlier in the month, with his wife Sheila, and Romy, their youngest daughter. Romy has cerebral palsy, and faces severe limitations in living her daily life, limitations her extraordinary parents, siblings, and neighbours have helped her to overcome. Now, though, because of her parents’ declining physical capacities, the time has come for a transition to a group home.
After decades of campaigning, the HSE commissioned the building of such a group home on the outskirts of Carrickmacross, a state-of-the-art building completed in 2017. That sounds good, but there’s an astonishing twist to this tale: following construction, the HSE has allocated no funding to the running of this centre, and it now lies unopened and unused. It’s a scandal, and I’d encourage anyone who can to write to their TDs and to the Minister for Health so that this situation will be resolved.
The whole thing, though, got me thinking about the role Christians play in political life. In recent years, committed Christians have fought courageously in defence of life and marriage at the national level. These struggles should not be abandoned, and we should continue to make our voices heard in protest against the barbaric practices of abortion and euthanasia, and in defence of family life.
As we do so, however, we’re at risk of fatigue, especially as we seem to be losing so many key battles. And because we’re not welcome in the national conversation, we’re at risk too of taking up a position on the sidelines of public life, criticising and complaining, instead of actually playing the game.
This is a real problem for Christians. By our Baptism and Confirmation we’ve been given spiritual muscles precisely so as to use these muscles to play an active part in society and to transform it thereby. Pope St Paul VI loved to remind laypeople to ‘use their Christian powers to the full’ by getting involved in social and political life.
If we stay on the sidelines, our muscles will simply weaken for want of use. How can we get off the sidelines? Here’s one way: local politics.
Think about it. There’s always an endless list of ways in which the life of a local community can be improved: the swing in the playground is broken; the elderly are lonely; the community centre is in disrepair; young mothers are isolated; a direct provision centre is about to be opened, with little planning; the local radio station has had to cease functioning; there aren’t enough volunteers in the GAA club; or, in the case of Carrickmacross, a group home for people living with disabilities lies unused.
Every one of these local problems is an invitation to local Christians to provide a local solution. These aren’t the big defining human rights issues of our time, but they are not without importance.
They’re battles we can win, good things we can achieve, opportunities to flex our spiritual muscles for the common good.
Motivated by their Faith, a prayer group could set up a team for visiting the elderly, or for teaching English to asylum seekers; a young Catholic father could dedicate his free time to coaching football; a team of parishioners or, even better, a whole parish, could write letters in defence of local disability services; a woman with the gift of the gab could use that gift on local radio to build community; a parish council could organise a work day to repair the community centre.
None of these works replaces our pre-eminent political duty of defending the right to life, so directly contravened in our hospitals. But alongside that national engagement, we do well to keep active in serving the common good of our neighbourhood, building the culture of life and the civilisation of love right where we are.
Great woman in the City of God
Many of you, I’m sure, know and love the writing of Scott Hahn. His wife, Kimberly Hahn, is a wonderful example of Catholic engagement in local politics. She lives in Steubenville, Ohio, a city with a great Catholic university, but many social problems besides.
Aware of all this, Mrs Hahn, having reared her six children, at the age of 58, stood for election to the local city council, won a landslide victory, and was recently re-elected with another landslide.
As a woman of Faith she belongs to the City of God, but as long as she’s in the City of Steubenville, she’s working for its good.