A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Maiden Speech

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

Recently it has been the season for maiden speeches of new MPs in the NZ Parliament. What used to be a big occasion is now comparatively muted, probably because of the sheer number of new MPs (there are 37 of them in the 50th NZ Parliament) and it would be a marathon to hear them all. This year I happened to hear a few, and gained some gems which are worth remembering.

The first from Maggie Barry, MP for North Shore: “The transformation of the world begins in your own back yard” A former journalist, her garden show became famous, and in her first speech in the House she challenged her listeners to grow some vegetables and beautiful plants.

Another example was from a new MP Mark Mitchell who founded a global security company. He claimed “Conservatism and a sense of Social Justice are not mutually exclusive.” Usually Conservatism defends the status quo, and does not favour change usually associated with social justice. Both these new members mentioned their Catholic schooling.
A third example came from former Union boss Andrew Little who came in on the Labour list. He based a section of his speech on Mark 8.36 “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul” The new MP gave the example of employers who contract out work at the expense of their own employees. He is from New Plymouth and a lawyer trained at Victoria University.

When Jesus gave his ‘maiden speech’ in the synagogue at Nazareth he said,
“The spirit of the Lord has anointed me, to bring the good news to the afflicted, to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free...”
He won general approval initially, but as the conversation developed, the mood changed and he was run out of town and narrowly escaped being thrown over the brow of the hill. No celebrations for him.
He was preaching the Kingdom of God, and announcing first principles not a social programme. And this is what the Church must do. The Church has no technical solutions to the problems of the day. She can only restate basic principles such as the Common Good, and the dignity of the human person. The church has no business declaring that a particular economic policy is correct or wrong simply because the church is not competent in these matters. But where a policy impacts directly on one of the moral teachings of the church, the Church should and does speak out. The current political stand-off in USA between the Bishops Conference and the Obama Administration over The Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), is a case in point.

More crucially perhaps, Church leaders have the duty and task to form Catholic laity to advance gospel-based principles, and witness strongly to morally sound values in the market place.

All these new MPs got standing ovations after their speeches. They are in the House to represent the interests of their constitutents and their political parties, but one hopes that the high ideals spoken by all in their maiden speeches will shape their political actions.

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