Friday, 28 September 2012

Doctor What?

I am a big fan of Doctor Who. I watched it (and hid behind the sofa from it) and I remember being told that a particularly scary alien had been made by school children in their classroom. I didn't buy that: said alien was clearly going to come and get us all.

Although I watch Doctor Who, if I had children of my own I wouldn't let them watch it, because of the obvious agenda which has been present since its reincarnation with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, that is, the normalisation of same-sex relationships. I feel this is particularly relevant now with the current move towards the legalisation of same-sex marriage (despite the fact that the government has no mandate for this, but don't get me started). OK, so we all know that the BBC has a very liberal ethos, but it worries me that such ideas (not to mention the level of sexual innuendo) are being blatantly targeted towards children.

In the episode The Doctor Dances the Doctor (Eccleston) tells his assistant Rose that humans from the 51st century (ie. the pansexual Captain Jack) are more "flexible". The implication is clear, that we mere 21st century beings are limited in our understanding of human sexuality. By the 51st century we have come to realise that everyone can sleep with whomsoever they they man, woman, Ood, Time Lord or headless monk...and especially if they're Captain Jack. If there was ever an example of a person who sought, and failed to find, fulfilment in the concupiscences Captain Jack is that man.

In the recent episode A Town Called Mercy the Doctor asks the town preacher if he can borrow his horse. The preacher tells the Doctor that the horse is called Joshua, meaning deliverer. The Doctor replies that he speaks horse, "His name's Susan and he wants you to respect his life choices". Yes, that's right, gender is a choice. LGBT orientation is so natural that its even found in animals.

I had hoped that when Russell T Davies (whose writing frequently centres on sexuality - his series Queer as Folk portrayed a gay sexually active 15 year old - see Wikipedia for his complete works) left the series that this element would disappear. However, it was obviously not to be. Whilst A Town Called Mercy contains an interesting exploration of revenge, mercy and reconciliation, it also clearly portrays the aforementioned idea that we can choose our gender, as well as touching on the assertion that it is fear which leads to prejudice, hatred and violence, and the illogical inverse that all prejudice (or perceieved prejudice) stems from fear. How often have we recently heard gay-rights activists claiming that Christians are afraid of homosexuality?

If I am afraid of anything it is that the normalisation and acceptance of intrinsic wrongs lead to the perception that they are objective goods and that the confusion of freedom with licenciousness will continue to reinforce the dictatorship of relativism and the culture of death. Which is why I write with one eye on the screen, and the other firmly firmly fixed on a crucifix.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Manchester Marian Procession 2012

The Christian Life Movement (nothing to do with Christian Life communities) will be holding their annual Marian Procession in Manchester on Saturday 6th October. This procession started on a small scale around 8 years ago (the first year the procession was inside the parish church) and last year 1000 people walked behind Our Lady. Wilmslow Road, along which the procession passed, is the busiest bus route in Europe, and passengers on at least one bus who saw and heard the procession joined in the chorus of Immaculate Mary.

The CLM was founded in Lima, Peru where many processions take place annually, notably for the Lord of the Miracles which takes place in October and is the largest Catholic procession in the world. However, whilst Latin American know-how was essential in the construction of the platform on which the statue of Our Lady of Reconciliation is carried, and the statue itself was imported from there, this is by no means a Peruvian tradition brought onto the streets of the curry mile. Manchester has a long history of popular piety of this type, as can be seen in this video, which also shows how the cultural traditions of the local Catholic community have been incorporated into the procession. Volunteers who carry the statue (they are the ones wearing the cloaks) receive spiritual as well as practical preparation.

The promotional video made for the procession is also worth a look:

Please pray for good weather (or at least minimal rain!).

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Not your body, therefore not your choice.

I frequently hear advocates of choice and abortion basing their opinions on the foundation that "a woman has the right to chooose what happens to her body".

To a certain extent that is fair enough. Subjecting patients to unwanted medical procedures is classed as assualt and battery, although interestingly refusal of treatment is said to require a higher level of competence than consent.

However, when it comes to abortion we immediately hit a massive stumbling block, nay, a wall: the unborn child is not part of your body. Yes, it needs your body, it relies on your body, but it is not part of your body.

Here are some medical facts in support of this statement.
1. The baby has its own DNA, from both its parents. Genetically distinct, he or she is a human being in his or her own right. The baby is not a limb or an organ.

2. The body has an immune system which attacks anything which is not its own. That is why organ recipients have to take immunosupressants. Aha! That proves the baby is part of my body! No, it doesn't. There are two privileged sites in the body. One is found in the eye and the other is the uterus. That is why if you have the lens of your eye replaced with a plastic one ("getting your cataracts done") or you are pregnant you don't have to take immunosuppressants.

3. Haemolytic disease of the newborn. This occurs when there is incompatibility between the blood group of the mother and that of the baby, which leads to the mother's body producing antibodies against the child's blood cells. This condition can cause haemorrhage of the mother and child and (I think) shows that the mother's body recognises that the baby is "foreign".

4. The baby is not a parasite feeding off your body. Parasitism is a non-mutual relationship between organisms of different species where one organism benefits at the expense of the other. The mother and child are clearly the same species.

Putting an end to foolishness in all quarters

It is said that when Blessed John Henry Newman was asked by his Bishop what he thought of the laity, he replied that the clergy would look foolish without them.

I wanted to write something on the role of the laity because it seems to me that there is a great deal of confusion about what laypeople are supposed to do in the Church and the world. People spend a lot of time waffling on about the role of women in the Church, but a lot of the time I think that ignorance and confusion about the role of women stem from ignorance and confusion about the role of the laity. Commission of lay funeral ministers and (frequent) liturgical abuses involving Extrarodinary Ministers of the Eucharist don't really help, although sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether they are the symptom or the cause of this widespread ignorance and misunderstanding.

I can give references for the things in this list if required (Conciliar or post-Conciliar documents) but for now, this is my understanding of the role of the laity:

Personal Holiness
In a larger font because it is the most important. The universal vocation of all the baptised is holiness.
Frequent the sacraments, especially make regular, frequent Confession and Holy Communion.
Develop a prayer life (eg. visiting the Blessed Sacrament, praying the rosary - no study or special training required, reading the Bible, praying lectio divina...there are a lot of elements you can include according to the amount of time you have, your state of life etc.).

It might also be helpful to:
-get a spiritual director
-join an ecclesial movement (or another group where you can forge community and friendship with other Catholics)
-Form yourself - read the Catechism, listen to what the Pope says..., do a course of study (a Catholic course, obviously). This won't just help your personal holiness, but will also prepare you for apostolate.

This is not an exhaustive list. Do whatever it takes: only saints will change the world (LFF).

Quite possibly no-one has ever told you this (I was in my late twenties when I found out) but by virtue of your baptism you are also called to be an apostle. Apostolate can take the form of:

-Evangelisation - by witness of life AND by announcing Christ. That means not just being nice to your colleagues but also telling them why.
-Renewal of the temporal order - transforming everything which is in contrast with the gosepl, in your workplace, through your work, in your school, in your neighbourhood, in your home, in the bank queue, at the supermarket, outside your local abortion clinic...
-Charitable works and social aid - probably this is the one most people know about, but look how far down the list it is!

What else?
Well, really everything is covered by the above, but for the sake of clarification, the laity are called to "develop and make effective all those latent Christian and evangelical possibilities which already exist and operate in the world" (EN70) and "co-operate with pastors in the service of the ecclesial community" (EN72) in keeping with our proper state as laypeople, including:

-Catechesis - the first place of catechesis is the family, the domestic Church. Teach your children (and your spouse) Christian values, form them in the faith, take them to mass, teach them to be holy.
-Sacramental preparation
-Serving in your parish - in an administrative capacity, visiting the housebound and elderly, cleaning the church...
-Praying for your priests

If you're still unclear about any of this, there are plenty of beatified and canonised laymen and women. Read about their lives and follow their example.

Do not try to substitute for or replace your priest. You are not a priest, you are a layperson.

Monday, 17 September 2012

If you don't want to fall down the slippery slope, don't go near it

Apparently we could soon have three-person IVF. At first I thought this had something to do with the three-person civil union which has been recognised in Brazil. But no, this is an entirely differnt kettle of ethical fish (dophin-friendly tuna, perhaps?). Genetic manipulation could result in babies with DNA from 3 different adults. Leaving aside the issue of IVF itself, the suppoosed medical benefits would theoretically be the elimination of genetic mitochondrial disorders.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics highlight a number of ethical concerns but have given this proceduce the ethical OK - so long as it is medically safe - but Human Genetics Alert (a secular, independent public interest watchdog group) is concerned about the procedure leading to demand for genetic designer babies. They argue in favour of abortion on the basis that "the foetus is part of the mother's body" (a topic for another time methinks) but are against sex-selection because it smacks of discrimination and eugenics.

Frankly, I think they are right to be concerned. Despite being illegal, it has been demonstrated the sex-selective abortions are taking place for purposes of "family balancing" throughout the UK, (ie 'I can only afford to have two children and I've already got a girl so I need a boy this time'). Talking about the slippery slope may be a cliche but it should be obvious by now that if it is possible to abuse a technique in some way, then people will find a way of doing it whether within or without the law. With sex-selective abortion we have seen a step towards designer babies; with the ability to add the DNA of a third person into the mix, how long will it be before parents decide that they need their child to be taller, thinner, smarter, faster or better looking than all the others in their classroom.

We need both our GPs and our parish priests

This morning I read an opinion column from Saturday's Times (I went and got the page in question from my neighbour who reads it and then distributes the various sections to about 15 other people: my brother gets the sports pages, a friend gets the crossword, another friend the answers to the previous day's crossword, money, travel, the magazine etc. to those who are particularly interested in those supplements. Seriously creative recycling in action. But I digress). Matthew Parris's article about GPs was a follow up to a column he wrote in June which in which he criticized them extensively. Since then he's been to shadow two GPs and acknowledges that they work extremely hard; he admits failing to do this first time round. I didn't read the first column so I can't compare them, but on its own merits the article seems fairly balanced to me. (Some doctors might take issue with the statement that they aren't gods. A colleague of mine once overheard a doctor say to his patient, "there are only two people who can save you now...and God isn't a cardiothoracic surgeon." It wasn't a joke.)

"For much of their time," writes Parris, "family doctors are doing what in different times and places has been done by the parish priest...[and others]." For the majority, their problems lie "in the mind, not the body. Loneliness, isolation, anxiety, stress, breakdown and mental illness..." I almost entirely agree, but I would add that these are not just problems of the mind but also the spirit (and the lack of community which I blogged about recently). People need doctors and medicines (mental illness is an illness of the body as well as the mind, for example), and they need someone to talk to but they also need God. Their GP is unlikely to provide an introduction to the latter. They're hardly going to listen to the patient, talk with the patient, prescribe sleeping tablets, recommend they pray the rosary daily and refer them to a spiritual director. "Take one of these in the morning and go to confession by the end of the week." (In fact I would imagine the most public sector workers and healthcare professionals in particular are becoming extremely cautious about mentioning their faith to their colleagues, let alone their patients.) People need their parish priest as well, but with an ageing population, declining congregations and fewer priests, even if he has the time the parish priest might not know where to find them.

This, then, is something the laity could and should assume. There seems to be a lot of confusion around about the role of the laity (don't get me started on Eucharistic ministers giving blessings to those who don't receive communion and giving out communion when there are enough priests present to render them unnecessary), and it certainly isn't to replace or substitute for priests. Chatting to your neighbours and offering to pray for them would be a good start, even if giving them a rosary and inviting them to pray it with you might seem a bit too evangelical the first time you meet them. Praying won't cure mental illness but a personal relationship with God certainly helps you to know that it won't last forever and maybe even to see it as an opportunity to grow in virtue.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Harm reduction: Relativism in action?

Many of our healthcare strategies are based on harm reduction. We use methadone to treat drug addiction, substituting long-acting methadone for short-acting heroin. Many people live stable lives on methadone, but very few of them manage to get off the methadone. We have simply substituted one addiction for another, but we accept this because it reduces crime and anti-social behaviour. It does have some benefit for the individual as well, they are not committing crime or anti-social behaviour, but the benefit to society as a whole is much greater than the benefit to the person in question. They are still an addict; their dealer is now the government.

Pharmacies provide needle exchange services. Clean needles and sharps bins are given to drug users and dirty needles can be exposed of. Users do not need to share or reuse needles and therefore they have a reduced risk of contracting blood-borne diseases and other infections, using drugs is made safer. The NHS spends less money treating them and there is a clear public health benefit. But the individual is still an addict.

These strategies are not a total waste of time, and do bring some other benefits to users in terms of physical health. They are brought into contact with a health care professional whom they see regularly and/or frequently, and thus are enabled them to access other medical services. The problem is that that both these strategies are based on the premise that people will always take drugs (being intrinsically bad), an assumption that the person will not and is not able to change, and the reduction of the person to their body. We think we are choosing a lesser evil, but actually we are settling for a lesser good.

We were created good, and whilst are capable of misusing our freedom and choosing the bad, we are also capable of exercising that freedom in the way that it was intended and choosing the good. Choosing between good and bad is not the best use of our freedom: even a lab rat is capable of doing the same. The proper use of our freedom is choosing between good and better. Obviously our ability to exercise our freedom is serverely impaired by behaviour such as drug misuse and abuse, but it is not gone.

Reduction of the person to the physical is also seen in the way we attempt to address the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy: again, on the basis of harm reduction we throw contraceptives at the problem. Once again it fails to address the root of the problem which is a lack of understanding of what a person really is. Made in the image and likeness of God, we have an inherent dignity, a dignity further raised by the incarnation: God became man. The Lord Jesus worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart (GS 22)

We have a body but we are not our bodies. We also have a soul and a spirit, and in the hierarchy of body, soul and spirit, the body is the least. We are capable of entering into relationships on more than a merely physical level. Understanding of this dignity leads to respect of self and others, a better basis for decision making and surely a change in the way we choose to behave. Quick-fix solutions of short-term harm-reduction are not the answer to problems which come from a disordered desire for instant gratification on a physical (and psychological) level and a wrong undestanding of the human person. They are much easier to measure which is good for government statisticians, but that is a topic for another day.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A downhill trend in love of neighbour

It seems that common sense is no longer allowed: we need proof. Apparently, if your spouse has a heart attack it is stressful. Also older people who can't see properly need more help with their medicines.

If this sort of pointless research is being churned out then something is wrong. When did we stop relating to and empathising with people, especially older people? Is it a lack of imagination? Surely it is obvious that someone who can't see very well is going to have trouble telling the differences between their tablets and reading the instructions? Likewise the death or illness of a husband or wife is probably going to be hard work.  There isn't a good strategy in place to support the spouses of people who have heart attacks, but why do we need something as formal as a strategy? Once upon a time friends, family, neighbours and acquaintances would have rallied round to check on you when a member of the family had an accident or illness. The whole community would be involved.

And there's the rub. We don't have communities any more. The rise in individualism has led to the refusal to give or receive help. Older people especially are increasingly isolated: their neighbours don't known them, their relatives may not see them as a burden but can't or perhaps don't want to make the required sacrifices. The slack is taken up by health and social care services which don't really have the resources to carry out those tasks which were once taken care of out of simple human kindness. The overworked and underpaid who assume these responsibilities get it wrong, often because the person is not their friend, family member or neighbour. (I know that there are a lot of other contributing factors to this situation: people move house more, we live longer, and many people do their best to generously care for others in difficult situations. I am not saying that state organisations and private institutions should have no part in caring for the elderly. Neither is this meant as a criticism of careworkers: that is not the point.) These are not chores, tasks to be got through, but encounters with real people. When we forget that, we lose everything.

I could relate many examples of this but I'll stick with one: I know of an elderly lady who fell over and broke her hip. The carers came in the morning and the evening as usual but no-one answered the door so they went away. Over twenty-four hours later she was found on the floor because her niece was worried at there being no answer at the door, knowing that there was no way she could have or would have gone out. Fortunately, due to this common sense and personal knowledge, she made a good recovery.

As advances in medicine and other factors lead to increased longevity, it is important to recognize the presence of growing numbers of older people as a blessing for society. Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it. Indeed the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude. For her part, the Church has always had great respect for the elderly. The Fourth Commandment, "Honour your father and your mother as the Lord your God commanded you" (Deut 5:16), is linked to the promise, "that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Deut 5:16). This work of the Church for the aging and infirm not only provides love and care for them, but is also rewarded by God with the blessings he promises on the land where this commandment is observed. - Pope Benedict XVI.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Nothing short of genocide

I get a daily email with health-related news stories from the professional body of which I am a member. This week, there was a report about the Harmony Prenatal Test - a non-invasive pre-natal test for Down's Syndrome. The person who compiled the email referred to the Telegraph, p2, 4th Sept and the Mail, p10, 4th September. I don't actually get these newspapers to I went to look online where I found this and this which may or may not be the same as the paper version. Considering the email report I was pleasantly surprised by the articles, as the headline in my inbox was Test that could end Down's syndrome.
I admit I was confused by this: tests are not a valid method of eradicating medical conditions as far as I know. Those include prevention and risk reduction (keeping your drinking water and your sewage seperate, preventing mosquito bites, avoiding sunburn), immunisation (smallpox), surgery (hip replacement, appendioctemy) and treatment (antibiotics for pneumonia, for instance). We can also manage conditions so that they are no longer the death sentences they once were eg. asthma, diabetes. But try as I might I do not know how this test could end Down's syndrome, unless the author wishes to infer that the reduced risk of miscarriage from the new test means that more women will choose to have it and therefore will also choose to have abortions if their baby is diagnosed with Down's syndrome. It's funny how someone would think it OK to write this but (I presume) they wouldn't suggest rounding up all those who post-natally tested positive for HIV/AIDS, malaria and sickle cell. (Unlike Down's syndrome, which is caused by a random genetic mutation, these three are passed from person to person, one way or another, and therefore killing everyone who tested positive for them would eventually lead to eradication.) Even those who advocate euthanasia do not try to claim that they want to eradicate illness, but that they want to alleviate suffering or promote choice, and would not find such wholesale murder acceptable. At this point it's not about whether an unborn child is a human being or not. It's really about what we perceive as suffering, and how we respond to it.
How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love, and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even his life to love us. So the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love - that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. ~ Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.