00:00 Saturday 27 June 2009  Written by Perry O'Donovan

In the name of Love

By Perry O'Donovan

In looking through the Ryan Commission Report material I'm particularly struck by the way the word 'charity' stands out. Several of the outfits responsible for the organised crime scrutinised by Justice Ryan's commission identified themselves using this special word: 'Brothers of Charity', 'Daughters of Charity', 'Sisters of Our Lady of Charity', and - most Orwellian of all - the officers of the 'Institute of Charity'.

The word 'charity' stands out because it is the most abused of all words in this word-abused world - and it's widespread abuse is a perfect expression of the will to ignorance and stupefied spiritual darkness in which we wallow and suckle. It has come to be synonymous with 'almsgiving', whereas what the term actually signifies is the highest and most divine form of love - the pure love of God, unmediated, unmeasured, overwhelming, and unmistakable.

And, of course, in the Orwellian new-speak world of untruth in which we dwell 'love' itself, by being made to mean everything and anything, means virtually nothing at all. 'God is love' we're taught to say glibly - a lesson only too well-learned from our teachers - and that we ought to 'love our neighbours as ourselves'. However, in this dump in which we pride ourselves, the word 'love' refers to everything from face-sucking Hollywood 'stars' - making 'love' - to our concern for Third World famine victims; or, similarly, it may refer to anything from that sense of belonging and one-ness we sometimes feel when we sing our tribal songs and wave our flags in the cauldron of a tense sports stadium (or at some commemorative event for our war-dead forefathers) to what happens when a solitary contemplative becomes wholly absorbed in the prayer of simple regard.

Ambiguity in vocabulary leads to confusion in thought and in these matters confusion of thought admirably serves the purposes of an unregenerate and divided human nature that is determined to have the best of both worlds - to enjoy (and to be able to exploit) the status of serving God while, in truth, fully self-serving.

One of the reasons I've turned my back on the church is that I find it parasitical the way that it seeks to interject itself between me and God - to know God, they say, I must go through them (and only them - they seek to monopolise God, to commodify God-consciousness). Indeed, central to its mission is its claim to be the mystical body of Christ.

In my opinion it's only a cock's stretch to go from such a claim to, in some sense, actually claiming to be God, or have God-like characteristics. And, to me at any rate, it seems clear that this is precisely the fault-line traversed by those guilty of the horrifying organised crimes against humanity and charity essayed in the Ryan Report.

It is a commonplace to observe that priests in Ireland were once treated as, and (worse yet) actually believed themselves to be, little Gods. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them to stifle the life of the island (which nearly died out altogether in the middle of the last century, which for them, of course - the years between the Eucharistic Congress and the Boomtown Rats' first LP - were the never-to-come-again Golden Years, the best of days, Utopia).

Something of what I refer to may be glimpsed, for example, in the way in which, in Portrait of the artist as a young man, James Joyce portrays the high-point of a priest's pitch to Stephen Dedalus (the story's central character) to get the young man to consider a career in the church (and the thing to notice here is the way in which what is presented as the most appealing aspect of a church-career is the power of the ordained priest, the immensity of that power - God doesn't even come into it, except as a manifestation of that power):

'To receive that call, Stephen, said the priest, is the greatest honour that the Almighty God can bestow upon a man. No king or emperor on earth has the power of the priest of God. No angel or archangel in heaven, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself has the power of a priest of God: the power of the keys, the power to bind and loose from sin, the power of exorcism, the power to cast out from the creatures of God the evil spirits that have hold of them, the power - the authority - to make the great God of Heaven come down upon the altar and take the form of bread and wine.'

God himself, notice, is subject to their awesome power: He (God) can be made come down upon the altar at their bidding. Power is a drug and it'll take your soul.

'If the president does it', said Richard Nixon in the legendary David Frost interviews, 'that means it isn't unlawful.' It's the turning point in the interview series (which were filmed for television in the mid-1970s, a few years after Nixon, about to be impeached, scuttled out the back door of the White House). As soon as he says it Frost just stares at the utterly unrepentant interviewee, letting the absurd unsustainability of the statement hang, moving pendulum-like between them, until the full meaning of the utterance dawns on the disgraced former president. For a moment you can see that Tricky Dick knows that he has somehow betrayed himself, you can see it scud, storm-cloud-like, across his face. (This, of course, was this very principle that brought about American rebellion 200 years before and, subsequently, brought into being the United States and it's constitution, which, blinded by the love of power, Nixon had just dismissed - addicted as he was to the sweet hit of power's corrupting poison, and so burying himself in his own muck all over again.)

England's first King Charles had an almost identical formula, the divine right of kings (or, as the parliamentary opposition viewed it, Rex v Lex: the King versus the Law). Charles lost his head for it, and Nixon the presidency and honour for all time.

Similarly, I suggest, the root of the evil identified in the Ryan Report, is that power unlimited (and love of such power) perverted the minds and hearts of the members of the orders that worked these systems of organised crime such that, to them (and to others around them), it must have seemed that if a priest does it it's not wrong, not sinful somehow.

Consider the effect, for example, of the clerical recruitment pitch on the young man in Joyce's portrait - a decent, sensitive, intelligent fellow - Stephen Dedalus is a classic church mark, a stand-up candidate for the priesthood in Ireland in the last century:

'A flame began to flutter on Stephen's cheek as he heard in this address an echo of his own proud musings. How often he had seen himself as a priest wielding calmly and humbly the awful power of which angels and saints stood in reverenceHe listened in pious silence to the priest's appeal and through the words he heard even more distinctly a voice bidding him approach, offering him secret knowledge and secret power. He would know then what was the sin of Simon Magus and what was the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there was no forgiveness. He would know obscure things, hidden from others, from those who were conceived and born children of wrath. He would know the sins, the sinful longings and sinful thoughts and sinful acts, of others, hearing them murmured into his ears in the confessional under the shame of a darkened chapel by the lips of women and of girls: but rendered immune mysteriously at his ordinationNo touch of sin would linger upon the hands with which he would elevate and break the host; no touch of sin would linger on his lips in prayer to make him eat or drink damnation to himself. He would hold his secret knowledge and secret power, being as sinless as the innocent: and he would be a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedec.'

It's all about the church and the power of the priesthood, you see, nothing whatever you'll notice about God or the love of God.

Charity is pure love - say the saints and sages of all nations and all creeds - the love of God, the highest form of love. It seeks no reward and is not diminished in the slightest by any return of evil for its good. God is loved for Himself, not for his gifts, and persons and things are loved for God's sake, because they are temples of the Spirit of God.

'Love seeks no cause beyond itself and no fruit', says one of the saints. 'I love because I love; I love in order that I may love.'

A student once asked a holy man (a bishop of the church) what one must do to attain perfection.

'You must love God with all your heart', he was told, 'and your neighbour as yourself.'

'I did not ask wherein perfection lies,' the student rejoined, 'but how to attain it.'

'Charity is both the means and the end', the bishop replied, 'it is the only way by which we can reach that perfection which is, after all, but Charity itself. Just as the soul is the life of the body, so charity is the life of the soul.'

'I know all that', the student said, 'but what I'm asking is how one is to so love God.'

But again he was told: 'We must love God with all our heart and our neighbour as our self.'

'I am no further than I was', said the student (clearly getting a little exasperated). 'Tell me; please.'

'The best way, the shortest and easiest way of loving God with all one's heart is to love Him wholly and heartily!'

No other answer could be got from the saintly master.

But then, at last, the holy man added: 'There are many besides you who want me to tell them of methods and systems and secret ways of becoming perfect and I can only tell them that the whole secret is a hearty love of God, and the only way of attaining that love is by loving. You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, and to write by writing, and, just so, you learn to love God and man by loving God and your fellow man. All those who think to love in any other way deceive themselves. If you want to love God, go on loving Him more and more. Begin as a mere apprentice; the very power of love will lead you on to become a master in the art. Those who have made most progress will continually press on, never believing themselves to have reached their end; for charity should go on increasing until we draw our last breath.'

Such (and nothing else, and nothing less) is charity.

< Back

Features