If you haven’t seen the film, Philomena, I’m sure you’ve heard about it! It’s the true story of a young girl who became pregnant outside marriage in 1950s Ireland.
Before going any further I must admit that I haven’t seen the film but I have just finished reading the book. I was surprised by the book – not the pregnant outside marriage in 1950s Ireland story-line – but the level of promiscuity portrayed in the sections of the book dealing with Michael’s (Anthony’s) adult environment in the United States. I found it quite shocking and it’s dominating my initial thoughts about the book. Nonetheless the book has copper-fastened my belief that every child should have a right – an unassailable human right – to know his or her father and mother.
The book also got me thinking about what God might make of it all? So I’m going to do just that – look at the matter from God’s perspective. God’s perspective is effectively the will of God. The will of God is always in our best interests. It’s the true Paramount Principle because it’s the only guarantee of human well-being. Can we establish the will of God for the women portrayed by the character of Philomena? Yes, we can – but it’s not likely to be welcome – we may not like what we find!
So I’ll ask the obvious question: Is it the will of God that a young single girl should find she’s pregnant?
Essentially, it’s a question about the context of sex. Catholicism argues that sex belongs to love – most will agree with that much – but Catholicism goes further, defining the love required as married love, but a very particular married love that can be dissolved only in death, i.e., sacramental married love. Catholicism believes the physical act of sex has its own innate meaning; sex is the seal of a reciprocal gift of self which is irrevocable and therefore sex belongs to sacramental marriage.
I appreciate I’m threading on dangerous cultural ground here but we can say with confidence therefore, no, it’s not quite God’s will that a single girl should find herself pregnant. But it’s equally not God’s will that she should be abandoned as in the case of Philomena. At the moment Philomena fell pregnant she became – borrowing the Gospel image – like a vulnerable sheep needing the Shepherds special care.
Still, whether we like it or not, from a faith perspective we must also factor in Christ’s condemnation of fornication as a sin (Mark 7:21-23). The Catholic Church cannot deny the existence of an objective moral order, to do so is to deny the existence of God. If there’s no objective moral order then there’s no need for redemption, and if there’s no need for redemption there’s no need for Christ. We save ourselves!
The tragedy is that many of the women portrayed by Philomena feel ashamed of their big secret. Yet from the Cross Christ says to every sinner – I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin. That’s redemption – it refuses to collapse the moral order, refuses to deny the reality of sin, yet, it sets sinners free.
Next question: Is it the will of God that the young girl should seek an abortion? It is never God’s will that human life – from conception to natural death – should be directly terminated. In fact during the Rite of Baptism I have started to thank mothers, single or otherwise, for choosing life.
Next question: Is it the will of God that the young girl should be incarcerated in the name of ‘care’ and be forced to give up her baby for adoption, for a donation to her carers? I think I have made the answer obvious by now, no, absolutely not.
Next question: Is it the will of God that the same young girl should be abandoned by the father of her baby (let us not forget the father’s sin; fornication and possibly adultery), her parents and family, and society generally? The answer is; certainly not. Abandonment is not Gods will. Whom exactly was Christ abandoning when he died on the Cross?
So from the perspective of the will of God what do we find when we begin to examine the lives of the women portrayed by Philomena? We find that the people involved directly and indirectly in a young girls crisis pregnancy all sinned and the young girl’s sin is in fact the least of the sins involved. No doubt about it; Jesus wept every step of Philomena’s journey – for everyone involved!
Finally, let’s remember there is no reason why a single mother (or a single father for that matter) can’t become the greatest Saint that ever lived.