06Feb The suffering of the women of the Magdalene Laundries is overwhelming

Daniel Berrigan is a hero for me so these words have added impact. I share his words for everyone who feels overwhelmed  by the suffering of the women revealed in yesterday’s Report (on the Magdalene Laundries). Sometimes there are no words to express profound emotion. I found these words strangely consoling in a way: Christ taking all of them and us “in his gospel net.” — that reassurance of unconditional, almighty and unceasing love.

The Face of Christ

The tragic beauty of the face of Christ

shines in the face of man;

The abandoned old live on

in shabby rooms, far from inner comfort.

Outside, in the street

din and purpose, the world like a fiery animal

reined in by youth. Within

a pallid tiring heart

shuffles about its dwelling.

Nothing, or so little, comes of life’s promise.

Out of broken men, despised minds

what does one make—

a roadside show, a graveyard of the heart?

The Christian God reproves

faithless ranting minds

crushing like upper and lower stones

all life between;

Christ, fowler of street and hedgerow

of cripples and the distempered old

—eyes blind as woodknots,

tongues tight as immigrants—

takes in his gospel net

all the hue and cry of existence.

Heaven, of such imperfection

wary, ravaged, wild?

Yes. Compel them in.

—Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

(Excerpted from Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits, © 1993 Institute of Jesuit Sources, St. Louis MO)


16 Responses

  1. Soline Humbert

    Thank you Mary.
    I have come across a website with some powerful, moving, spiritual artwork. It is based on the experience of a 14 year old in a Magdalene laundry in South Australia: http://magdalenelaundrytestimony.org/

  2. Darlene Starrs

    While I cannot understand Daniel Berrigan’s poem, I have read about the issue of the Magdalene Laundries and they are reminiscent of the “residential schools and hostels” that our aboriginal children attended in Canada. There is no excuse for this ill treatment of the women………indeed, it is evil. For religious sisters to have perpetrated such evil, it is always, beyond my comprehension. Again, there is nothing Christ-like about this kind of montrous activity and I suppose that is why I do not comprehend Daniel Berrigan’s poem……….I don’t think, there is anything about Christ in this situation or in any other kind of viewed “suffering”. The “suffering of Christ” was about Him being the “Son of God”, and so being rejected by the “powers that be” and anyone else who was to reject the Christ. The kind of suffering talked about in the poem, the kind of suffering in residential schools, and the kind of suffering, in the Magdalene Laundries is about the work of the Prince of Darkness.
    Yes, these are atrocities of a “humanity” that was blueprinted by God, and certainly, any such atrocity is an abomination in the sight of God….and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, have only compassion for the situation, but this is not the suffering of Christ. Yes, the scripture says, that when, one part of the body of Christ hurts, so does all the body, but again, we are talking about a different kind of suffering………the suffering that comes with the rejection of Christ as God.
    I think to call this suffering or any kind of suffering as somehow the “Face of Christ”, somehow, that suggests to me, that Christ is permitting it, or is somehow “blessing it”……..No, this is not the Face of Christ, it is the Face of the One, the evil one who uses humanity against humanity. Does God have compassion and even abhorance in the face of these atrocities, yes,….but it is not the Face of Christ.
    On the practical side of things, I sincerely hope that the women receive not only moral and spiritual support but due compensation.

  3. Darlene Starrs

    I wish to qualify my above comments further. I think, that it is, extremely important never to lose sight of why Jesus Christ of Nazareth suffered and died………it was because he was seen to have claimed to have been the Son of God. We are told in Matthew that if we are the true disciples of Christ, we will also be rejected and we will suffer persecution. That is the suffering, that directly affects the follower of Christ and indeed the Christian community. We know the initial community was referred to as the “People of the Way” and they did suffer persecution as Jesus said. The Lord says, that in this world, will come trials and tribulations, because, he says, the ruler of this world is Satan. He is the one responsible for all other suffering. Now, we cannot know specifically how each suffering is caused by even this Prince of Darkness, but it is. Even here, we run into mystery, as to how that can be. Again, Is Christ indifferent to the sufferings of this world?…..no, but it is not strictly speaking His suffering or his “trajic, beautiful, face”. Even people who suffer in the Catholic Christian Community, even they would say, that Christ suffers with them, but, it is not strictly, Christ’s suffering. It’s important to remember what specifically was Christ’s suffering, especially, when we need to appreciate for example the work, life, death, and resurrection of someone like Bishop Oscar Romero. We must keep in mind, why Jesus Christ suffered and died because, He was the Son of God. Yes, he also died so that all those who would return to the Father, would be able to do so, so darkness, or death, and death dealing sin would have no “sting”. So, those who “die” in Christ, will rise with Him.

  4. Darlene Starrs

    I guess I’m not finished……What is “stomach turning,” is that our “Nuns” perpetrated these abuses. It is akin to the sexual abuse scandals perpretrated by the clergy. What is so angering, is how, so called “good and holy people” masquerade as disciples of Christ, servants of the Gospel, and champions of the poor. I would so dearly love for people in our Catholic Communities especially, to lose, our naivitae, that says, that those who appear to be “good” as in God’s understanding of Good, are not necessarily so. Our Church is bereft with people who are frauds, and that is how, we find ourselves in a “corrupt” institutional situation. That is why also, we have all the difficulty with the CDF and the Vatican as well. It’s too easy, to say, ah, well, we are a Church of saints and sinners! We are not able to identify where serious sin is rooted. Yes, we need our mystics! Someone like St. Paul was generally quite aware of the work of Satan in the Church, but we unfortunately, donot appear to have the same ability to identify Satan and his works, that go on, under our nose, unnoticed because, it’s perpetrated by so called good people.

  5. Con Carroll

    There is a book, a Lent / Easter reflection
    Beyond Crucifion Meditation on Surviving Sexual Abuse
    Author Beth R Crisp
    This book might be diificult for people… advice

  6. Veritas

    Irish society comes out very badly from this, but other societies were equally culpable. John Waters & I think Fr. Vincent Twomey describe a certain type of puritanical Catholicism, as ” Catholicism without Christ “. I came across it in national school in the late 1960’S, where the teacher (a lay person) would teach us very diligently our prayers etc., while simultaneously slapping us severely. My Catholicism remained intact largely because of my father’s example & some wonderful Priests I was lucky to encounter in secondary school. Others were not so lucky. While there were many wonderful aspects of Catholicism, too much of it was rule/appearance driven. In fairness I have to say that most of the Nuns I encountered were very dedicated people. So no witch hunt please.

  7. Con Carroll

    Many of us would have feelings of being inadequate. When we read or hear about people who have been abused. One doesn’t have to say anything. Been there in solidarity with the person. Ause isn’t about sex, its about control and power

    It can take the person many years to come forward: feelings of self hatred, alienation, fear. The person is to blame. Isolation is the worst. The first step for the person is having the confidence to come forward – ifting up the phone making the phone call to speak to someone about counselling (I stress professional qualified counselling)

    Victimhood can be dehumanizing. Empowering onself can be liberating. Taking onself down from the Cross, start living. Anger can be positive. We are human; it’s alright to feel the way we do. Alienation, rejection, hatred, of God is ok.
    If I can’t dance in your revolution I dont want to be part of it — Emma Goldman

    May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.
    May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice and peace.
    May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
    May God bless you with foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do what others claim cannot be done.

  8. MJT

    I`m loath to call it a poem or poetry, since I think there`s no such thing as a bad poem: either it`s the real thing, poetry, or it`s not, but it also seems to me to have very poor theology: even Jesus didn`t try to “compel them in”. He invited, and healed and exhorted, but never tried to compel.

  9. Mary O Vallely

    Con, (@8) thank you for this and for all your other posts which come from “deep within your heart.” We met briefly outside the Nunciature a few Sundays ago. Your courage and commitment to justice is truly inspiring. God bless you.

  10. Mary O Vallely

    You’re looking at it, perhaps also from an English teacher’s viewpoint, MJT! I’ll admit I didn’t analyse it and reacted from the gut and also because it was written by Daniel Berrigan the word “compel ” could be forgiven. My inner picture was of Jesus casting his net and taking us all in it, the marginalised, the ones who had given up on love, friendship and comfort and who had been abandoned by the world. I saw the survivors of the Magdalenes in those “shabby rooms” and perhaps “compel” was addressed to us. Berrigan is such a seasoned,feisty fighter and ceaseless campaigner against injustice. (ok, a bit OTT on the alliteration, I suppose)When one’s heart has become “a graveyard” there is no longer any desire or energy to move forward and a loving God will do the moving for us. Yes, you may be right that it is “poor theology” even poor poetry but it did hit me in the solar plexus. It impacted emotionally. It’s all very subjective but it’s good to debate.

  11. Soline Humbert

    I think Daniel Berrigan’s piece is a commentary on the Scripture story of the invitation to the wedding feast and is based on Luke 14:23
    “And the Lord said to his servant, go out to the highways and hedges and COMPEL THEM IN, that my house may be filled.”

  12. Sean O'Conaill

    Re: ‘Compel them in.’ #8, #10
    This is almost certainly a paraphrase of Luke 14: 23 – the words Jesus puts into the mouth of the man whose wealthy invitees to a wedding feast gave feeble excuses for not coming. So, Jesus tells us, the disappointed host decided he would invite the poor instead: “And the lord said unto the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
    This is the King James translation, but St Augustine of Hippo used the same parable and the same formula – ‘compel them to come in’ – to justify legal sanctions against the Donatist dissident Christians in the early 400s, to force their acceptance of bishops they believed unworthy. Many other later exegetes seeking Gospel justification for state coercion of ‘heretics’ throughout the middle ages followed Augustine’s example. ‘Compel them to come in’ became the standard Christian justification for religious oppression.
    To my knowledge that appalling and fateful exegesis of Luke 14 has never been explicitly repudiated by the church – though the principle stated in the Vatican II declaration on Religious Liberty does so implicitly: “Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power.”
    Just above ‘Compel them in’ Berrigan refers to Jesus as a ‘fowler of the hedgerows’, so this parable is almost certainly what he had in mind. I wonder if he was also aware of Augustine’s use of the parable.
    Whatever word Jesus used for ‘compel’ he obviously intended to put in the mouth of the disappointed host whatever words would lead his servants to overcome the natural resistance of outcasts to an unexpected and inexplicable invitation. We might say ‘make them come in’ not ‘force them here at all costs’. Augustine gives us the very best historical example of the dangers of ‘proof texting’.

  13. MJT

    He`s lucky to have a reader like yourself, Mary!(@10) And he must have done something in this one to have earned your fervour!

  14. MJT

    Sean, it`s interesting how many topical themes are involved in your looking at the meanings of the injunction “Compel them in!” Among them, as I see it, are the very topical subjects of right translation, relating to the new Missal, the suffering endured in the laundries as revealed in the recent report, and even the sexual abuse scandals and attempted cover-up.
    The mistaken understanding or misuse of the expression which you rightly call “appalling and fateful” may in some part be responsible for the infliction of hardship and cruelty in the laundries, and may even have been a factor in some sexual abuse cases, in so far as it seemed to have been used to legitimise coercion and helped create categories among people of the worthy and the unworthy, the higher(er) and the low(er), those with power, and those with none, those with status and those with none, the clergy and the laity, and so on. It also exposes the corrupting power of dependency, topical too in so far as clericalism loves to create it in order to maintain power, and of course, as long as it lasts, the laity will remain enfeebled by it.
    As regards the injunction itself, we may remember Jesus “loved The Rich Young man” but nevertheless allowed him to walk away. And we might also recall the Abbe Louis Bautain`s injunction: ” Give the young all your care and affection, and try to touch their hearts by the interest you show them. Keep them, as it were under the shadow of your wing, but never push or constrain them morally.”
    All this is to say nothing of the poetic worth of the text above. However rich and interesting the themes of the text, the worth of a poem has less to do with the “importance” of its themes, and more to do with the rendering of the vision.

  15. Soline Humbert

    “Compel them in that my house may be filled” reminds me of the well known poem by George Herbert : Not coercion or violence but the mystery of irresistible power of love pouring Itself out at our service : grace,like nature abhors a vacuum…

    “LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.
    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

  16. MJT

    Now that`s a poem!

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