Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dealing with the fallout from Bishop Conry's resignation

It was with great sadness that I read the news on Sunday that Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton had resigned after revealing that he had been "unfaithful to his promises as a priest", admitting to two affairs. [1] [2] Given his support for ACTA and general tenure of his bishopric, I had little regard for his apparent vision for the Church but I am nonetheless sorry to see a soul brought so low in so public a manner. With great power comes great responsibility and Bishop Conry will be held all the more accountable for his sins because he has abused the trust placed in him by the parishioners with whom he had an affair, their families, the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and the universal church. The Body of Christ has been dealt a serious blow not just by the direct consequences of the sins of the those involved in the affairs but also by the ridicule and mockery the Church will garner from the publicity. Bishop Conry's priesthood and Faith may now stand before a precipice so we should all endeavour to remember him in our prayers, regardless of our opinion of his character, as we fervently remember those affected by his sins. Indeed, we have a great duty of care to those mistreated by one of our own. All Catholics are placed in a position of greater responsibility by the gift of their Faith and all human beings are called to repentance and forgiveness for our transgressions.

Unfortunately, some have reacted to his resignation with what can only be described as glee, revelling in his humiliation in a profoundly un-Christian manner. There are others who are "taking the opportunity to have a pot-shot at everything they regard as liberal and wrong in the Church, with dark mutterings about who knew what and when. Others again are calling for a change in the Church’s celibacy rules". Amidst the hyperbole, the Body of Christ is struck again as onlookers regard a Church imploding, rent asunder by internecine strife. Such events should not be used as fuel for brinkmanship, nor should they be used to score points against perceived opponents - this is not to say however than lessons cannot be learned from them.

I think Bishop Conry's statement regarding his resignation offers a number of topics for further discussion:

1) “In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief.... I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.”

The first step in dealing with sin is admitting its existence, asking for forgiveness and seeking repentance. Sometimes we gather the courage to take that first step ourselves or sometime it is thrust upon us; regardless of how the opportunity presents itself, it is still an invitation to grace from God. I have often found myself praying for the grace to be able to refrain from a particular habitual sin only to have the temptation removed in an unexpected manner.

2) "I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in my sermons]"

One might suggest that this hints that Bishop Conry was more concerned by the charge of hypocrisy than the affairs themselves but this statement highlights what an impediment sin is to the office of teaching. As the Catechism suggests, Bishops "have as their first task to preach the Gospel of God to all men, in keeping with the Lord's command.... They are "heralds of faith..., authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ." [4] Sin is pernicious and its effects will not be limited to the faculty it initially impairs, it grows like a cancer, rotting the soul, curtailing the spiritual life and numbing our capacity for virtue. 

3) "I don’t think it got in the way of my job, I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop."

To be a Bishop is to accept a vocation, a calling from God, and to treat it as anything less would be a terrible disservice. It is an awesome responsibility as Bishops, like all priests, receive "the mission and faculty ('the sacred power') to act in persona Christi Capitis" [5] from Christ himself. All vocations be they to marriage, the priesthood, the diaconate, religious life  or any other state rely on the wellspring of grace for nourishment - if they are not treated as such they will wither an die.

Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - let us pray for protection against all temptation to evil, for the grace to submit to God's will for us and for healing wherever it is needed.

O Lord, the angels' sheer delight,
Their life reflects your splendour bright,
As we today their praise declare,
May we their joy forever share.

Saint Michael, be our refuge here,
Preserve us from all useless fear;
Through you may God his peace bestow
On all the nations here below.

Saint Gabriel, be with us this day,
Reveal God will to us, we pray;
As Mary once did answer you,
May our response be form and true.

Saint Raphael, heal our sinful heart,
May God his grace to us impart,
And may you guide us on the way
That we may never go astray. Amen.

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/09/27/english-bishop-announces-shock-resignation/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2772203/Bishop-affair-married-parishioner-quits-shame-ANOTHER-romance-Bishop-Arundel-admits-relationship-broke-clerical-vows.html
[3] http://www.ibenedictines.org/2014/09/29/kieran-conry-st-michael-and-acceptable-evil/
[4] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#888
[5] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#875

Sunday, 21 September 2014

When I Started School....

Mary O’Regan from The Path Less Taken nominated me to write a post on what I was like when I started school.

You don’t need a blog. If you have a blog, you can do the post there, but if not, you can do the post on Twitter or Facebook. Some people might like to do all three: post on their blog, Facebook and Twitter. Please always use the tag, #WhenIStartedSchool to keep us together.

The rules are that you must…

Post a photo of yourself from your early school days.

Answer the questions:

What kind of child were you? Are you a very different adult?

Nominate at least three other bloggers and/or social media users. Tell them they have been nominated by leaving a comment on their blogs or by tweeting to them or posting on their wall on Facebook OR whichever method you prefer.

I think it's very difficult to give a definitive answer to the question of what kind of person one was or is. How I perceive myself is likely to be quite different to how others perceive me - the eye of the beholder passes through the prism of our individual experiences effecting how we view others whilst we also often guard our true selves from others. Having said that, here's my attempt to analyse my younger self.

Here's a picture of me from the first year of primary school at Saint Joseph's Roman Catholic School:

What kind of child were you?

I seem to recall being a happy and contented but sometimes nervous child. I grew up in a family with two brothers and though we were like chalk and cheese, we never really fought or indulged in sibling rivalry. I was generally well behaved and eager to please my parents and teachers but was headstrong if I thought I was in the right or had been wronged. Confident within my own friendship group but, timid outside of it, I enjoyed both physical and intellectual activity. I was always reading something and particularly liked to flick through encyclopaedias and books on science and history, often when waiting for dinner or tea. Up until secondary school, I was convinced in the superiority of my own intelligence and this contributed to my sometime sense of defiance. Aside from my first year in comprehensive where I was separated from my friendship group, I thoroughly enjoyed going to school and learning all I could. Thoroughly convinced I would get a great job and earn lots of money, I envisioned a future with a family, a big house and a lavish garden.

Being raised in a Catholic household with a devout father and (eventually) convert mother, Jesus and the saints were always a part of my life. I remember being utterly convinced in the existence of God and, even from an early age, I took the time to learn more about the Faith by reading about the saints or church history.

I had bags of energy as a child, getting up early on weekends and school holidays to go bike riding or adventuring with friends. I loved my action figures from Star Wars, He-Man, Thudercats and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to Transformers and quickly developed a fascination with the neighbours' computers. It was an incredible day when we were finally bought a Spectrum 128k for Christmas.

Are you a very different adult?

Though in some ways I think I am radically different in how I approach certain aspects of life (some of which no child has to contemplate or comprehend), there is much continuity between the child I once was and the adult I am now. Some might rightly say that even at the age of 34, I still haven't completely left my childhood behind. The differences I suppose are born of experience and the sad realisations one is faced with as one grows up. As Indiana Jones says, "It's not the years honey, it's the mileage".

I still enjoy both mental and physical activity though I get injured far more regularly and probably have 10% of the energy I did as a child. I love reading as a source of learning but now also as a form of recreation and relaxation.

Paradoxically, though I am more aware of my character defects and limitations, I am more confident in the person I am but less confident in my own abilities. I care less about what other people think about me and am far more content with the simpler things in life, taking great comfort in natural beauty.

My faith has become even more important to me as an adult. It helps me make sense of the world - to truly appreciate the beautiful things life has to offer and to deal with the disappointments and difficulties it places in my path.


The Thirsty Gargoyle


Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer

Sacred Sharings For The Soul

Linen on the Hedgerow

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Educating Peter

Sunday's Gospel follows directly on from last week's account of the establishment of the Petrine commission and Peter's great statement of Faith in Jesus as "The Christ, the Son of the Living God". [1] Yet in the space of a week (or a paragraph in the text), Peter had gone from being called "blessed" to being addressed as "Satan" and told to "get behind" Jesus [2]. In my experience, the spiritual life can often be like this - one moment you feel rewarded in the security of your Faith, the next you are confronted abruptly by your sinfulness.

The context for Christ's rather stark words to a man upon whom he has chosen to build up his Church is His own revelation regarding the nature of His commission:

From then onwards Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.

Peter's response is not something gravely offensive but born rather of his great love for Christ:

Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord,' he said, 'this must not happen to you.'

Jesus' reply however leaves Peter with no room for ambiguity in his understanding of both the essence of His mission and the error of Peter's judgement:

But he turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.'

Finally, he indicates that those who wish to follow him will be required to make sacrifices:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me'.

In many ways this discourse is a microcosm of the Christian life. Professing Jesus as the Christ is perhaps the easiest aspect of Faith - surrendering to His Will and accepting "His Way" with the crosses that may follow is far more difficult. In Peter's case, I can perceive three possible and related sources to his refusal to countenance Jesus' predicted suffering: compassion, expectation and fear.

Compassion is a noble sentiment but as Jesus' rebuke makes clear, it can be an obstacle if cripples our capacity for making difficult choices. Many Catholics who dissent from Church teaching often have their reasoning rooted in compassion and it is all too easy for us to criticise them when we ourselves lack the same inner turmoil. As compassion has its root in something fundamentally good, we should have patience with those who consequently struggle with particular aspects of Church teaching, always hopeful that a deepening of Faith will allow them to accept the crosses that bearing witness to that teaching will entail.

Peter's love for Jesus was surely genuine but maybe at this stage of their relationship he had certain expectations which were devastated by Christ's revelations. To a man who believed the Messiah would reign in glory, talk of grievous suffering would have come as a terrible shock. It would have been perfectly natural for Peter to have expected some reward for his faith and instead he has been told that he would not only have to watch his friend suffer and die but that he too would have to take up a cross. We may often feel that our Faith entitles us to better "rub of the green" but any cursory look through scripture will reveal that this simply is not so. In fact, the deeper our Faith, the more will be asked of us.

Peter's compassion is a truly human response but it is a response given according to his fallen nature. Nobody wishes to see a friend suffer and most of us will go to any lengths to avoid it but suffering and how we deal with it is an integral part of what it is to be human because none of us can escape it. As a society, we are terrified of suffering and it is this fear which can be an obstacle to right judgement and an excuse for moral shortcuts. We don't like to be reminded of it and either subconsciously or by design hide it away, particularly when it begins to impinge on our moral sensitivities. Old people are forgotten in nursing homes, the mentally ill are segregated in hospitals, the homeless and destitute are abandoned on the streets. Eventually, we might begin to wonder what we might or should do when quality of life outweighs this suffering and the terminus of such thought is that it is better to end that life. Abortion and euthanasia are frequently justified on the grounds of compassion where individuals are judged to be incapable of attaining a quality of life that outweighs their suffering or the suffering they might cause to others.

Without a salvific understanding of suffering, our fear of it is understandable. It is only Christ's sacrifice on the cross that gives it any meaning and we are called to believe that God allows suffering for a greater good. This purpose may be inscrutable to us we can either trust in God as a loving Father and to make what we can of suffering or give ourselves over to despair. As Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Salvifici Doloris, "In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed,. … Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ." [4]

[1] Mt 16: 16 - 20
[2] Mt 16: 21 - 24
[3] http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/08/a-catholic-reflection-on-the-meaning-of-suffering
[4] http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html