Thinking Anew: Keeping things in the dark comes easily to us

We need to shine a light on dark places

It has been said that we live our lives as if they were eternity. It is understandable because it is not easy to live with the certainty that we are mortal, that each of one of us has an “expiry date”.

Tomorrow’s gospel reading reminds us that we know neither the day nor the hour: “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left ...”.

We find it difficult to come to terms with the seemingly indiscriminate nature of death, especially when it involves the young but even then, we do so, albeit painfully, because that is how it is.

I find no comfort in the saying that only the good die young.


We react differently, however, when a life is needlessly lost which seems to have been the case for the late Vicky Phelan and others caught up in the failures of the cervical cancer screening service.

Much has been said and written about the courage of this amazing woman and her selfless concern for others but no praise can lessen the tragedy of her passing and her loss to her family for whom this will be a sad Christmas.

It is for others to examine and comment on the clinical issues involved but there is a moral dimension to be addressed when the public is kept in the dark about known concerns for their health and safety. That was clearly the intention of officialdom in the case of Vicky Phelan where attempts were made to silence her by insisting that a settlement of a court action she had taken would be subject to a confidentiality clause. Although terminally ill, she refused and following further action was free to expose a conspiracy of silence that put women all over the country at risk.

Silence has also been a factor in recent revelations about child abuse in secondary schools, where, it seems, the matter was covered up.

Not only that but it is reported that in one case a victim was threatened with legal proceedings if he spoke out. Since the scandal came to light many have come forward to speak of damage done to them which still impacts on their lives.

One of the themes of the Advent season which begins tomorrow is the contrast between light and darkness, good and evil. St John’s Gospel explains the circumstances of the coming of Jesus: “The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed ...”.

Keeping things in the dark comes easily to us.

There is of course a place in life for confidentiality – it is something to be cherished and respected where appropriate but withholding information that threatens the wellbeing of anyone, and especially the weak and vulnerable is morally reprehensible and raises questions about our claims to be a Christian country.

Tomorrow’s epistle leaves us in no doubt as to what is expected of us: “Lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light”; in other words, serve with transparency and integrity.

In his book Journey for a Soul, George Appleton, the former Bishop of Jerusalem, suggests what that means in practical terms in everyday life: “One who will be true to the highest he knows; who will never betray the truth or trifle with it; one who will never make a decision from self-regarding motives; one who will never yield to the persuasion of friends or the pressure of critics unless either conforms to his own standards of right and wrong; one who will face the consequences of his attitudes, decisions and actions, however costly they may be; one who will not be loud in self-justification, but quietly confident and humbly ready to explain.”