Our need for heroes and the curse of certainty
There is thunder in the air. The noise of emotional indignation shatters the peace. Any decent God-respecting person would run for shelter. Every ‘mea-culpa’ prelate is breast- beating. The mantra now is: ‘I am sorry.’ Everyone has to apologise for the wickedness of the past. As if we have a right and an ability to make such an apology. If we look around, we might find sufficient reason to do our own apologies. Learn from the past and leave it. It had its great moments and its great people. It had its failures and failings.
I am totally irreverent. The more strident the self-righteous outrage is; the more I laugh at how ahistorical it all seems. Some context is essential. In the age of Twitter, alternative facts and fake news – everything is simplistic. At one time it was the tabloids who summed everything up in a headline; now it is commonplace. Life is rather more complex. If we can’t get the nuances we miss out on too much.
As Religious people, we almost deserve to be dismissed and caricatured. We made everything so simple ourselves. We have accumulated much stupidity. The finding of the child in the temple today for the feast of St Joseph brought much hilarity to our Eucharist. We concluded that they were negligent parents and that he was a teenage brat. The Gospel writer had to put a neat spiritual gloss on the story. My brother Martin (Luther) tried so hard to wake us up as church but we weren’t capable of listening. And then he overdid it. The oratorical flourish took over. The church needs to be humble and light-hearted in any summary of the past.
I was thinking. And smiling. Eamonn Casey died. It was amusing to read the commentary. Annie Murphy had her outing. Peter had his outing. The Gay Byrne slot was rolled out. The larger-than-life character was admired. (He was great fun for a sing-song!) His good works went with him. There was fun in his faith. And our fondness for the rogue came to the fore. Eamonn was a hypocrite (for some) and the foolishness of the Church was hurled around. Well yes and no. Eamonn did much good. But why can’t we remember? Why do we have to build people up and delight in their failure? We love to put people on a pedestal and then knock them off. Many of our highflyers have clay feet. It is the way of life. Eamonn and Michael were the warm-up act in Galway. They had some colour and life. Keith was a man full of humour and humanity and he fell off the dais. Charlie Haughey was a lovable rogue. Even John Major did some straying with Edwina. JFK needed much exercise every day. Bill Clinton liked some variety. Mitterand was good to his mistress. Even Ryan Giggs took a tumble. Chuck Berry created ‘rock and roll’ and did some rolling himself.
We crave the perfect. It doesn’t happen. Life is very mixed up. Each of us has much good and a few failings. It almost seems that we need to discover humility to appreciate success. I love the character of David in the Bible. He didn’t just have clay feet- he fell on his face. We needed a Peter and a Judas. Humanity and humility have to go together. No time is perfect. No era is perfect. No person is perfect.
I want less perfect people and more colour and character. We have produced a faith that glorifies perfection and is totally unreal. We spun yarns about the so-called saints and made them very unreal. We did the same with Jesus. We had no taste for the poetry and metaphor and story of Scripture and then deadened everything with literalism. Where is the heart and throbbing reality in the midst of all this? Goodness, we were so perfect; we hardly needed God at all. We sent people into priesthood and religious life and called it the ‘way of perfection’, which was a total nonsense. We were full of sin and categorised everything for Confession in number and quantity, which made a farce of the Sacrament. We made marriage for the procreation of children and forgot about intercourse as having something to do with lovemaking. We even produced a Missal with artificial words and thought it was sacred. But the failures don’t matter one whit, if we learn a little. We will never get it right. We are forever struggling to learn. Pope Francis is helping us to look at the simplicity of faith and the beauty of God among us. Our faith is one of delight and awe. All the misery literature of theology has little to do with the Christ of Gospel.
Charles Brown is off to Albania. I hope he has learned much from us. I hope he has learned that a tidy life is not faithful. I hope he has found that the perfect is not Godly or real. He may have come here to sort us out but I wasn’t convinced that his version of sorting us out was bright, breezy and beautiful. Neatness and tidiness is far from the reality of ordinary life and ordinary faith. I smiled again as I recalled the Devotion to the Mother of Good Counsel (among the Augustinians). We have a beautiful picture in Genazzano of a picture which supposedly miraculously flew from Albania. I don’t think such fanciful tales are essential in building up devotion. However, may Charles J be touched by the grace of Albania (and any residue from the picture!) and the blessing of God. He is a man of faith to take on such a job. I would prefer to give him a few years in the madness of a crazy parish.
I will return to the beginning. Life is complicated. We get glimpses of insight. Nothing is simple. We need our heroes. We need our colourful characters. We need people who have a go at living. Does it really matter if they fail or fall? Some of our greatest artists have been chaotic in life but yet had a touch of genius. I think the Eamonns of this world are a great gift to us. I call it grace and not disgrace. Fallen heroes are not failures but human. We can admire the good and understand when anything goes wrong. Somehow I think David was a more rounded human being and a more faithful ancestor of Jesus by being real. We need to be gentle in our assessment of times and places and people. The curse of certainty is total failure. If some of our know-all commentators allowed themselves a little poetry in their souls, they might even catch a whisper of God. Be-Big rather than Be-Little.
Seamus Ahearne osa