06Mar Theft of Laurence O’Toole’s heart – a reflection

The Theft Of A Heart.

Last Sunday’s Liturgy presented us in scripture with the body of Isaac readied for sacrifice and the body of Jesus glorified in Transfiguration. Saturday evening I was thinking these thoughts in relation to Body Theology and then I heard that the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole had been stolen. I immediately felt this theft of a man’s heart in my gut. Who would steal a human heart? no matter how ancient, whether that heart is of a man or woman, a saint or not? In my very gut I felt this violation of a human being.

Body Theology and my innards? My understanding of that theology is that first I am body, not just that I have a body. As I understand it the Incarnation is God’s vindication of the created world and of human beings. This world and we, bodied men and women, and all that is created are indispensible to our eternal salvation. It is in our bodies that we can know moral knowledge. If we cannot feel within our very bodies justice and injustice, hope and hopelessness, love and hatred, integration and destruction, these terms remain unreal and abstract.

The history by which the rejection of ” the world ” and the body came to have such influence on our spirituality today is not for here, it is too long and complex, but Church suspicion of the body, sexuality and intimacy is the under the control of Church as ” it ” and needs to enter into dialogue with the Church as
” we ” the People of God.

When I stand as solemniser at marriage, more and more I realise that this public expression of love of bride and groom is the greatest compliment one human being can pay to another. At marriage we are invited to enter into the love of these two people who by an exchange of consent hand over, one to the other, all that is precious and intimate in themselves and expect nothing less in return.This is sacrament bodied in all its beauty and mystery.

And our brothers and sisters who seek a blessing for their committment in love and fidelity to their same gender partner ? How can we control blessing? Men and women who are members of our faith-communities and who ask that God be part of their lives together. A blessing that their lives together be open to the presence of God in their lives, the in their relationship they open their hearts to the needy, the unloved and the needy, that the Church support them in their fidelity to each other and that they add to the life of the Church. How can we control blessing? The Eucharist was never instituted and then to be used as a penalty. The unity of the Eucharist is most most clearly seen in its very brokenness.

The recent public refusal of Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson in the United States by the priest-celebrant of her mother’s funeral Liturgy and his walking off the sanctuary as she began her words of thanks to the congregation was his personal objection to Barbara’s choice to live openly as an openly lesbian woman. Who are we to claim control over sacraments? The great task for us to face as Church is the use of power, if we ever to be accountable then that accountability is about the use of power.

A heart is stolen, a body readied for sacrifice and the body of Jesus glorified in Tranfiguration, by the hand of God Isaac was unbound, hopefully the heart of Laurence will be returned and may the glory of the body of Christ be seen in all members of Christ’s Body, the Church. in us, all of us, the People of God. That I feel in my body, in my gut.

12 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    Yes, I feel in my gut that “it is the Lord who speaks” here. This is a priest speaking with a heart and from the heart and it warms my own heart because I feel and hear the humanity and the divine in these words. Yes! Thank you. It reaffirms my faith in my Church that there are such men who can see as Christ would see. It fills me with hope. Yes!
    Mary V

  2. Paddy Ferry

    Like Mary, Fr.Tony’s reflection warms my heart too and reaffirms my faith in our Church. Thank you Tony.

  3. Jo O'Sullivan

    Yes. Thank you from the depth of my being Tony. As a woman, brought up in a church where my very body has been a cause for a deeply rooted shame since puberty (and No, that is not an exaggeration!) it feels like a soothing balm to read the words Tony has written.

    Míle buíochas.

    Jo O’Sullivan

  4. Eileen

    Thanks for the inspiring article. It explains again why I cannot limit my blessing of the celebrant at Eucharist, by responding: ‘And with your spirit.’ Instead, I slowly and thoughtfully pray: ‘And with you.’ For more on the sacredness of the body, see Anne Henry’s articles in ‘The Furrow.’ (November and December, 2011). Remembering that it was the efforts of the community that brought the paralyzed patient, on his bed, through the roof of the house where Jesus was healing, I now say, at the elevation of the host: …. “say but the word and ‘we’ shall be healed.”

  5. Rory Connor

    From the New York Daily News
    A woman in Washington D.C. is asking for a priest to be removed from the diocese after he refused to give her communion at her mother’s funeral — because she is a lesbian.
    This is what Fr Tony is referring to when he writes about the priest’s “personal objection to Barbara’s choice to live openly as an openly lesbian woman”. His PERSONAL objection! Really?
    I’m just wondering how far Fr. Tony’s tolerance and love extends. Does he approve of Ms. Johnson giving media interviews in which she denounces the priest? Does he agree that the priest should be removed from the diocese because he followed his own conscience and the teachings of the Church?

  6. Eddie Finnegan

    “When I was younger, I was more severe. With time, I came to understand the importance of taking the path of mercy, following the example of the Lord who welcomed even a flicker of desire for communion in the faith.”
    Benedict XVI to 400 priests of Bolzano-Bressanone diocese, 7/9/2008.
    The North-American Church has never been short of priests and laity more Catholic than the Pope.
    The “high official” mentioned in the NYDaily News was in fact the Area Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar-General of Washington Archdiocese. According to The Tablet, Bishop Barry Knestout’s letter to Barbara Johnson reads: “In my years as a priest, I have encountered many pastoral situations and know that kindness to those experiencing personal loss is a necessary part of the Church’s call to charity. The fact that you did not experience this is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.”
    The Tablet adds: ‘Most canonists agree that denying Communion in such situation(s) is a violation of canon law.’ [though I’m not sure how many canonists they polled or how many canonists add up to “most”.]

  7. Sean (Derry)

    So this article was written by a priest who asks, ” Who are we to claim control over sacraments?”
    Well thankfully the priest in Washington DC, Father Marcel Guarnizo, ‘claimed control’, used discernment, right-judgement and withheld the sacrament of communion from someone who is not a Catholic, who is in fact a Buddhist and a openly sexually active homosexual.
    Of course you won’t find these facts in the mainstream press who are only to happy to bash the Church and present the priest as the villian and the poor lesbian as the victim. The ‘victim’ in question actually describes herself as a “naturally born agitator” committed to a “culture war” and she now wants the priest removed from ministry. Given Ms. Johnson’s history of activism one writer said, this was “a blatantly political attempt by Johnson to generate sympathy and support for gay marriage and to foment public judgment against the Church.”

  8. Eddie Finnegan

    Many thanks, Sean (Derry), for those links. It seems Rory’s caution above was well placed after all. It seems, too, that The Tablet of 10th March was no wiser than the NYDaily News of nine days earlier. If your sources are more on the ball than the Washington Auxiliary, it certainly seems as if Ms Johnson was lacking in that “flicker of desire for communion in the faith” that Benedict spoke of. Caveat lector where grieving agitators are involved!

  9. Jo O'Sullivan

    I am trying to stand in the shoes of a woman who has been taught from her earliest years that there is something intrinsically wrong with her because she’s not attracted to men – she fancies women. In her formative years she tries to be a good Catholic, because that’s also part of who she is. She struggles with her sexuality and tries to deny it and tries to convince herself she’ll grow out of it. She’s a person of integrity and wants a loving relationship with her God – she wants to be a good person.
    But the struggle is impossible. She comes to realise she is who she is and her sexuality is part of that – not something to be ashamed of and to try to ‘cure’, but something to celebrate as being authentic to herself. Except she can’t do that within her beloved church. Her church keeps telling her she is shamefully disordered.
    So what can she do? Stay within her church and live a lie? Her integrity will not allow that. Seek another path to a loving relationship with the divine creator? Her search for truth brings her to the realisation that God is so much beyond our comprehension that it is an arrogance on the part of any tradition to claim that its ways are the correct ways and its teachings are the only right teachings. She finds a way of being in which she can find spiritual nourishment.
    Her early struggles have taught her that the most important thing for any of us to be in life is authentic so she lives her life in that way. She is fortunate enough to meet a person with whom she can share her life and lives in a perfectly open way with that person. Because she cares so deeply about the discrimination that is still in evidence against the homosexual community, she fights against it.
    Her mother dies and she returns to her early spiritual home to say her final farewell to the woman who was her first love. She’s part of her old community once more – if only for a visit. She wants to be a full part of the old family, not an observer, so she takes her place to partake of the spiritual food.
    She is refused! The sharing in the Eucharistic meal is denied to her.
    Can you imagine the hurt and the humiliation? Can you imagine all the old memories that are stirred up? Can you imagine the anger that it generates? Can you understand why she feels she wants to lash out and see to it that no other person will ever have to suffer such humiliation?
    Maybe my reading of Barbara Johnston’s story is all wrong. Maybe, as commentators here have suggested, she was coldly and calculatedly using her mother’s funeral to ‘agitate’. Eddie, you say “it certainly seems as if Ms Johnson was lacking in that “flicker of desire for communion in the faith”. How can you know that? I ask you, who among us has the right to judge her in this way?
    It was wonderful to read Tony’s original article which started this dialogue – it lifted my heart. But I’m saddened and disappointed with the path that it has now taken. The impression I get is that a lot of contributors now feel that the priest in question was right to behave as he did.
    You seem to believe Ms. Johnston was consciously ‘agitating’.
    What was the priest doing by acting as he did?

  10. Kevin Walters

    We cannot steal the heart of Christ and make it in our own image.
    But we can venerate the image of broken man as we reflect his heart, in Trust, the best we can.
    God in the incarnation gave of himself out of love to save that which had been lost. All of us, clergy, laity, married, divorced, gay, the crippled, the lame, the bad, the good, we (the lost) are all flawed and sinful. But we have ALL been called to partake in the Wedding feast but when the Master comes will he find our hearts ( which are broken, sinful, and lost,) now contrite, blest, and wearing the wedding garment of humility. (Holiness)
    In Christ

  11. Eddie Finnegan

    Jo, you are right about the worth of Tony Butler’s original article, as indeed five of the ten comments so far (1-10) acknowledge. Tony’s penultimate paragraph introduces a controversy that’s been raging in Washington and beyond since the start of the month, so the rest of us (5-9) went off on a tangent. More light might have followed from Tony’s sortie into Theology of the Body if we had followed Eileen’s link to Anne Henry’s excellent articles in The Furrow (Nov-Dec 2011).
    Our Liberator-, as distinct from ‘liberation’, Theology has followed Dan O’Connell’s last words for the past 165 years all the way to Glasnevin: “My body to Ireland, My heart to Rome, My soul to Heaven”. All very tidy, split-tist and Gnostic. I hope, if they ‘recover’ Laurence’s heart, they’ll give it a decent Christian burial down in Glendalough where he always felt closer to his God, rather than chain it up in that ugly iron cage in a forgotten corner of Christchurch. Dean Dermot Dunne said he was devastated that “one of the treasured artifacts of the cathedral is stolen” – a curious word to describe a man’s heart unless, of course, he had the Divine Artificer in mind. Diarmuid Martin said the relic was “the spiritual heart of our city and it belongs to the people of Dublin.” The Lord Mayor wants it “back in its rightful place”. All very proprietorial in the matter of a man’s heart, but I suppose up in Armagh’s Clonfeacle parish (‘Meadow of the Tooth’) they’d give their right eye to be able to find St Patrick’s Tooth before Saturday morning. Now I wonder what did they do with my two hip joints when they replaced them with my current steel & plastic artifacts over the past decade? You can see I’ve never been a big relics-man.

    Jo, you say: “Maybe my reading of Barbara Johnson’s story is all wrong.” To which I can only reply, Maybe mine is too. It’s certainly a complex tale, made even more impenetrable by all the opposing vested interests eager to use it as a whetstone for their own axe grinding pursuits.
    Which is why I used the word “seems” three times in Comment 8 above, and began the clause you quote from me quoting Benedict with the conditional “If your (=SeanDerry’s) sources are more on the ball than the Washington Auxiliary . . .”.
    In Comment 6 I had been quoting the older and wiser Joseph Ratzinger’s advice to priests on following “the path of mercy” as a pastoral approach to easing people’s reception of the sacraments. I don’t think a priest should be more catholic than the Pope, or more christian than Christ.
    Since then, I’ve read all the links and versions of the story I could find from March 1st to 15th, including supportive audio-interviews with Barbara Johnson. You are right to try putting yourself in Barbara’s shoes. I’ve just tried putting myself in Marcel Guarnizo’s shoes that morning. No, from the little evidence I could garner about the man, he wouldn’t be my own choice of parish priest. I’m not at all sure that his placing his hand over the ciborium in refusal, rather than giving Barbara at least a ritual blessing, was prompted by his conscience, his recurring migraine (to which he seems to be a martyr), or to his awareness that this was old Mrs Johnson’s funeral he was conducting and that he was damned if he was going to let it be hijacked as a Barbara Johnson platform – as she and her partner had earlier made clear to him in the sacristy. But, whatever judgements we may make about another’s inward motives from their outward comportment, I find myself becoming a reluctant Marcelist – but please God don’t send him to Harringay or Upper Creggan.

  12. Paddy Ferry

    This is an issue that will never — can never — go away. As Christians we all surely must stand up to homophobic bigotry wherever we find it. Did you know that last week 3,000 schools across Ireland took part in the Stand Up To Homophobic Bullying campaign? Now,that made me feel proud of my old country. I read about this in an article by Carol Hunt in last Sunday’s Sunday Independent (p.10). The headline contends that our church’s “homophobic hypocrisy is leaving our young people confused”.

Scroll Up