September/October 2017

contested spaceAnthony Towey

Recently a friend invited me along to Broxbourne Zoo. It was a damp day, I had a runny tummy and a cranky toddler in tow. The last thing I was expecting was a spiritual experience, but suddenly I heard a loud roar echoing round the skies. Since I live under the Heathrow flight path, I assumed it was a jumbo jet, but at the same instant, my friend began ushering the children: "Quick" he said, "it's the White Lion." Disbelievingly, I followed, and within seconds I was confronted by an awesome creature, who looked round regally and with effortless languor roared again. Close up it was like a sonic boom: my rib cage shook, one ear went deaf and I instinctively took a step back nearly taking out a passing couple with a double push-chair.

Now for many people, the experience of lions roaring may be fairly familiar, unthreatening and certainly not the stuff of spiritual enlightenment. For me, however, this was a first time first-hand experience which transformed my understanding of a passage recited by the Church during Night Prayer on Tuesdays: "Be calm, but vigilant. For your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith." (1 Peter 5.8-9). Ignorant of the creature and overfamiliar with the words, the warning sounded no alarm to me. Comfortably numb, I suppose I was ideal prey despite my prayer (sic).

In turn this led me to reflect on the spiritual vulnerability of the Christian, and the reality that prayer itself takes place in a contested space. For example, if one examines the way Jesus prays, the Gospels emphasize that from the moment his belonging to the Father is made public at the Baptism in the Jordan (Mark 1.9-11), the Spirit compels Jesus to experience prayer in an inhospitable context, a wilderness of wild animals(Mark 1.12-13). Fanciful imaginings of the Judean desert as a place of serenity might be gleaned from postcards, but the reality is an unnerving world of snakes, reptiles, insects and buzzing things inimical to peace and to prayer.

It is in this place of his non-belonging that Jesus confronts Satan. And even if the modern mind prefers to think of the temptations in terms of self-mastery of emotions rather than demonic allure, the idea that prayer is a contested space seems to be evidenced throughout the ministry of Jesus. To put it bluntly, Jesus himself seems to struggle to find time to pray, pestered almost constantly by a combination of his friends, his enemies and the needy (Mark 1.35-38). To be sure he leaves the disciples with a formula for prayer, but in Matthew"s account this presumes an important vector of withdrawal and introspection (6.6Ð 6.13).

Why is all this important? Well for the northern hemisphere at least, autumn marks the end of holidays, the return to work, the resumption of "the real world". Yet with supreme irony, Christian eagerness to honour work commitments can lead to absenteeism from the ultra-real world of prayer. Pastoral workers are as prone as anyone to get absorbed in the "rapture of action", the wells of contemplation can be quickly drained dry and humans don"t need a desert to be-wildered. Worse still, even when time is carved out for prayer, addiction to function can be so strong that 80% of it can be absorbed in thinking about what one will do as soon as prayer time is over!

This should come as no surprise if prayer is understood as an activity exercised in contested space. The wild world we inhabit is not designed for spiritual belonging, it is full of whizzing and buzzing things that crowd the mind and no one is exempt from its roar. The desert monks knew this, Theresa of Avila wrote about it and more recently Thomas Merton once complained that in contemplation he had half of New York tied to his foot while his mind made a noise like a bank.

Yet there is nothing as subversive and restorative as heartfelt prayer, and the challenge is to realise that however noble our daily tasks might be, we are first called to be witnesses who work rather than workers who might happen to witness. As the busy days of autumn beckon, this may call for creativity and practicality, the ability to find ways and places to pray that allow for regular spiritual encounter. It may not look like lion taming, but staying awake and being strong in faith involves standing our ground in prayer and even for a moment turning a deaf ear to the roar of the world. For prayer defends the space of our deepest identity, the place to be the beloved we are.   

September/October 2017

favourite epistleAdrian Graffy

In the five hundredth anniversary year of the Reformation, Adrian Graffy takes a fresh look at Martin Luther's favourite epistle. The author is a priest in the Diocese of Brentwood.

"The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine."1 One might have expected, quite reasonably, that it would have been the Letter to the Romans which gained first place in Luther's affections. Salvation by faith in Jesus Christ is after all its strongest focus. But even a superficial reading of Galatians quickly shows why Luther preferred Galatians. They are of course sister epistles, Galatians the earlier writing, and Romans written later. But Galatians was written in the heat of the moment when Paul discovered that his way of preaching, his gospel proclaimed to the Gentiles without the burden of the Law, was being undermined by emissaries from Jerusalem and from Antioch, while Romans, without doubt Paul's greatest composition, was written calmly some time later to a community he did not know, a community to whom he wished to present himself and his enormously influential understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ (Rom. 15.16).

From the very start of Galatians Paul defends his role, his apostleship, and, implicitly, his gospel. His understanding of the gospel has no human origin. An awkward literal rendering gives: "Paul, an apostle, not from men or through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead" (1.1). There is a distant echo here of the call of Amos, who preaches not because he is "a prophet or a son of a prophet" but because the Lord has called him (Amos 7.14). As Paul explains more fully later on, this gospel came "through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1.12).

Another link with Martin Luther might be seen here. Luther's legendary "tower experience" brought him a new understanding of the justice of God, by which sinners are saved. This led him to grasp the primacy of "salvation by faith". It was admittedly through reading Romans that Luther reached this insight, but it is an insight expressed in the first instance in the Letter to the Galatians.2

Galatians has great rhetorical power. Luther and his disciple Philip Melanchton pointed to this.3 Hans Dieter Betz, author of a substantial commentary on Galatians, describes rhetoric as being primarily about persuasion, and not necessarily about truth.4 We would wish to defend the fundamental truth of Paul's assertions, but the use of rhetorical techniques to back up his gospel is undeniable.

Raymond Brown explains Luther's liking for Galatians in this way: "Luther found in Paul's rejection of justification by the works of the Law support for his rejection of salvation by good works. Indeed Luther's confrontations with the papal emissaries were seen as a re-enactment of Paul's publicly condemning Cephas (Peter) on behalf of the truth of the gospel."5

Paul begins with greetings from himself and "the brothers with him" (1.2). Unlike the start of other epistles, he names no co-worker at this point. The primary emphasis needs to be on Paul and on the revelation given to him by Christ. Nina Livesey in her Galatians and the Rhetoric of Crisis demonstrates that Paul uses rhetorical techniques similar to those used by Demosthenes and by Cicero. In the prescript he accentuates his own role.6 It is Paul who has received the revelation; it is Paul, with some assistance from his friends, who passes it on. He is dismayed to see it undermined and misrepresented, and he is determined to defend his gospel with every weapon at his disposal.

For Hans Dieter Betz an initial "prescript" and "introduction" is followed by the narrative of Paul's "back-story" (1.13-2.14). Then we read the principal thesis (propositio) of the letter (2.15-21), several arguments to support the thesis (probationes) in the central chapters of the letter, and, in the concluding chapters, as is customary in the Pauline letters, a pastoral exhortation (exhortatio), and the conclusion7.

I am amazed that you are turning to another gospel!

Paul's "introduction" (exordium) begins indignantly with an accusation that the Galatians are changing their allegiance to adopt "another gospel" (1.6). "I am amazed", he says, creating a sense of urgency and demanding a rethink. How is it that they can be considering rejecting the grace of Christ of which Paul is Christ's chosen interpreter? Before launching into his personal story, he repeats what he said at the start of the letter, that his gospel "is not according to man, nor have I received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came from a revelation of Jesus Christ" (1.11-12). Knowing this the Galatians would be crazy to abandon the gospel preached by Paul.

The narrative of Paul's career found in 1.13-2.14 is unique in the Pauline writings and of considerable interest in teasing out what exactly Paul did both before and after his life-changing experience on the Damascus road. His "behaviour in Judaism" is the start, as he persecuted the church of God. He does not hesitate to proclaim his zeal for the "traditions of the fathers" (1.14; Acts 22.3).

God, however, had other ideas. Paul speaks of a prophetic calling. Like Jeremiah, he considers himself "set apart from his mother's womb" (Gal.1.15; Rom.1.1; Jer.1.5), and called through the grace of God. His mission is "to reveal God's Son and to proclaim him among the nations" (1.16). This is the central statement of Galatians: that the nations too are to receive the gospel.

Paul emphasises that he received this revelation from Christ. He had no need to visit the apostles in Jerusalem, but travelled to Arabia. The purpose of this journey was not to seek solitude in order to come to terms with his new situation, but to engage in mission. As Jerome Murphy O"Connor explains, the most likely explanation is that he preached to the Nabataeans, perhaps in the city of Petra. This fits with his sudden return to Damascus (1.17), and with the report in 2 Corinthians 11.32-33 that the Nabataean king Aretas sought to have him arrested there.8 Paul began as he meant to continue, bringing the gospel to the nations, whatever the dangers might be, because Christ had called him.

Paul does eventually, after three years, go up to Jerusalem to meet Peter, and he also meets James, the brother of the Lord (1.18-19), but there is no suggestion he needed to consult Peter and James about the validity of his gospel. He then goes to the regions of Syria and Cilicia (1.21). Murphy O"Connor explains that it was during this time, the fourteen years that pass before he returns to Jerusalem, that he evangelised Galatia, which lay further west.9 The principal point stressed by Paul is that he went independently, and that the churches of Judaea praised God that the one who once persecuted the followers of Christ was proclaiming the gospel he received from Christ (1.24).

The decision made at Jerusalem

Paul continues his story, stressing his initiatives and his decisions. On his second visit to Jerusalem he goes with Barnabas and takes Titus with him (2.1). Acts 15.1 expresses it rather differently, reporting that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem by the church in Antioch to consider the issue of the circumcision of Gentiles which had been demanded by certain Christians in Jerusalem. In Galatians Paul states that he went up to Jerusalem inspired by "a revelation" (2.2) and that there was no requirement for Titus, his Gentile companion, to be circumcised (2.3).10 Paul thus introduces the issue of the circumcision of Gentile converts in a practical, pastoral way. It is the crucial issue at Jerusalem, and it will be the crucial issue some time later when, on hearing of the crisis in Galatia, Paul will write his Letter to the Galatians from Ephesus. luther

For Paul the issue is one of freedom. In 2.4 he refers to those "false brothers" who are seeking to undermine the freedom enjoyed by Gentile Christians and enslave them. Martin Luther showed his preoccupation with freedom by his change of name from the family name "Ludher" to "Luther", seemingly an allusion to the Greek eleutheros.11

The outcome of the Jerusalem meeting is satisfactory. Paul is determined to preserve the "truth of the gospel" (2.5). There are clearly two types of evangelization: Paul is to preach to the uncircumcised Gentiles, and Peter to the circumcised (2.7). James, Cephas (Peter) and John, described as "pillars", seal their agreement with Paul and Barnabas (2.9). Paul has succeeded in safeguarding his gospel of grace, received by revelation from Christ himself.

The final episode recounted by Paul in his narrative reveals the instability of this agreement. When he visits Gentile Christians in Antioch, Peter is happy to eat with them, contravening Jewish rules. It is useful to note at this point that Acts 11.2-3 reports how Peter had been called upon by Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to explain his acceptance of the hospitality offered by the Roman centurion Cornelius, the first pagan convert. Galatians 2.12 reports the arrival in Antioch of "people from James" who prevail on Peter to cease eating with Gentiles. Peter, careful to preserve unity, or simply fearful, persuades Barnabas and others to follow his lead. But Paul publicly voices his objections. The spirit of the Jerusalem agreement is being betrayed. Once again he defends his understanding of how Gentiles are to be received into the church of Christ without requiring adherence to Jewish rules. This is precisely the issue the Christians of Galatia will face. The Letter to the Galatians will be written to confront this problem.

Luther comments on the encounter: "No-one except Paul had his eyes open. Consequently it was his duty to reprove Peter and his followers from swerving from the truth of the gospel." His following comments are particularly revealing: "It was no easy task for Paul to reprimand Peter. To the honour of Peter it must be said that he took the correction. No doubt he freely acknowledged his fault."12

The teaching of Galatians

lutherHaving completed his account of his own actions, which we have examined, Paul will now provide theological support for his position. In 2.16 he affirms that "people are justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ". Paul speaks for the first time of the cross of Christ: "Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God; I have been crucified with Christ." (2.19) This seems best interpreted with the help of Romans 8.2 and its references to "the law of sin and death", to which Paul has died, and "the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus", which has given him life. Through Christ's cross, which he shares, he has gained life. Paul continues: "I live no longer, but Christ lives in me" (2.20). Paul absolutely refuses to betray this new grace, but will proclaim it to all: "I am determined not to set aside the grace of God, for, if justification comes from the law, Christ died in vain" (2.21).

In chapters 3-4 Paul lines up his arguments to support this main contention. The "stupid" Galatians, for whom Christ was crucified, received the new life of the Spirit, not from their worthy works, but from their faith (3.1-2). Why would they wish to rely on circumcision and the works of the law, rather than faith in Christ? Paul then speaks of Abraham, who was justified by faith well before the coming of the law, which prepared for the justification of the Gentiles by faith (3.6-8). Paul further contends that the covenant made with Abraham was unchangeable, and that the promises it contained were made to Abraham's "seed", which Paul interprets as made to Christ, and destined for those who believe in him (3.15-16, 29). The law, by contrast, is considered by Paul to be a temporary tutor (Greek paidagogos) by which the people of God were to be safeguarded until faith was revealed, the faith in Christ by which they were to be justified (3.23-24).

It is by baptism "into Christ" that Christians become children of God, and "are clothed in Christ" (3.26-27). All distinctions, such as between Jew and Greek, are brought to irrelevance, and all become heirs according to the promise made to Abraham (3.28-29). Paul evokes the two acts of sending forth by God: "when the fulness of time came God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we may become God's children" (4.4-5), and "since you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out: Abba, Father, so that you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son an heir too, made so by God" (4.6-7).

How, then, is it possible that the Galatians can be tempted to succumb to the slavery of the law? Paul recalls how they received him, when he first came to them a sick man (4.13). He still suffers for them and longs for Christ to truly live among them (4.19). They are children of the promise, not children of slavery. Children of Sarah, not of Hagar, they are meant to be free (4.26).

Freedom, the Spirit and the Cross

In frustration Paul cries out: "It is for freedom that Christ set us free!" (5.1) Luther writes in his commentary at this point: "We shall appreciate this liberty all the more when we bear in mind that it was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who purchased it with his own blood."13 If the Galatians agree to circumcision, they must accept the whole law (5.3). They will be estranged from Christ, turning their backs on the gift of grace (5.4). What is important is not the question of circumcision, but "faith working through love" (5.6). To embrace the law of Judaism is to reject the scandal of the cross, which is the fullest expression of Christ's grace (5.11).

They have been called to freedom, a freedom which must be properly understood (5.13). To assist them he lists the works of the flesh and identifies the fruit of the Spirit (5.19-23). The flesh has been crucified and the Spirit has been embraced. Approaching the end of the letter, Paul writes: "All I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world." (6.14) All that matters for Paul is the "new creation" brought into being by Christ's death (6.15). Luther's "theology of the cross" is perhaps the deepest reason for his love for the Letter to the Galatians14.    

1    Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, translated by Theodore Graebner, new edition, p.5
2    Stanford, P., Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident, Hodder and Stoughton, 2017, p.96-99
3    Betz, H. D., Galatians, Hermeneia, Fortress Press, 1979 p. 14, n.97 
4    Betz, p.24
5    Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, 1997, p.467
6    Livesey, N. E., Galatians and the Rhetoric of Crisis: Demosthenes, Cicero, Paul Polebridge, 2016, pp.67-69
7    Betz, pp.16-23
8    Murphy O"Connor, J., Paul: A Critical Life Oxford University Press, 1996, pp.81-82
9    Murphy O"Connor, p.24
10    Matera, F. J., Galatians, Sacra Pagina, The Liturgical Press, 1992, p.74
11    Stanford, pp.30, 105
12    Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, p.46
13    Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, p.149
14    Stanford, p 133

September/October 2017

divineFleur Dorrell

In this article, the writer invites us to reconsider the biblical notion of holiness through specifically chosen texts. While affirming the sacred transcendence of God, the argument proposes a renewed sense of the holy in the life of the faithful. Fleur Dorrell is Scripture Development Co-ordinator at the Bible Society.

What can the Bible show us about recognising and experiencing the holy in our lives?

Is holiness defined as separation or wholeness?

Is our understanding of the holy to draw us closer to the Divine or to remain apart from the Divine, forever held at a holy arm's length1? Is holiness defined as separation or wholeness between the Divine and its relation to people, places and objects and between the sacred and the profane? In order to explore these notions of separation and wholeness I will consider how holiness is experienced within select biblical texts. I believe that there is a false dichotomy created between the holistic nature of holiness, and the significance of holiness as being wholly other, experiential and beyond categorisation. 

In 1917 the German Protestant Theologian Rudolf Otto, in his study on holiness, Das Heilige2, maintained that ' "Holiness" - "the holy" - is a category of interpretation and valuation peculiar to the sphere of religion. It is, indeed, applied by transference to another sphere - that of ethics - but it is not derived from this'.3 Rudolf Otto's understanding of holiness is as a phenomenon of subjective human and spiritual experience, it is unique and unequivocal. Therefore, I have chosen four biblically reported 'holy' experiences that help us explore this in more detail:

a)    Moses and the Burning Bush at Mount Horeb - Exodus 3.1-15

b)    Elijah in the cave at Mount Horeb - 1 Kings 19.9-18

c)    The Annunciation to Mary - Luke 1.26-38

d) The tearing of the Temple Veil at the time of Jesus' crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels - Matthew 27.50-52; Mark 15.37-39; Luke 23.44-46.

I have selected these passages from the Pentateuch, Prophets and Gospels4 because they illustrate what is a 'holy' experience, as manifested through the reports of two men and one woman

encountering and sensing the divine, through specific dialogue and places; and through one holy object (the Veil) that separated the High Priest and the Holy of Holies sanctuary from all other people in the Jerusalem Temple, where God's presence was believed to reside. My examples reflect holy experiences that are outside conventional rational thought.

Although in the Old Testament we first understand the concept of holiness as something that describes the invisible God (Yahweh) before we read of its significance as a bridge connecting places, objects and divinely elected people that have a definite purpose beyond themselves, the greatest emphasis on holiness is found in its application to ceremonial and ritual activities. Nevertheless, with the increasing momentum of the later Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the rise of the wisdom literature, the ethical connotations with which the early Church Christians imbued the term 'holiness' are latent in the Old Testament writers' aims and waiting to be born in the Messiah.
The problems of language and etymology

Part of our challenge with any attempt to understand holiness and holy experiences is the limitation of, and ambiguities within, language. Often emotions remain where concepts fail. Language always points towards something that is greater than what it first appears to describe. Is the nature of holiness wholly other to us or does it simply leave us astonished and amazed by what we apprehend because it is more than we are capable of receiving? Do we just lack a relevant vocabulary to describe certain experiences, and therefore, a satisfactory phenomenology of the sacred?

For Otto the source of holiness is the Christian God and he is more interested in the nature and quality of the encounter with that God. Martin Buber asserts in his 'I and Thou' theology that 'primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence5.' For Buber the articulation of the words creates their existence yet the articulation of the words to describe and experience holiness has often, and incorrectly, been reduced to definitions that do not represent its whole meaning or its whole experience.

Otto was frustrated that holy experiences are often subjugated to the doctrinal and ethical imperatives communicated by those who see the latter as a means of restricting the believers in their understanding and experiencing of the holy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the application of the Torah and the Holiness Code by the Hebrew People6; and in Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees and lawyers in Luke 11.37-54 for their myopic vision and straitjacketing of the holy to specific and obsessively-repeated rituals and regulations without deeper reflection upon their purpose or effect. The God of the New Testament who dispenses with many of these rituals and rules is surely not less holy than the God of the Old Testament but more holy, more absolute, more whole and made more direct to us through the incarnation of God as a man like us. Sadly this seems to have been misunderstood right from the beginning and became one of the barriers for people to understand and follow Jesus in his own time.

When we consider the etymology of the words holy and holiness we see that 'holy' in Hebrew derives from the root - qõdôsh and 'holiness' is qodhesh7; 'holy' and 'sacred' in Greek are hiero and hagios; 'holy' in Latin is sanctus/sanctum which includes wholeness and 'sacred' is sacer/sacrum. The word qõdôsh has been linked with Assyrian words indicating purity and cleanness; many modern scholars believe that the primary idea is that of cutting off or separation. The idea of being set apart lends itself best to the various senses in which the word 'holiness' is employed in the Bible. Similarly, in the Chambers Dictionary8 the word 'holy' is defined as: 'perfect in a moral sense; pure in heart; religious; associated with God or gods; set apart for a sacred use; regarded with awe (often ironic); saintly; sanctimonious, simulating holiness.'

Do these definitions reduce holiness to a view of, and practice in, something focused on ethical/moral righteousness? Is Otto's well-known phrase - the numen or numinous9 more helpful to our present-day thinking since he maintains it provides this concept of holiness with greater and more diverse phenomenological and symbolic possibilities? Yet if there is an aspect of the holy that is inexpressible why invent a new word for this inexpressibility? Perhaps holy experiences are metonymic, that they are a part to represent the whole, of their whole meaning. Or as Paul Tillich in his Dynamics of Faith states that '[h]oly things are not holy in themselves, but they point beyond themselves to the source of all holiness, that which is of ultimate concern.'10 Therefore, for both Otto and Tillich, wherever the divine is revealed, there exists holiness. The divine is the holy and human beings are vehicles and receptors of this holiness.

Two men, one woman and a veildivine

If we take my selected Bible texts at face-value, the features of fear, awe and mysterious fascination when in the presence of the holy, occur in the reported details of Moses' encounter as he is drawn to the incomprehensible burning and talking bush only because he is curious; and in Mary's visitation by the angel Gabriel because she feels troubled by, and afraid of, the sudden, irrational news presented to her. Yet the experience attributed to Elijah is described as the opposite sensation; having heard, seen and felt a thunderstorm, earthquake and fire, Elijah recognises, hears and feels Yahweh only in the gentle breeze. However, this may be because the biblical writers wanted to distinguish their God from the rival gods who were often associated with power over natural phenomena. In order for Elijah to recognise Yahweh separately from these gods, Yahweh needed to be revealed with the opposite characteristics. Natural phenomenological features (cosmological and biological) are not exclusive to Elijah's encounter but as we have observed: in the bush's burning, the pregnancy of a virgin and the darkness and earthquake at Jesus' death while the Veil is torn.

The biblical writers sought to show that not only humanity changed through a holy experience but also the natural world.

Moses, Elijah and Mary are described as being overshadowed by their God. All three experience visual and aural sensations, and express humility in the indirect presence of their God. In the case of Moses, but it could equally well apply to Elijah and Mary, Oliver Davies says:

'[t]he implication is that we cannot grasp it in itself but only by receiving its effects... It is the marker at the level of the perceived and constructed.... Holiness is the condition or state that we find the empirical or sensible world has when we have discovered and understood that what underlies it, or exists within it at its depths, is indeed the self-communicating divine'.11

This overpowering and transcendent nature of the holy creates a sense of immersion by the conscious self and an awareness of one's nothingness in relation to the object, to God. Yet losing one's conscious, finite self in front of the transcendent also creates a sense of urgency and energy12 in the recipient, who feels compelled to act because of the holy experience. The reported knowledge of what the God-given tasks were, for Moses, Elijah and Mary, is paramount to the biblical writers in their accounts of these experiences.

divineBiblical concepts of holiness

The separation of 'the holy' so specifically from other experiences that have similar qualities typifies the Old Testament perspective. All the biblical places, encounters and objects that were described as holy and sacred were marked out for their manifestations of the divine presence - of where Yahweh dwelt. By implication, where Yahweh was not, holiness was not. Yahweh's relationship towards his chosen people, reported as a holy nation,13 was also marked out by his everlasting covenant with them and his demand for monotheistic worship.14 Holiness is identified with separation but also as relationship with the Divine.

It is also reported that Moses encounters Yahweh on sacred ground, so sacred that he must take off his shoes and not venture nearer. When Yahweh discloses himself, Moses hides his face as he is afraid to see God.15 Elijah meets Yahweh at the mouth of his cave and similarly covers his face.16 Mary's encounter also conceals holiness because she becomes the sacred place herself, the vehicle for the Messiah's birth.17 The Temple Veil is entirely defined by its precise and inaccessible location (to everybody except the High Priest annually) separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place and the rest of the Temple.18 The Veil also covered the presence of the Holy One - the Ark of the Covenant from public view.

In all four examples we are told that either a place (Mount Horeb for Moses and Elijah) and/or person is marked out, or separated by, their experience and that there is a need for a covering in the presence of the Divine holiness. We also see that God cannot be directly revealed as yet since he appears, according to the texts, indirectly in a bush, a breeze, an angel and a veil. Therefore, in all four reported events are we invited to witness a direct sign of an indirect revelation, to witness the transcendent and the immanent by use of separation and wholeness between the Divine and the receptor?

In the New Testament the person of Jesus is depicted by the Gospel writers as taking the idea of holiness one stage further, by saying that holiness is no longer to be found only in buildings, places, objects, rituals and prescribed Law19, but in the individual person, in one's heart. The Gospel writers used heart in this context to represent man himself rather than the bodily organ. The heart was the seat of the emotions and appetites, and included intellectual and moral faculties. These were sometimes ascribed to the 'soul' in Greek as well but in the Hebrew the word 'soul' is never synonymous with heart.20

Thus the centre and experience of how holiness is defined and practised shifts from being predominantly outside of the body to being placed firmly within it. Jesus is reported by the Gospels writers as frequently castigating the Pharisees and High Priests precisely because they had lost this intrinsic meaning of what was holy and of what being holy meant in the way they interpreted the Law. The Pharisees21 and High Priests had developed and perpetuated an elaborate and artificial system of rules regarding holiness that was designed exclusively to separate them from the rest of the people.

According to the Gospel writers, the prophets in their emphasis on the social justice aspect of holiness although closer to what was required in being holy, still had not quite bridged the gulf between the ethos and the telos (ethics and end goals). Therefore, the writers were determined to maintain Jesus' credibility and purpose by drawing all previous notions of holiness together through a concept of salvation that could only operate through the person who transcended the past. They attempted to prove that what was lacking could only be made whole by the person who embodied absolute wholeness - Jesus Christ.

It is also intriguing that the brief mention of the Veil's tearing is interpreted by many scholars to have transformed the entire Old Testament concept of holiness in one seamless garment, because its tearing symbolised that access to the holy presence of God through Jesus was now available to everyone. If this were not true then why mention such a detail? Very few people knew the location of the Veil so its tearing would have been rendered meaningless unless its symbolic value represented something greater than its presence. The Gospel writers intended to demonstrate that through this event the inaccessible had now become accessible and that it reversed the Moses and Elijah encounters in being asked to stand back and hide their faces with a more direct understanding and experience of holiness. 

The 'I am who I am'  theophany to Moses is dependent on Yahweh disclosing his identity. The multi-faceted Hebrew tenses of the 'I am/was/will be' suggest a richness of personal encounter and perhaps a super-rational, rather than non-rational encounter. Are we making a mistake to labour the difference between immanence and transcendence? Are they a seamless whole broken only by human consciousness or one's position as the observer - the conscious narrator?


While the prevailing view of Old Testament holiness might emphasize its 'otherness' vis a vis the human condition, even there what we have seen is relational and contextual - its manifestation is dependent on the relationship between the Divine and people, places and/or objects. Whilst God is more holy than his universe, this does not exclude a concept of holiness which is integrated with the material world through people, places and objects. It is this spiritual and material integration that the Gospel writers sought to convey through their reporting of Jesus as one who promoted a kingdom based on specific values and ethical imperatives towards one's neighbour and community. What was different from the Old Testament mandate was that the values were understood from a more holistic perspective, to be lived out in the holy ordinariness of the day in private as well as in public. The Incarnation reconfigures our understanding of holiness such that having a 'Kairos moment', a 'Damascus Road' experience, an 'Epiphany' and being on 'sacred ground' can happen anywhere and at any time.   

1     Isaiah 52.10 - 'Yahweh has bared his holy arm for all the nations to see...'

2     Trans. into the English by John W. Harvey as 'The Idea of the Holy'.

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1958). The German word 'sacred' includes 'holiness' and is not distinguished from it; in English they are different words - the word 'holy' was chosen for the English title.

3    Otto, R., The Idea of the Holy, p.5.

4     The New Jerusalem Bible translation, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd.,1990).

5     Buber, M., I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1996), p.54.

6     Cf. Leviticus 18 - 26, 19.2 'Be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy.'

7     Q-D-_ (or Q-D-Sh, or Q-D-S) is a triconsonantal Semitic root form used in ancient and modern languages since the 3rd millennium BCE.[1] The meanings expressed by this root are 'holy', 'sacred', 'divine power', 'to set apart', and 'sanctuary'.[1][2] Bernal and Moore, Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics, Duke University Press, 2001, pp.141-142; Becking, Only One God?: Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001, p.129.

8     The Chambers Dictionary, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd. 2002.

9     'Numen' and 'numinous' are Otto's adaptations of the Latin ominous and omen. - Otto, R., The Idea of the Holy, p.7.

10    Tillich, P.,  Dynamics of Faith, (New York: Harper and Row. 1957), p.48.

11    Davies, O., Reading the Burning Bush: Voice, World and Holiness (Modern Theology, July 2006), 22:3,  ISSN 0266-7177

12    Davies, pp. 23-24.

13    Exodus 19.6; Deuteronomy 7.6; Isaiah 45.11

14    Exodus 20.1-3

15    Exodus 3.5-6

16    1 Kings 19.12-13

17    Luke 1.31,35

18    Cf. Exodus 30.10; 1 Kings 6.15-36; 8.10-11; Isaiah 59.2; Matthew 27.51; Mark 15.38; Luke 23.45; Hebrews 9.7,9-12.

19    The earliest biblical reference to holiness is Exodus 22.31 in the laws, now known as the Book of the covenant.

20    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia -

21    'Pharisee' comes from the Hebrew meaning 'separated', referring to one who is separated for a life of purity. From the New World Encyclopedia on-line.

September/October 2017

one gospelThomas O'Loughlin

The 1969 lectionary is one of the greatest fruits of the Second Vatican Council - and one that has affected the worship of countless Christians outside the Catholic Church. But do we appreciate the lectionary? Do we value all its possibilities? Do we even think about it? Thomas O'Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham, and President of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.

The opening lines of Luke's account of the central events of Christian faith do not strike one as being of great interest - certainly it would get a low score if submitted in a modern class in creative writing as neither grabbing the reader's attention nor conveying the kernel of the message in a sound-bite! But if we look closely at it, it may give us a key to understanding how we are to use his text, as well as those of Mark, Matthew, and John. Here it is:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us ... ... it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you ... . (Lk. 1.1-3)

There are two points to note in this. First, Luke does not use the word 'gospel' to describe his work - he calls it 'an orderly account.' Second, he takes it for granted that many have compiled such accounts. Now we know that Luke saw Mark's book, but had never seen Matthew's nor John's account (it was either written later or circulated in a different network to those Luke knew). Therefore, the accounts he mentions must include many works in addition to those that have survived in our bibles. Why is this important?

Jesus' followers looked on him as 'the anointed of the Father,' he showed them a new way of discipleship and gave them the promise of the Father's love and forgiveness. Moreover, they had to come to terms with his death, and saw it as a sacrifice that established a new covenant - his followers were a new People of God - and offered them the promise of resurrection. In, with, and through Jesus his disciples had access to the Father, liberation, and new life. Most probably before Luke wrote, one of Paul's people could produce this slogan expressing what made them distinctive:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all
and in all. (Eph. 4.4-6)

So there was one Lord - and that message was the good news, the gospel. This is 'the announcement' - and note it is in the singular - it is all that we proclaim from Jesus and about Jesus.

This is 'the gospel of God' for which Paul was set apart (Rom. 1.1), and 'the gospel' he was eager to preach (Rom. 1.15). We must serve this 'gospel of God' (Rom. 15.16), it is the gospel we have received and in which we stand (1 Cor. 15.1), and there is only one gospel - that of the Christ (Gal. 1.7). Jesus is the gospel of God and he preached the gospel of God (Mk. 1.14); it is for the sake of the gospel that many have left all (Mk. 10.29) and 'the gospel' must be 'preached to all nations' (Mk. 13.10). The gospel is not a book but the whole message of God to humanity: we must hear it, rejoice in it, and proclaim it.

Just as there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, so there is one gospel! So how did we end up with four in our bibles? The answer lies in lazy reading and slovenly use of language! If we pay careful attention we notice that it is 'the gospel according to Mark' or one of the others. We do not read 'the gospel' - that is the whole revelation and it could not be contained in a book - but various preachers' attempts to put that revelation before us in an orderly way.

So we have to imagine the early communities being those who accepted that Jesus was the gospel and who viewed themselves as the people of the gospel revealed in his words, deeds, life, death, and his risen presence among them. How were they to get a grasp on this gospel? Through listening to those teachers who made it their special task to try to capture it in an orderly way. These got the name of 'gospellers' (in Greek form: 'evangelists'). Since this was a special skill, not every church (a group measured in tens, not hundreds, of people) would have such a teacher: so they travelled from community to community giving performances of their accounts and leaving 'recordings' on papyrus such that they could be heard again later or (in the case of the most famous evangelists) in places they could not visit in person. Several of these 'recordings' have survived: Mark, Thomas (discovered in 1946), Matthew, the various forms of 'Q' (that we can re-construct from Matthew and Luke), Peter (discovered in 1886), John, Luke, but most of them have perished - and only four remained in constant and universal use in the churches.

Because these 'orderly accounts' of 'the gospel' were performed by 'gospellers' [i.e. 'evangelists'] we let our language play us false and we call the accounts 'gospels' - without realising that such a plural is theological nonsense! Just as there is one Lord, so there can be only one gospel - but we need many accounts to help us grasp it. But having succumbed to the error of having four 'gospels,' we not only forgot the others that were in circulation, we then tried to recombine the four into a single story. Moreover, we tried to convince ourselves that we had succeeded in melding these four into a single account. Indeed, even had special systems to help us ignore the differences between them (the system invented by Eusebius of Caesarea in the last years of the third century became almost ubiquitous and its 'ideal' was still dominant in the liturgy until 1969). Thereby we lost the richness that only a variety of perspectives can bring - recalling that the one gospel will always be a mystery greater than any number of accounts (much less one 'smoothed out' version which boiled down four accounts into one).one gospel

To redress well over 1600 years of such laziness, the Catholic Church created a new lectionary in 1969 with each evangelist's perspective heard distinctly. Matthew was to be read one year, then Mark, then Luke, with John read at special times and 'filling out' some Sundays in the year of Mark. They are laid out so that over three years we get three different perspectives on Jesus and hear three distinct accounts of the one gospel. So, imagine this, in 1973 for the first time anywhere since the second century there were large portions of Mark's account read and used as the basis for preaching! The idea was so good that it was soon being studied by other Western churches (sadly the Eastern churches are not yet alive to the problem), and experiments were being made that resulted in many Protestant churches adopting a similar arrangement (now called the Revised Common Lectionary [RCL]) - or even adopting a lectionary for the first time. And, year by year, this plan is being taken up by others: the Church of England, for example, adopted it in 1998. Not only is this lectionary a magnificent remedy to allow us to hear these 'orderly accounts' more effectively, but it is a great ecumenical event drawing us all closer to 'the gospel'. Amazingly, most worshippers, even preachers, are virtually unaware of these developments.

In 2011 a group of biblical scholars and liturgists met in Reims under the auspices of the 'English Language Liturgical Consultation' and issued a statement on the common lectionary and its value to the churches. The whole statement is well worth reading - it is on the web - but here are some highlights:

The lectionary may prove to be one of the most significant developments in Christian worship since the invention of printing. It is a treasure trove to be studied and mined because of the excellent arrangement of its Sunday and seasonal gospels (the other readings in the 1969 lectionary are another matter) and if 'imitation is the highest form of praise,' then the fact that church after church is adopting it, is the highest praise it can get. Sadly, in most Catholic circles - even among Bishops' Conferences - it is still seen as just a jumble of 'readings' and its wonderful plan (which is what makes it really new) is still virtually terra incognita!    

1. Liturgy and Ecumenism

The ecumenical and liturgical movements of the twentieth century, bringing together biblical and historical studies, fed a steady stream of ecumenical liturgical renewal. Today we enjoy the fruits of this harvest. Notable among these are common liturgical texts and the RCL. They are experienced in real and immediate ways in the life of the churches and in contexts of ecumenical worship. They enrich ecumenical relationships in a mutual evangelical spirit. We celebrate the sense of being at home in one another's churches that comes with praying the same texts and hearing the same scriptures in the Sunday liturgy.

We believe
*    that these achievements give us a great hope, which is a gift of God for the life of the church
*    that this work is essential and deserves the full support and nurture of the churches
*    in the power of the Spirit, who strengthens and guides the future work on common texts and the lectionary.

2. Common Texts

For the first time in history, Christians in the English speaking world are using common liturgical texts. In the process of coming to agreed common texts, scholars from different Christian traditions agreed on principles for the translation from the earliest sources. This in itself has been a gift. Despite only having been in existence for a relatively short time, these texts have been adopted freely by an ever increasing number of churches. We celebrate this. They are being experienced as a gift, a sign and a way to Christian unity in our diversity. As the churches continue to discover the riches of these shared texts, we believe further revision is inappropriate at the present time. We invite all who have not yet explored these texts, and those who have departed from their use, to join us in prayerful reflection on the value of common texts and careful consideration of the texts themselves. Prayed together, shared common texts become a part of the fabric of our being. They unite the hearts of Christians in giving glory to God as we undertake the mission of the Gospel.

We encourage

*    ongoing creation of resources for ecumenical and liturgical formation through praying common texts

*    furthering of scholarship which is faithful to tradition whilst seeking a language which is inclusive and just
*    continuing ecumenical reflection on core symbolic actions and gestures, the ordo and shape of liturgy.

3. The Revised Common Lectionary

The RCL has been widely adopted by churches in and beyond the English speaking world. Its regular use has broadened and deepened our engagement with scripture in worship, Bible study, catechesis and personal devotion. We celebrate the possibilities offered by sharing the same scripture readings across the churches and the production of related materials in all forms to support the liturgical experience. The strengthening of ecumenical relations among clergy and lay people and the renewed appreciation for the rhythm of the Church's year are among its blessings.

We commend

*    continuing promotion and awareness of the worldwide use of the RCL

*    all initiatives to complement the RCL for worship and church life

*    continuing attention to the concerns about lectionary developments raised by scholars and local users

*    continuing attention to implications for the lectionary coming from scholarship

*    continuing efforts toward the realization of a truly common lectionary.

Further Reading

*    The Reims Statement: Praying with one voice
*    O'Loughlin, T., Making the Most of the Lectionary: A User's Guide (London 2012).
*    O'Loughlin, T., 'Huperetai ... tou logou: does Luke 1.2 throw light on to the book practices of the late first-century churches?' in H. Houghton ed., Early Readers, Scholars and Editors of the New Testament (Piscataway NJ 2014), 1-15.

September/October 2017

listeningChris McDonnell

This article recalls the National Pastoral Congress held in Liverpool in 1980, when the future of the ordained priesthood was not considered an issue. The coming Synod on Vocation to be held in 2018 will surely need to address the shortage of priests, and listen to the 'Easter people', writes Chris McDonnell, a retired Head teacher from Staffordshire.

Pope Francis, addressing the Commemorative Ceremony for the 50th Anniversary of the Synod of Bishops on 17 October 2015 stressed that 'a synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening is more than feeling". It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn.' He went on to say that 'The synodal process starts by listening to the people, who "even participate in the prophetic office of Christ", according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium'.

It is not a practice that the Church in the West has followed in recent years, at least not as a shared experience. The vast majority of those who profess themselves to be Catholic Christians, those we have given the label 'laity', have grown accustomed to a one-way exchange and were expected to accept the teaching of a much smaller and socially restricted group, our bishops and priests. For so long, the listeners have had no route to offer response, no means of positive exchange, no option other than to adhere to a given principle. We have been passive in our acceptance.

The significant milestone came with the gathering of the Second Vatican Council. In so many ways it set the tone for a Church that needed to come to terms with a rapidly changing society. Unless we recognise the milieu in which we now find ourselves, we will be unable to respond to the challenge it presents.

The American Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, believes that true prophecy arises 'from a deep pain over the way things are compared to the way things should be. The role of the prophet is to nurture, nourish and evoke needed change'.1

On that basis, we certainly live in prophetic times, for the transformation in the years since the calling of the Council has been profound. Yet after the initially hopeful expectations that were aroused by its decrees, we have seen a gradual closing down of opportunity, a retrenchment to earlier patterns in a concerted attempt to put the clock back.

Nearly forty years ago, the National Pastoral Congress, meeting in Liverpool, discussed many issues facing a post-Conciliar Church, among them being matters relating to ordained ministries. In para. 95 it was noted that some delegates suggested that 'careful consideration be given to the question whether it is God's will that married men should at this time be called to the priesthood'. The Report of the Congress, 'The Easter People'2 goes on to state that at the time there is no evident need to petition Rome as the shortage of priests in our country was not sufficient to warrant concern.

That was forty years ago. How the scene has changed since then, with the amalgamation and closure of parishes and an ever-advancing age profile of serving priests.

The Brazilian Bishop Erwin Krautler, whose diocese of Xingu has some 700,000 people, 800 church communities but only 27 priests, recently discussed the issue of ordination of married men with Pope Francis. The celebration of the Eucharist two or three times a year is the most that can be managed for his people. The response he received is informative:

    The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. 'We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is 'courageous' in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions,' he explained. A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that regional and national bishops' conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome.3

Given the openness of Francis to accommodating local need provided there is discussion and honest agreement, it is back firmly in the hands of the Bishops' Conference to have such informed and courageous conversation. Now that Francis has opened the door and speaks for a Church where listening is encouraged, where teaching and receiving is a shared activity, it is indeed now a time of prophecy.

There are many issues facing a Church where informed teaching only comes after true listening. Many of the social issues of our time demand an understanding that can only come if we are willing to be attentive to the arguments, reflect on what we hear and absorb the detail, before we teach.

It is also a time of rapid movement, where change is no longer a slow and deliberate process, but is hastened by circumstance. It is our responsibility to be alert to movement in order that we may be prepared with a response.

Nowhere is this clearer than in our concern for the future of an ordained priesthood. In this country and many others in the Western world, the age profile of serving priests is rapidly advancing, whilst at the same time the numbers entering the seminaries is at an all-time low. In many of our dioceses the problem is being patched by amalgamating parishes, creating many issues of adjustment for the laity as well as placing an almost impossible burden on the shoulders of the priest asked to serve enlarged communities. It is time that we addressed the problem that is evident by asking some serious questions before we have to face the reality of the impending crisis. The circumstances implied in the title of a recent book, Who will break the bread for us?4 are closer than we think.

The attempt at shared discussion within the English and Welsh Church that came with the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool in 1980 and the publication of 'The Easter People' withered on the vine. We need to try again.

It is time for the bishops of England and Wales to call a National Commission of laity and priests to examine the future circumstance of parish ministry and the exercise of priesthood. A brief to examine vocation in the broadest possible sense and to offer guidelines for a realistic option for change would indeed be welcome.

It is hard to see how the coming Synod on Vocation, due to be held in 2018, can avoid addressing priesthood, celibate or married. It would therefore be of value to our bishops were the views of such a Commission be made available as a contribution to the Synodal discussion. Writing a while back on the Irish Association of Catholic Priests website, Seamus Ahearne, a parish priest in Dublin, wrote:

Furthermore - the whole concept of priesthood/religious life has to changeÉ. This isn't just a challenge arriving out of necessity but God speaks to us in our needs. Celibacy is not necessary for priesthoodÉ.The present make-up of parish life and Diocesan life is not appropriate for the needs of today and therefore disrespects the Gospel.5

There have been so many occasions recently when this matter has been raised in the pages of the Catholic press, both in letters and articles and on other occasions in private correspondence with our bishops, but all to no avail. It would seem that the response of silence is deemed to be an argument for closure of discussion.

In his Letter from Rome, Robert Mickens6 recently wrote:

      The Pope earlier this month acknowledged in an interview with the German weekly, Die Zeit, that too few men were entering seminaries - at least in the developed world. He said that was partly due to low birth rates.
'And where there are no young men, there are no priests. That is a serious problem that we must tackle at the next Synod on youth,' he said.

'Lots of young people come who do not have vocations and they will ruin the Church,' the Pope continued.

'Selection is decisive, but so is people's indignation,' Francis said.

They asked why there is no priest in their parish to celebrate the Eucharist, which the Pope said 'weakens the Church, since a church without the Eucharist has no strength.'

Francis' conclusion: 'Priestly vocations are a problem, an enormous problem.'

listeningTime and again, the issue of compulsory priestly celibacy is raised in parish discussions by the laity, but for those parishes without parish councils and for those dioceses without diocesan pastoral councils, there is nowhere for this questioning to go. We wonder at our discouraged people who ask that their voices be heard only to find a door shut in their face - or even that there is no door at all to open.

So without waiting for Rome to make a blanket ruling, would it be too much to ask that the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, exercising its collegiality, begins a courageous conversation with a view to meeting our own immediate and long term needs?

We are asked by our clergy to pray for vocations. But the pattern we are urged to seek is a model that now has severe limitations. Given the number of men who have faced the enormous choice of continuing with a celibate lifestyle having fallen in love with a woman it is no wonder that the question is sometimes suggested that the good Lord is asking 'But what have you done with the vocations I have sent you already?' It is quite possible for one man to have two vocations - hard work, demanding of both his time and energy and that of his family - but possible nonetheless.

It would not be a question of matching the norms of a sexually attuned society but of offering an example of family life within our communities that we can respect and understand.

Is it too much to ask that informed and courageous conversation take place, that we recognise differing points of view and sit down together for the good of our pilgrim Church, our common home?

Francis has asked that we listen to each other, that we ask questions and in charity seek solutions. But that can only happen if all are willing to respond. To quote Brueggemann again, 'The people we later recognize as prophets, are also poets. They reframe what is at stake in chaotic times'.7

I would suggest that poets write with an imaginative flair, that their words tell a story that is both perceptive and prophetic. The words of the great Irish poet, W. B. Yeats 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold'8 - offer advice that we would be foolish to ignore. W. H. Auden,9 in a poem written in October 1940 concluded with these few words 'Time will say nothing but I told you so. Time only knows the price we have to pay'. Yet the voices now being raised are not being listened to.

Along with a radical re-examination of the conditions we attach to a vocation to the priesthood, we must consider the nature of our parish communities and the missionary vocation of the whole of our people. For too long we have centred our action round the increasingly over-burdened parish priest. That would have to change, especially as a married priesthood will almost certainly include many who have a salaried post beyond the parish. The argument that the Church could not afford a married priesthood only applies if we continue to work with a model that presently exists. There is much that the laity could and should do as pilgrims in a pilgrim Church.

There is an urgency in our present situation that we cannot afford to ignore, that demands our attention. We must recognise our need for food on the journey and appreciate the reality of the Church in our island.

The Eucharist is at the heart of the Christian mission. Those called to this sacred ministry should have the choice of living either a married or celibate life, meeting the evident needs of the people they serve. Vocation to priesthood - the answering of a call to ministry - need not be associated with an altogether separate calling to the celibate life. The time has come to revoke a discipline that has become a hindrance to vocation. It is no longer a service to the Church in radically changed circumstances though some might freely choose it and that is a different matter. Choice is the important issue.

A request to talk with the hierarchy should not be seen as a threat from dissidents, but rather the sincere wish of family members to contribute to the well-being of all. Is that really too much to ask?   

1     Sr Sallie Latkovich CSJ, Spring 2010 quoting Walter Brueggemann,

2     'The Easter People' National Pastoral Conference Liverpool summary report. St Paul Publications, August 1980

3     The Tablet 10 April 2014 'Pope says married men could be ordained - if the world's bishops agree'
by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

4     Hoban, B., Who will break the bread for us? Disappearing Priests 2013, Association of Catholic Priests Bookshop and Kindle edition, Amazon.

5     Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) website Seamus Ahearne posting 'Priesthood and Vocation' 13 July 2015

6     Letter from Rome. The Church's Seminary problem Robert Mickens, 27 March 2017,

7     The Prophetic Imagination Walter Brueggemann,

8     Yeats, W.B., The Second Coming, 1919

9     Auden, W.H., If I could Tell, 1940

September/October 2017