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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Monday, 20 September 2010

With a mind made up

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.

(for non latin speakers (!) a translation is here.)

You know, my paternal Grandfather was born a Roman Catholic. He died aboard HMS Martin in 1942, so I never got to ask him why he converted to Anglicanism. I'd often wondered whether it was in order to get married, but my dad thinks it was because in the Navy in World War 1 they had church parade on board ship - it was just for Church of England. If you were from any other church you had to scrub the anchor chain instead. Easy decision I guess, but in a strange way I resent that it was pretty much forced upon him by institutional religion (in this case the C of E).
 
And that is perhaps part of why I have such an ambivalent attitude to the Pope,which I have all the time and am only talking about now obviously because of the visit and the beatification of Cardinal Newman. On the one hand I respect the man as an elder, as a man who (let's face it)  has a very difficult job, and actually as a man who talks about Jesus a lot. I feel sorry for him becaus he is constantly in the media glare and everywhere he goes we will be reminded by tabloid and broadsheet alike that he was in the Hitler Youth etc. I also feel sorry for the guy because his is not  a job you can retire from. On top of that when he was criticised last week it was usually by people who are critical of Christianity per se so by implication I stood with him on some of those issues.

Roman Catholicism is the religion of my Father's family (though  they were originally Irish Quakers who were disowned for "marrying out") and if Grandpa had been a bit more devout I might have been in the crowd yesterday as His Holiness beatified John Henry Newman. I'm certainly with Macca when it comes to the Irish question.
 
On the other hand I frequently find it hard to respect him, or more spcifically the church he speaks for and leads. It is hard to avoid the terrorism of the IRA. It is hard to avoid (especially in my role as Child Protection Officer for the benefice) the complete mess that has been caused by the Catholic church's attitude to paedophile priests in the past. It is hard to avoid the hideous behaviour of the conquistadores' priests in Latin and South America. It is hard to avoid the current disater area that is Catholic Africa facing up to HIV and AIDS without the aid of condoms. In a nutshell it is hard to avoid the fact that the Roman Catholic church has had too much power and has let it go to their heads, doctrinally (Papal infallibility,  ) socially (the Christian Brothers, especially in Ireland and Australia) and morally (AIDS in Africa again). There are so many reasons to agree with people like Stephen Fry or Peter Tatchell.

But I just can't do that and its more than just a family thing. I suspect that my mechanism for coping with this love/hate relationship with the Holy See is to make a disctinction between religion and faith. It is religious ethinicity, not faith and spirituality that caused the Troubles. It was misguided imperialism disguised as mission, not genuine evangelisation (even in the Catholic sense) that decimated the aboriginal population of South America. Roman Catholic faith and devotion can be seen as admirable (though wasn't it ironic to have an epistle re-iterating the uniqueness of Christ as mediator yesterday!), even if the institution itself is hard to stomach.

So for every Cortez there is a Boff and a St Francis Xavier
for every Walter Kaspar there is a Mother Teresa of Calcutta and a Vincent Donovan

And let's not forget the rapprochement that the Charismatic movement has brought about. In many ways it is my charismatic spirituality that helps me find connections with Catholic devotion and spirituality. Franciscan and Ignatian approaches to spirituality, the Lectio Divina Bible reading approach, and the good side of hagiography have all enhanced my personal prayer life and faith over the years.

In a sense the Roman Catholic Church is like my dog; most of the time (to me anyway) docile and harmless, but occasionally prone to getting out of control with disastrous consequences for itself and others at a great emotional (and even financial) cost to me. I keep wondering whether to kick it out but can't bring myself to be parted from a faithful companion.

I laugh at jokes about the Pope but I secretly think I ought not to. Am I the only one in this place?

P.S if you can get the source of that lyric in the title without using an internet search then you probably ought to get out more

1 comment:

  1. I totally understand your position here. It is an undoubted truth that there is deep spirituality in the Catholic family and history...but as with anything in a fallen world the tendancy is towards decay unless it is placed daily in God's grace. It is unavoidable that in an organisational sense Catholicism tends towards being an entity in itself rather than a creature reliant on it's creator. It's horror moments are due to the sins of man not the direction of God. But then it does not stand alone.... protestantism's tendancy for schism comes from the same fallen urge for self reliance, leading to pride and error.

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