Sunday, 29 March 2015

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

I would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please email your name and diocese to one of the coordinators:

Mark Lambert (
Andrew Plasom-Scott (

The Letter:

Dear Sir, We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald, As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

Yours faithfully,

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sacred Heart Statue Update

In my previous post [1], I related how I came across a statue of the Sacred Heart in a Swansea bar which had been adorned with a gas mask and a sign for the toilets. I wrote a letter to the proprietor of the bar to register my protest and to try and explain why the statue was an affront to my faith. I was not sure I would get a reply but, a week later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter [see below] from Noah Redfern, the owner of Noah's Yard. The contents of the letter were likewise somewhat unexpected - I assumed Noah would appeal to the concept of Freedom of Speech and Expression to justify the disposition of the statue but they instead followed a quasi-theological route.

In his letter, Noah let me know that the statue was not a planned display; it rather came about piecemeal as various items were added to it over time. He intimated that though he was a Christian, he did not associate the statue with the person of Jesus because it did not match the likely physical characteristics of a man born in Palestine. Noah also suggested that the prohibition on worshiping idols meant that Christ would not condone the Catholic use of statues and images as aids to worship. Finally, he expressed his hope that the statue would provoke debate on religion, war and world issues such as the occupation of Palestine and kindly invited me to discuss the matter further with him over a Mojito.

In responding to Noah, my primary concern was to try and get him to accept that though he did not consider the statue to be offensive, many Christians would, with good reason, have cause to take issue with its presentation as he seemed to indicate in his letter that I had no justifiable reason to react as I did. I'm not sure if I managed to do that as I have yet to receive a reply but I hope that I have managed to "give reason of that hope which is in me". [2] I am very grateful to my friends from whom I asked advice before I made my response as I was keen to make sure that I pitched it in terms more likely to result in a positive outcome. I have shared my correspondence with the parish priest of the area so I am still hopeful the statue will find a more suitable home. I will not be returning to Noah's Yard unless it is removed and I urge fellow Christians and those who respect my position to make their opinions known.

[2] 1 Peter: 3:15

Noah's Letter
Dear Luke,

Thank you for the letter regarding the Catholic statue and also for the kind words regarding the quality of drinks and service.

I am very sorry that it offended you on your visit, but I feel it is definitely not Jesus and stands as just an icon of plaster and paint which to some people it may look like Jesus. I personally believe he had fairly dark skin and features, having been born in Judea and his parents being from Mesopotamia. To this day nobody has any proof of what he looks like, and whether he was of African decent, Arab or of white skin.

I have a wonderful relationship with God and Jesus myself but choose not to go to church. The old statue was rescued from an antique auction and forgetting about any religious connotations it has, this object has been hand crafted and painted to a very high level and is a thing of beauty in its own right. 

I absolutely love it for these qualities and not for it being a religious icon to some people of the
Catholic Church. I imagine you are Catholic with a name like O'Sullivan ? I did study the bible many years ago and my uncle being the Bishop of Derby (Alistair Redfern ) I discussed this matter with him. I am very certain that Jesus made it very clear in his teachings that he did not want any icons or false gods to be treated as holy and in this case there is nothing Holy about the plaster cast
that is in my premises.

From my records the statue would have been made by a tradesman somewhere in Ireland in 1920's and the Church would have been deconsecrated when the building had stopped being a place of worship.

King James 2000 Bible
You shall make no idols nor graven images, neither raise you up a standing image, neither shall you set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God

I am certain that the statue creates great debates about religion, war and world issues at the premises and gets people talking about real issues for example the occupation of Palestine, I am sure that your faith is strong enough not to be offended by a icon, if you are offended surely the sight of a person of an opposing religion would cause you offence.

Well there you have it, that is my 'motivation' for the installation. I would like to point out none of it was planned it just happened. ( I was given the safe, the statue turned up at an auction, the toilet sign had no where else to go, the broom is used every night at the premises, and the gas mask was randomly in the Stock room and a member of staff just placed it on his head one time)

I would like to take this opportunity to give you my apologies and I am sorry that you have interpreted this in a negative way, its purpose was to create debate and if you would like to discuss this matter further over a Mojito I would be happy to do so.

Your Sincerely 

Noah Redfern

My Response
Dear Noah,

Thank you for your reply to my letter regarding the statue of Jesus which you have on display in Noah’s Yard. I appreciate the courtesy you have shown me in your response and your willingness to engage with me on this matter. I hope you will indulge me a little further with my own response to some of the issues you raise in your letter.

You are quite right to surmise that I am a Catholic and so you must therefore understand why I have taken a particular interest in what you have identified as a Catholic statue. Indeed, the statue would be instantly recognisable as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the vast majority of Catholics and a similar one can be found in my own Church in Gendros. The Catholic Church in Morriston is actually called “The Sacred Heart”. As Christians, Catholics rightly reject all forms of idolatry but along with the Orthodox and Eastern Churches, many members of the Anglican Communion and other denominations, we believe that the use of statues, images, signs and symbols are means by which we can offer worship to God. We do not worship the statues or images themselves, but rather use them to give praise and glory to God who alone is worthy of our worship.

Throughout the bible, God speaks to his people in signs and symbols so it should come as no surprise that our response to Him should also be made through such signs and symbols, perhaps most emphatically in Jesus’ association of his own Body and Blood with bread and wine. There are several instances where God explicitly directs his people to make use of statues or figures in divine worship. For example, in Exodus 25:18-20, God commands Moses to carve two cherubim which would sit on top of the Ark of the Covenant and in Numbers 21:8–9 he is likewise ordered to make a statue of “a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it shall live”. In the later case, the fact that the faithful had to actually look at the bronze statue of the serpent to be healed shows that statues can be used in religious practice, not just as decorations or works of art.

The Sacred Heart statue in my own parish has accompanied me on my journey of faith my entire life and I have been inspired to offer many prayers to Jesus in its presence. It reminds me especially of Jesus’ love for us because it depicts His heart which was pierced by a lance as he suffered and died for us at his crucifixion. I have lit many candles in front of it as a symbol of my prayers for myself, for loved ones and for those who have died. Unless it is smashed to pieces, the statue in your possession will always retain its religious significance because it depicts the Sacred Heart; it cannot be divested of this original purpose and meaning even though it is rather ignominously being used a sign post to the toilets and profaned with the addition of the gas mask. The juxtaposition of a gas mask with proximity toilets is suggestive of a rather crude toilet humour. When I saw how the statue was being used in Noah’s Yard the first thing which came to my mind was another scene from Jesus’ passion and death: "And the men that held him, mocked him, and struck him. And they blindfolded him, and smote his face. And they asked him, saying: Prophesy, who is it that struck thee? And blaspheming, many other things they said against him."

Regardless of what He actually looked like and despite the fact that you do not regard the statue with religious significance, I believe that the vast majority of people would certainly identify it as a statue of Jesus and recognise that it has religious significance for some Christians. Its primary debating point is therefore likely to be regarding the disposition of a religious statue in a profane manner and, unless you are supplying your own context to your customers, I do not see how it is likely to provoke a debate on war or Palestine. I would respectfully suggest that whilst provoking debate can be a very useful tool in opening people to new possibilities, it should not be at the risk of causing offense. As Saint Paul suggests in Corinthians, "Never do anything offensive to anyone - to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God; just as I try to be helpful to everyone at all times".

In this response I hope to have at least convinced you of two things:

1) the way in which the statue is displayed is offensive to me and others because we believe that figures and images serve a legitimate role in offering praise and worship to God and that the misuse of such objects is an affront to our Faith

2) The majority of people will associate the statue with the person of Jesus and understand that its display in such a manner will be regarded as irreverent or offensive to many Christians

As a Christian, I believe it is my duty to “stand up for Christ” and I feel that I would be denying that Faith if I did not take issue with how you have displayed the statue. As you say that you have a wonderful relationship with God and Jesus, I hope that you will forgive me if I have stated anything which is rather obvious to you; I suspect we come from quite different Christian traditions so I was a little concerned something might get “lost in translation”. As I have given up alcohol for Lent, I am afraid I will have to respectfully decline your offer of a Mojito. I have included my e-mail address with this letter however in case it is more convenient for you to reply there.

Thank you again for the opportunity to express my opinions,
Kind Regards,

Luke O’Sullivan