The Blind Man

I just wrote a long post, having been subjected to yet another load of online abuse, which is still rumbling on five days after appearing on BBC’s Question Time, but deleted it, because these people aren’t worth the emotional energy. Rather than bore you all with the unedifying details, which frankly speak more about the perpetrators, who seek to tweet details of my personal life, I thought I’d go for something more spiritually nourishing, to act as a counter to this little parody currently being tweeted with glee.

Devastating satire at its finest, eliciting lots of comments along the lines of “she’s special, Twitter’s Mrs Mad, Question Time’s troll”. That’s right, going on national TV and proposing a viewpoint contrary to the liberal consensus is “trolling” and merits comments about my weight, my family and casting doubts upon my mental health. Someone really went to quite a lot of effort here.



Anyway, I was delighted to receive an email from the Very Reverend Leo Chamberlain OSB who will be familiar in Catholic circles as the  former headmaster of Ampleforth school and Master of St Benet’s College Oxford.

He very kindly offered his support having seen the show and sent me a copy of Sunday’s homily, which he has graciously allowed me to reproduce below which not only caused me to take heart, but gives encouragement to anyone who is fearful of speaking up or challenging the liberal consensus, that seeks to jeer, ridicule and mock a woman who points out that every child has a biological parent.

The sentiment is very timely.

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent A 2014 Fr Leo Chamberlain 1 Samuel 16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41

The idea that affliction, physical or financial, is a punishment of God – just as equally prosperity proves God’s favour – is still common. Both ideas are wrong. The HIV-AIDS epidemic indeed affected promiscuous homosexuals most, but to say that infection is a judgement of God is something different. Nor does God reward virtue with success. The psalmists spent a lot of time complaining about the opposite, that evil men thrived, and too often the good suffered. So the disciples in asking whether the man had sinned, or his parents, were asking the wrong question. Nor did this mean that the Father had set up a life of suffering in order to prove a point. The man’s blindness was a physical fact: Jesus saw him and his state gave the opportunity for his healing – and, as the gospel records, much more. We can hardly penetrate into the mystery of suffering in the world – save to recall the suffering of Christ himself.

Samuel had anointed David, and from then on the Spirit seized on him. In Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us creatures of dust. Jesus mixed spittle with earth and anointed the blind man. The man washed his eyes in the pool of Siloam at Jesus’ command. This was not just any old pool, but the pool from which the water was drawn to celebrate the great feast of Tabernacles, of the bringing in of harvest and the blessings of the Messianic age. We too, said St Augustine, are born blind from Adam. The Christian is anointed in Baptism and Confirmation. With the eye salve of faith, the Christian comes to the light in Christ and to the life of Christ.

There are different kinds of blindness in this story. Jesus said, I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life. In daily life, we say sometimes, I see. Or, he saw the light. The disciples had hardly begun to understand what Jesus meant. They didn’t see. The blind man washed and he could see. Actually, he could see more and more. It started with the gift of physical sight. He said it as it had happened, and stuck to the truth in spite of everything. I am the man. He could see. But others could not. The neighbours were blind to what had happened, and uncertain.

They took the man off to higher authority. He told the Pharisees the same– but it had all been done on the Sabbath. They asked the man what he had to say about his healer. The man saw more and more: he is a prophet he said. So they called the parents, and asked them. They confirmed he was their son and was born blind. But they had their own blindness brought on by fear. Such a healing was a sign of the coming of the Messiah, but they could not risk saying that. Ask him, they said. So

they asked him again, and he asked why they wanted to hear it again; they told him to praise God because they didn’t know where the man had come from. The man, who now saw almost everything, absolutely contradicted them – a very brave thing to do.

So they threw him out; and Jesus found him: Jesus came to seek out what was lost. This brought the final step. The man came to the light of faith. Lord, I believe, he said, and he worshipped him. The Pharisees refused. They were guilty because they refused the light. That is still the question for all who read the gospel.

St Paul wrote that now we are light in the Lord: be like children of light, in complete goodness and right living and truth. That has always had a cost. The man who had been born blind was driven out by the Pharisees. The elite of that day would not accept him, and would not accept Christ. The influential elites of our day have moved away from the pattern of life taught for so long in the Church. The consequences are becoming plain.

This weekend, the weekend of Mothering Sunday, a celebration if ever there was one of the central purpose of marriage, the bringing of the next generation into the world, the first so-called equal marriages have taken place. The new Act of Parliament destroys in law the foundation meaning of marriage. The many who oppose this devastating change in the law are being painted as homophobe and reactionary. They are neither. They simply want the law on marriage to reflect the meaning it has always had: marriage is a lifelong conjugal commitment between a man and a woman, open to children. It’s not about equality. On Thursday evening, in a late flick on the TV, I saw a part of Dimbleby’s Question Time. I wonder how many of you saw it. The question of equal marriage was raised. The only panel member to defend marriage was attacked from an audience overwhelmingly hostile. Finally a brave woman in the audience defended marriage. I now know she is a Catholic called Caroline Farrow. She was abused and mocked. Afterwards, as she left the studio, she was told she was disgusting and was spat at. There is a group, Catholic Voices, which you can easily find on the internet. They work to make the Catholic voice heard on the public square: she is a member.

Catholics today have an obligation to make sure they are not blind to what is happening, that they see things as Christ did. We should at least be well informed. There is some danger now that we might be blind like the man’s parents, and fail to speak for the truth out of fear or embarrassment. Always remember that Our Lord said, many times, Do not be afraid. 



Question Time & conscience

Tonight I appeared in the audience as part of BBC’s Question Time.

I hadn’t been planning to, I was asked by a friend on Tuesday who had a ticket and couldn’t go. The questions I had planned were about the fetal remains scandal and teachers.

I hadn’t expected gay marriage to come up, it’s done and dusted now in the UK and I don’t expect to see a reversal in my lifetime. That’s not to say that I am not sad about matters, in my view this contributes to a weakening of marriage and a denial that as study after study demonstrates, unless there are overwhelming circumstances such as violence or substance abuse, children fare better with and have the right to be brought up by both biological parents.

I am not going to regurgitate once more my views on the issue – if anyone is genuinely interested they can look at the category tag on this blog.

I didn’t recognise Marilyn who asked the question about gay marriage as being from my parish until after the show. She didn’t recognise me either. Probably because I had brushed my hair and didn’t have at least 2 young children hanging off each hip. Catholic parishes are large. Mine offers two Sunday Masses which are packed out. I am usually too preoccupied with stopping the kids from immolating themselves on the candle stands and making mischief therefore many people I only know by sight and the questioner is one.

So I hadn’t planned what I was going to say on the topic, otherwise I would have made a few other more salient points, elaborating more precisely on Roger Helmer’s theme about how freedom of religion and conscience will be affected.

Dr Evan Harris and others have picked up on my appearance and membership of Catholic Voices. Firstly, I disclosed my identity to the producer when my friend nominated me for the ticket. Far more salient and relevant than Catholic Voices (which is unpaid voluntary work and therefore doesn’t count as an occupation), I did disclose that I write a paid weekly column for the Catholic Universe paper, present a weekly radio show on UCR Catholic Radio and write professionally for a number of socially conservative publications. Google is a tool available to anyone and they were at liberty to use it and decline me a ticket. I wasn’t asked to do the BBC’s 100 women with my CV hat on and neither was it in the blurb. So you can complain to them all you like, but actually this is precisely what Catholic Voices is about. Enabling people to take the initiative in getting their voice heard in the public square whether that be around the water cooler or on TV.

It does show that the BBC are willing to air diverse voices and as my view offered a counter-balance to the panel, that’s why it was given time. A secret stitch up it was not. It was a toss up whether or not to go earlier, I actually needed a night to catch up on work. You are not told to disclose your political or faith views prior to speaking. Several members of the audience were political activists and party members, with all sorts of specialised views. I am not sure why my faith needs to be disclosed before I am allowed to speak. I knew that if I did speak, there would be the inevitable outrage from the usual quarters.

When the question on gay marriage came up, I hadn’t planned on saying much, because the questioner did so well, but when David Dimbleby asked who in the audience didn’t agree with the new law it was stand up and be counted time. Proposing a radical alternative point of view in that environment which was extremely hostile and pressurized, was I think, the hardest TV gig I have ever done. It was very much on the hoof and I was on the defensive rather than being able to reframe. Especially when David then interrogated me about my views regarding gay adoption and children which are far more nuanced.

I stand by my comment that children shouldn’t be made to order. Using a surrogate or sperm donor is exploitative, it treats another person along with a child, as a commodity. The practice of surrogacy, in particular, is beset with ethical difficulties.

Here is a more nuanced appearance.

Afterwards Lord Wolfson and Roger Helmer MEP both made a beeline for me to thank me for my ‘bravery’. I didn’t feel brave, I felt frightened and sick. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to add much to what Marilyn had said. It was only when Dimbleby specifically asked who didn’t agree that I realised that not to put my hand up would be cowardly. I did it so as not to let down James, who had dropped out and who wanted to ensure a Catholic voice (with a small v) was heard. We both thought that fetal remains would be the topic but I also knew that had I sat on my hands, I would be letting him and every single Catholic who has ever supported me, down.

Getting up from my seat, the girl who had asked a question about help for those who rent, sought me out to tell me I was disgusting. I asked her if she knew me or my friends and how she could make that judgement. Other people came and stuck up for me, reminding her that one of the warm up questions was about good manners. The lady I was sat next to was very warm and good-natured and apologised (I told her none was necessary) if she had been aggressive. She respected my beliefs.

Other people said that they wished they had also spoken up in support of traditional marriage but were too scared.

On the way back to the car, a group of young people spat at me. Marilyn then caught up with me, calling out “were you the lady at the front”, neither of us recognizing each other before the penny dropped. She is not an extrovert, doesn’t enjoy the spotlight and was shaking like a leaf. We saw each other to our respective cars safely.

I was expecting a Twitter hate-fest but have still been shocked by some of the vehemence and spite. I am not advocating penalising or punishing people on account of their sexuality and neither did I say that marriage was solely about children. The Twitterati were hearing what they wanted. What intrigues me as ever, is why no-one can see that not once have I judged individuals but instead made judgement calls on situations, which is what we are called to do as Christians. As ever ironically enough, it’s those who are accusing me of judgmentalism, who are in fact being the judgmental ones and claim to be able to gaze into my soul and confidently state that the position is based on hate.

But this is the kind of thing that faces those of us who will continue to stick to our guns and propound a traditional view of marriage. As the night has gone on, I am beginning to worry about my safety. Back in 2011 when David Cameron suddenly announced his intention to introduce gay marriage, I didn’t envisage things would get so nasty. Given my time again, I would still do the work I have done but definitely used the net under a pseudonym.

Anyway, have a look when it’s up on iplayer.