2nd Sunday Ordinary Time
17th January 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“All share responsibility”
This has been a very difficult week for many people across the country. The increase of the virus across the community leading to an increasing number of people dying. A mood of stress, anxiety and fear prevails. That is a current and ongoing reality affecting young and old.
This week the Report on Mother and Baby Homes was published after five years work. It is enormous – running to 3,000 pages. The commentary on it is extensive and the apologies are many and fulsome by both Church and State. Sadly, like many subjects that we talk about non-stop, we can get tired and stop listening, especially if it does not touch us personally now. That is not the case for individual women and children whose lives have been deeply wounded because of such harsh and damaging experiences.
So, there are challenging times for many for different reasons. What we all share is the reality of a very dark side of our past as to how we as a society, and as families, dealt with single women who became pregnant outside of marriage. It was harsh to the point of cruelty. This reality prevailed for a long time – more than 75 years.
In these days since the Report’s publication there is much outrage and desire for vengeance expressed which is understandable. Yet there remains the need for some calm to address the damage done, and hurt caused, in a way that will bring healing and hope to the women and their children. To do that is not easy – indeed it is profoundly complex because the issues are so difficult to unravel. The easiest way to explain a particular hurt is to blame an individual. It is much more difficult to grasp a combination of institutions that worked hand in hand to ‘solve a problem’ each for their own different reasons – some well-intentioned others not.
The institution that was the new State in 1922 took on an institutional solution to what was a personal problem or dilemma. The institution of the Church, primarily in the person of religious orders of women, willingly took on this task of staffing these homes. Remember, these women in religious life were not strangers. Rather they came from ordinary Irish families of the time. The regime they worked in was harsh and cold – but surely some human kindness prevailed as well.
- The institution least mentioned in this sad dimension of our history is that of the family. The structure and organisation of family in society is an institution in its own right. We talk of the family as the basic unit in society. In the past it was always based on marriage. In that context pregnancy outside of marriage was seen and dealt with as a threat and danger to the family unit. That reality led to very severe consequences for single mothers.
Looking back, we can be astounded by the harsh and cruel treatment of the unmarried mother and her child. Thankfully, that has changed for the better. Still the single or lone parent even to-day faces a tough task to raise a family on their own. The glaring absence of the fathers, and their abandonment of their children, remains the untold part of this story.
Where to from here? One thing is sure, perpetual recrimination will bring no healing or peace. In justice, financial support and health care is due and should be forthcoming from Church and State. The costs need to be borne by the families of this generation to make recompense for past failures.
Still, something more than finance is needed. No one is spared difficulties in life. Sickness, conflict, betrayal, dishonesty and deception visits all on life’s journey. How we understand and cope depends on how we take personal ownership of our response. The temptation to blame someone else is as old as time and is not fruitful in terms of dealing with issues. This is not easy. It requires thoughtful insight, courage and generosity of spirit. Perpetual resentment is a kind of terminal emotional cancer. It kills the goodness that is in us. The risk in this fraught atmosphere is to make another a scapegoat and load all the blame and anger on them.
As we have taken time to gather and pray at this difficult and perilous time across the whole country, we keep close to our hearts all who are suffering. Those individuals and families sick and anxious due to Covid. We are grateful to God for the generosity of those who care for them. We pray for ongoing vigilance to restrict the spread of the virus.
We hold close too, all those whose lives are broken by memories and harshness and rejection. May we together work to lay a path of justice and healing for a more life-giving future. Above all may we learn well from this collective trauma.