I am very worried about the way the discussion, if you can call it that, about abortion has shaped up to be such a disaster for the Church.
The worst aspect of it is that it is being discussed and pronounced upon as if it was entirely sui generis, unrelated to any other matter which Catholics have to confront in their lives.
Think about this: I am a Catholic in modern times. I have a number of big, thorny issues to deal with and I expect and hope for a teaching from the Church which is all of a piece, one part consistent with another and all of it standing in the light of the gospels, the Acts, the letters of Paul and Timothy etc. Because all of those early writings present me with no dilemmas, no contradictions between one part and another.
Now we have abortion. We have contraception. We have pre-marital relations. We have war. We have questions of right livelihood in the teachings of Christ.
The Church’s views on reproductive issues seem to me to be out of sync not only with its other views and its views on the same matters in earlier times, but even with the first, founding principles delineated by Jesus Himself. Leaving me in a rather confused and unhappy state.
Consider war, first. The Church is apparently comfortable with the idea of a just war. History throws up unstoppable, mad mass murderers. Of course we have to make war against them. And in modern days that includes shooting and burning innocent young men the dictators have forced to sign up in their armies. It includes bombing the defenceless inhabitants of cities, including clergy and parishioners inside convents, churches, monasteries. Including (and here’s the irony in the abortion discussion) young pregnant women in cities which get carpet-bombed and fire-bombed.
Innocent life taken. No problem. Welcome to heaven, ye pilots and bomb-aimers, ye strategising air-vice-marshalls, for your cause was just.
Just, eh?
But hang on. Let’s look at that war which is now at a comfortable distance in time: WWII. Your quintessential ‘just war.’ Had to be fought – no question about that.
A truth which was buried by the propaganda of the time is that we should have kept Hitler talking. Given a few more months, so much could have and would have changed. WWII wouldn’t have got so out of control so fast. The declaration of war instantly trapped thousands of Jews who were days and hours away from leaving Europe inside Germany’s, Czechoslovakia’s and Poland’s borders. All but a handful of those thousands who would have escaped perished in the ghettos and concentration camps.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of the early combatants, those who were thrown into war thinking about what they were doing in spiritual terms, how tormented they must have felt, knowing that there was still so much to
do before arriving at the final necessity of war which was now never going to be done.
So much to think about. What about those generals who knew Hitler and were thinking about removing him? Suddenly that too was beyond the reach of the times.
Hell was unleashed on humanity and our mother the Church approved, it seems.
Why? Because inaction in the face of evil is a sin of omission. Fair enough – it is, too.
And yet,what was really behind that reluctance to rush to a moral position against war? There were powerful nations on both sides, nations with long Catholic traditions and massive Catholic assets at stake, gains and losses for the Church which demanded great circumspection.
We’re told that the Pope of the time secretly helped hundreds of Jews.
Secretly. How shameful. How unconscionable.
But of course, the Vatican is inside Rome. He had the Vatican’s independence and neutrality to protect. Obviously this was more important than the lives of thousands of Italian Jews.
We all know perfectly well what Jesus would have done in that situation. Instead, the Church protected its temples.
But hang on. Enough already. Vatican II owned up to all that, acknowledged openly that the Church had lost its way and set about bringing our faith back to something Jesus could be proud of. It did.
So why, now, has it so bent out of shape about abortion?
So little understanding for helpless, unfortunate young women with no prelates and princes of the Church on their side. All they get is the uncompromising lash of instant judgment.
How few there are like Bishop Pat, who has promised 100% help and support for any woman deciding against abortion. So many warped, eccentric looking freaks lined up outside clinics with tacky signs and giant crucifixes, spitting venom. It’s so ugly!

A young woman very close to me fell pregnant to a brute in a violent incident. She is clever, thoughtful. Along with many others, she believes that nature (i.e. genetics) is far more determinative of character than nurture.
She was either going to bear a child who had genes she wanted nothing to do with, a child perhaps who would might grow up to terrorise her as his or her father had, or she was going to race off to the clinic and put an end to this at that point microscopic growth process.
Not a human being. Not a human being at all. A being, by definition, be’s. Has a life of which it is conscious. Feels pain in a way that requires a nervous system, even a rudimentary one.
This collection of cells too small to cover my thumbnail did not have those qualities.
She stopped it growing. I supported her.
I am a Catholic.
Now, she has wrenched herself free from the P habit which had put her in that place, gone through a difficult and triumphant ‘cure’ and is now an amazing, beautiful young woman with her life ahead of her, instead of being an uneducated solo mother with a child she feared and a man lurking around using her as an income source.
She suffers for that abortion. It has left the pain that it should. Heaven forbid we should come to think of even the earliest, quickest termination as morally and psychologically colourless. Of course there is a harm done.
But murder it is simply not.
The truth is we simply cannot have certainty about this. Just as we cannot have certainty about laying sea-mines and depth charges. Or about bombing strategically important cities in a ‘just’ war. Life refuses to be that simple. We have to make choices.
I don’t pretend to certainty but I feel reasonably sure what Jesus would say, to my young friend.
Blessings and grace to you.
Not: Murderess! Bitch! You’ll pay in Hell! Which is precisely what far too many of Our Lord’s self-appointed spokespeople on earth would say and do say, every day.
Remember this: Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both felt elective abortion to be an acceptable option in some situations.
Remember that Mary Magdalene had almost certainly terminated pregnancies as all women of her profession have done through the ages.
So before you start damning people to Hell think about the company they might be keeping.


Mahler’s Resurrection – AK07

Mahler Resurrection, NZSO & reinforcements, AK07, Auckland Town Hall. 9 March 2007

Wow. Bloody hell! I believe I just went to one of the very very best concerts of my life. Here in Auckland. Played by Kiwis. Tonight. I can’t believe it. Shoot me someone.

“Very, very best…why?

Reason 1 – the Piece

It was Mahler’s Resurrrection, performed by the NZSO and a cast of hundreds (200, in fact).

Reason 2 – the Show

The music was insanely well performed – it was the NZ swan song of conductor James Judd, pulling out all his considerable stops for the Big One, on the orchestra’s 60th birthday. The musicians were uniformly, magically superb.

Reason 3 – the Realisation

Dummy that I was, I hadn’t even vaguely read up on the piece, or if I had I’d forgotten. So I thought, naturally I suppose, that it was about Christ’s resurrection. It took me completely by surprise to discover as I listened… not that I really ‘listened’, I was more like sucked up into it like a giant cosmo-cerebro-musical Kansas twister…. that the music is an everybody trip through life, including the sparkle and buzz but also the scary depths. The challenge, the desolation that comes with mortality.

Then, finally, the surrender and going to God, who is somehow embodied as the Urlicht, the original light, and the agent of reincarnation.

No Jesus in sight. Rather, some very recognisable characters.


Although the music can sound as if it’s all over the place if you’re not paying attention, in fact it is perfectly, uninterruptedly episodic. In the first movement Mahler mixes bucolic infancy with the occasional flourishes of the themes he will develop later on. It is like childhood itself, fragmentary but connected, seen en large as the early life of a sometimes boy, sometimes girl.
I found I could close my eyes and see moment after moment of children’s lives, different children. In one exquisite section every string in the orchestra is playing pizzicato. Just about every section, including bass, woodwinds, violas and god knows who else has its own cadenza ending in utter pianissimo. The six double-basses tonight played as one. Every note in their cadenza was pitch and tempo perfect. Playing as softly as they possibly could in the presence of a big orchestra and a crowd of 2,000 we could hear every note.

The second movement starts with a series of folk songs, although they come out in the mind as a twirling, dancing dresses and skirts. The girls rule. Thought: Mahler used the folk songs he knew and was into. Do we have orchestral composers these days using motifs like the Ziiit-dah, da-ziiit-dah of Foxy Lady? Or the lick from Paperback Writer? Anyway suddenly with a crash and some heroic but slightly strained, ‘thinky’ chords Mahler let’s us know that the boys will take over from here. Well, for a while…

And so it went on – a revelation, a vision in every bar.

Something to tell my grandkids about.

Reason 4

The audience. Remember when you were a kid and classical music was pretentious and boring? No-one really listened to it because they liked it, for sure. It was just a way grown-ups had of pretending they were ‘classier’ than other people, not that they or their friends, believed it for a second.

Mrs Gibbs next door with the gobstopper migraine used to comment about the classical music Mum played on the radiogram. And even sometimes on the piano, though ‘Fur Elise’ was her whack. “Born on Victoria Avenue, she reckons. Lady Muck.”

Secretly, I believed Mrs Gibbs.

No-one could really like that music surely. Although at about eight I discovered Beethoven’s da-da-da-dum and slowly became a fan. But I digress. Hugely.

The thing is, when you’re young and full of juice you want to kick the slats out, body ryhthm and soul at the loudest, kick-arsiest music on the planet. That’s most people, for sure. If they think about older people at their orchestras and operas they think they’re just listening to the muzak on the tour bus to the graveyard.
Yet one of the greatest pleasures is being among the audience at a performance like this. All those white-haired ladies and the grey and white-bearded men. Tottering around, half of them past it, poor buggers.

Except it’s not so.
Sure there are always the posers, people who make loud remarks intended to display their non-membership of the hoi-polloi. But for most, they are just here for a pleasure every bit as arse-kickin and emotionally excessive and lewd as anything the Stones or the Pretty Things ever cranked out.

Getting a brain that can deal with and go all the way with a piece of music like the Resurrection usually but not always takes time and a reasonable dose of intelligence. Over time most smart people end up in the comfortable middle class so that’s what the audiences look like.

But it also helps to have faced hardships so severe you didn’t particularly want to survive but had to, which was Mahler’s lot. Or at least copped a few reasonable wallops at Hard Knocks College.

And to have developed the comfort within yourself to surrender to the music and forget everything else. As you get older, looking good and always being in control lose their appeal So you can let go of all your ‘business’ and just listen.

That’s why orchestral audiences tend to be old and white haired. Cleverish people looking for something really, really good with no ads. More excitement in the foyer than at the Stones or even David Byrne.

If you had seen the seventy-year-old-at-least couple in front of me clutching each other and sharing their total, joyful absorption in the music, and if you’d seen them leap to their feet and cheer at the end and hug each other discreetly all the while, you would know.

It has nothing to do with muzak.