People in power in the Church should ask themselves ‘Could I be wrong?’
I attended the meeting of the fledgling ACI in the Regency Hotel on Saturday last and have come away with renewed sprits that this path I am on is the right one for this humble, middle of the road, truth seeker.
Our session was interrupted by a man who worried that we were being led by satanic influences. He felt passionate about bringing us back to the right path. While a lot of people just dismissed him as a fanatic and wanted him to shut up and go away once he had been given his chance to speak (I did myself, at one level), I found myself trying to get inside his head and look at the situation through his eyes.
He was brought up in a church which constantly reinforced the need to be wary of false Gods – they were everywhere and used cunning disguises. He was taught not to trust his own instincts or feelings, but to subjugate any individual niggles of conscience he might have in the realisation that he was being guilty of the sin of pride. If anything in his head or heart was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, he was simply wrong. His only duty in life, and the one and only way to be a good person, was to follow the rules and regulations determined by his betters – those men who were priests, bishops, cardinals and popes. He couldn’t interpret scripture as he wasn’t learned enough, and he shouldn’t try to do so as the Evil One would probably lead him to read it falsely. All he had to do was put his total trust in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and to follow their directions. Failure to do so, allowing himself to be led astray by his own pride and arrogance (even allowing the question into his mind “Might they have got it wrong in some instances?”) would lead to eternal damnation. Rejection of any aspect of Catholic teaching was the ultimate sin – those who had never become aware of the One True church, through no fault of their own, would find eternal salvation, but those of us, who were fortunate enough to have been born into the True faith, turned our back on God if we rejected that faith, and consigned ourselves to Hell for eternity.
And he wants to be a good person. He wants to do God’s work by helping others to see that they are being led astray. He genuinely cares about us and is deeply worried that we will all go to Hell. So, while he may be at the extreme end of a particular scale, while he may have other issues which dictated the way he felt he had to behave during Saturday’s session, I don’t want to ignore or dismiss his feelings.
Because, you see, I understand his horror at what is happening within Catholicism. My own starting point within our church wasn’t so very far away from his. Until it was made all too glaringly clear to me that those in positions of authority within my church COULD get it sickeningly wrong at the most fundamental level – the level of cherishing our children – I didn’t take a lot of time to question the church’s teachings.
Oh, I was disobeying certain teachings, and I had serious qualms about others but I just accepted that I wasn’t a very good Catholic. While I wouldn’t have used the language of “being led astray by Satan” or “false Gods”, I did acknowledge that I was probably guilty of pride and arrogance in my inability to accept quite a number of the church’s attitudes and teachings.
I tried to make up for my failings by making a positive contribution to the everyday life of my parish community – but I did so in areas where I felt I wouldn’t have to confront my flawed following of the “One True path”. I kept my guilty secret to myself – the knowledge that I was in danger of going to hell because of my pride and arrogance.
This must seem so pathetic to any reader who has been an adult Catholic for many years – I realise it shows me to be a totally immature, undeveloped member of the church. But it is the truth- not necessarily at a reasoned level, but somewhere deep in my psyche.
That was where I started, back in November 2009, when I had the scales fall from my eyes as a result of the publication of the Murphy Report. I had to ask myself the question “Why am I a Catholic?” and not run away from where that question led me.
And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since! I don’t have any definitive answers for myself – and that’s ok. In fact, I think I don’t want definitive answers any more. I don’t think I’ll ever again WANT to have the certainty that MY view of the situation is the one that is absolutely real and right. I read everything that appears on this website – and I’m grateful to each and every person who contributes. I WANT to read opposing views and beliefs and I honour each person who sincerely holds those beliefs. Your life’s journey has brought you to that place and, if it brings you to a place of inner serenity, it is the right place for you to be.
I thank you for caring enough to want others to share that way of seeing things. But what I can no longer accept is the insistence that “You MUST sees things this way, or you’re wrong”. In all conscience, each one of us can only see glimpses of reality. Peter McVerry put it very well – and I’m not able to quote him, I’m afraid – when he said we all see situations/life through our own limited lenses, from our own particular perspective (sorry if I’m misrepresenting you here, Peter!). It therefore follows that, if we surround ourselves with people whose perspective is somewhat similar to our own, we will possibly come to conclusions that are true for our particular grouping, but not necessarily true for others with different lenses. The only way we can possibly find more general ‘truths’ (and I’m using the word only because I can’t come up with a better one) is to step into others’ shoes and see things from their perspective.
And that’s why I’ve come away from the ACI gathering with renewed spirit. What I experienced there was a true and sincere desire to listen to others – to honour many different perspectives. I felt real humility from the members of the steering committee – no trace of an arrogance which said “This is the way we must proceed”.
It’s a very difficult ground to hold – the place where very diverse paths cross. There are those among us who feel passionately that their way is the correct way to go and they urge us to follow that path – there are those who feel passionately about specific issues and they push to see their issue at the top of the agenda. In honouring each person and listening to his/her perspective, the steering committee must, of necessity, find a middle ground. They have to find a way past “Damned if we do and damned if we don’t”.
I trust them. I trust us. I felt a tremendous sense that God is with us as I listened on Saturday. I thank each one of the eight members of the steering committee from the bottom of my heart.
I have very few absolutes left in my life at this stage. But here they are.
The Spirit that created us has given us a roadmap to living life to the full. We have to keep interpreting that roadmap with humility and love-filled hearts (for us Christians, God had sent His only Son to show us the way to the Father, and that way is by loving all of creation).
None of us knows the mind of our Creator – it is human arrogance to say we do. So it follows that it is human arrogance to claim we are on the One, True path. (And here I have to take the opportunity to dissociate myself totally from any commentator on this site who disrespects any other religion or code of belief.)
We can only be the sum of our own life’s experience, so we cannot determine what reality is for anybody else. We can only come closer to seeing others’ reality by listening to them and they can only come closer to us by listening to us. We must talk.
Not one single human being has the whole truth – not Peter McVerry and not Pope Benedict. The difference between them is that Peter McVerry acknowledges he doesn’t have the whole picture – he is open to being wrong.
With every fibre of my being I pray that those in positions of power and authority in our church – and I hope some of you read our postings – just allow the question to enter your hearts “Might I be wrong?”