Troubled times

Anthony Towey

The Church is living in troubled times. Since the last edition of this periodical, legislative moves in Ireland regarding abortion have abrogated pro-life medical traditions long advocated by the Church but which even pre-date Christ. In England, the Government has reneged on a promise made to the Church regarding the building of new schools. Australia, meanwhile, has a Royal Commission scrutinising the validity of the seal of confession which could have ramifications across the Commonwealth.

To be sure, the travails of Anglophone Catholics pale beside the plight of Middle Eastern Christians and the difficulties faced by the Church in the Indian sub-continent, but it is hard not to be dismayed by increasing levels of hostility, sanctioned and endorsed by the mass (sic) media.

Caught in the frenzy and emotion of the moment, it is easy to lash out and say or do things that might be regretted later. Although as Christians we are called to be non-judgemental of persons and resistant to provocation, some of the scenes following the Irish vote were specifically humiliating for the Church. In terms of spirituality I am reminded once again of Ronald Rohlheiser’s comment that in the New Testament, the opposite of ‘contemplation’ is ‘crowd’. In terms of common sense I am reminded that there is only one thing worse than a bad loser: a bad winner. 

And yet these moments, however painful, can help refine and thus redefine our priorities as the people of God. We read with probably too much familiarity the biblical accounts of Israel’s various humiliations when they had lost their bearings. We marvel at their ungrateful grumblings in the desert having been liberated by God from slavery in Egypt. How could they possibly convince Aaron to fashion a golden calf? We marvel at the Pharisees whose nit picky attitudes left them unable to celebrate miracles because they didn’t happen on the correct day of the week. We even sigh at the disciples who are dull to the revolution of the mind being required of them by Jesus.

Yet how will we ever be humble if we are never humiliated? How will we ever be holy if we are not humble?

I recall in my younger days being urged to take a prayer group I was leading to see a famous holy man who was regarded as the spiritual heir of Padre Pio. ‘He has great insight - he will speak wisdom to you and your group.’ Off we went and waited for some mystical advice. After waiting our turn he greeted us and listened to our story. We asked him for his counsel and he merely said ‘holiness’ – ‘that is what all groups of the Spirit need’. That was it. ‘Next’. And there was me hoping for maybe a grand prophetic vision - he didn’t even give us a pastoral plan!

There is no short cut to sanctity, it is always through rather than around the challenges of life. What we can do, however is accompany one another and in that spirit this current issue of the Pastoral Review can be heartily commended precisely because it begins with Ron Witherup’s consideration of Pope Francis’ ‘Universal call to holiness.’ Moreover, controversy and challenge in the Church are not new and while Pia Matthews reflects in 50 years of Humanae vitae, Raphael Gallagher offers a thoughtful perspective on the recent abortion referendum.

In terms of our schools, Sean Whittle reflects on the way Religious orders have inspired and informed the way we do Catholic Education, while Claire d’Netto and Bernard Howell show how that might be anchored through models of servant leadership and chaplaincy.

In the context of troubled times, reflections on liturgy by James Cassidy and Michael Marchal are not peripheral but central to our prayer and identity. Yet we cannot be complacently content with ceremonial and Bridie Stringer sees the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress as an opportunity to embrace the consolations of continuity and the challenge to change.

Withal, in responding to the call to holiness we are not alone. We are family. Despite Luke 6.23, we may not feel like rejoicing when our Church is belittled, but at the very least we must resist the temptation to exchange insults. As the old song has it, they will only know we are Christians by our love.    

They’ll know we are Christians
1960s hymn by Fr Peter Scholtes