Monday, August 29, 2011

A Very Modern Martyrdom

In his homily for today, contained in the Office of Readings, St Bede tells us that John the Baptist was not being asked to deny Christ, but rather to stay silent: silent about the truth.   Herod and Herodias in, what we would call today, an "irregular relationship", were not to be challenged nor reminded about the sinfulness of their situation, but rather they were to be respected and not offended and in a gesture of tolerance, understanding and compassion, embraced and included.   Silence, then, is the best approach.  Of course telling John the Baptist to stay silent about a sinful situation was a non-runner from the start.   Given the challenges facing the Church today, this feast is very relevant and we might say St John's beheading is pretty much a very modern martyrdom.

I am reminded of an encounter I had once following a homily I gave in my last parish.  The Gospel of that day, which had been a Sunday, presented us with Jesus speaking about his Father.  So, taking the cue from the Gospel, I used the opportunity to give a catechesis on God the Father.  When I came in from Mass I was greeted with an irate woman who laid into me for offending "every woman in the Church" by my homily.  "How dare you", she said.  I tried to explain that what I had given was the Church's teaching on the nature of God the Father.  This lady was doing a theology course in one of the institutes in Dublin, so she felt she could respond to what I had said.  "No, it's not the Church's teaching!"  she retorted.  "Father is only an image - he is not a Father."  I bit my lip at that moment because I was tempted to tell her to look for her money back because if this was what she was getting for theology in a Catholic theological institute she was being sold a pup.  Then came the rebuke in earnest: "You can't say that!"

Those words have become the mantra for many in the Church today: "you can't say that", "you can't preach that"; "that" referring to the teaching of the Church, most often her moral teachings - in the words of St Bede - stay silent about the truth.  In Ireland today the Church has fallen into silence, thanks to the abuse crisis, few feel they can preach the teaching of the Church, they stick to what is politically correct and what will not raise shackles.  That is why people can stand up in public and condemn the Church, tell lies about her, knowing they will get away with it because no one is prepared to stand up and challenge them.  Indeed it has got to the stage that attacking the Church has become a spectator sport and a way for young bucks to make a reputation for themselves or get themselves noticed as one unknown politician did last week.  With the Church chained up every half wit in the country knows it is safe to ponce around, strike at her and taunt: no lie or misinterpretation will be contradicted - it's just shooting fish in a barrel.  Indeed the press has known for many years that it can libel the Church because they know they will not be sued.

The question we might ask today is simple: do we remain silent?  The example of John the Baptist urges us not to, but then why do we remain silent?  Why was Enda Kenny's attack on the person of the Pope in the Dail, a Pope who more than anyone else has tried to exorcise the evil of child abuse and deal with the abusers, greeted with absolute silence by the leaders of the Church in Ireland?  Why was there no attempt to clarify issues - to point out the truth, to challenge the "misunderstanding" the Taoiseach was labouring under?   What does that silence now say about the Church in Ireland?   Is there no Clemens von Galen in Ireland?  I know the answer to that, as do all of you, dear readers.  That is why our confidence in our leaders is gone, and here I speak for many priests and laity who have told me how they feel.  I see a confused and suffering people: those who were most faithful, who in charity supported their leaders though appalled by the revelations of evil done by members of the Church, now confronted with that damning silence in July do not know where to turn.   Is it possible that that silence was the last straw for many of the faithful, the moment when our leaders lost the battle for the hearts of the faithful? 

St John the Baptist, pray for us, help us!

By the way the lady mentioned above got her degree and is now teaching RE in a Catholic school.


Regarding the Seal of Confession, Adam Shaw has an excellent article here.

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