Truth in a fractured church
AS the Book of Ecclesiastes says, ‘there is a time for every purpose under heaven’. (Eccl 3:1)
And so it was that 2017 seemed an opportune time to begin composing the book “All the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured Church”.
Launched last month by Bishop Pat Power, the book takes as its theme ‘beauty from ashes’ from Isaiah 61:3, and has been written ‘while the Catholic Church and its people are reeling from years of scandal’.
Working in media relations for Australia’s Catholic bishops, I was no stranger to an intimate understanding of that scandal, sometimes fielding late night or early morning calls from abuse survivors and angry Catholics.
I was in the role when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Catholic Church was significantly, indeed, overwhelmingly represented in the findings of that inquiry, and faced a reckoning that threatened to topple its foundations.
And yet, arguably, it was a breaking that needed to happen.
Yet, I was aware as I wrote that pithy, silver bullet answers are not enough for many Catholics anymore.
It was important to delve deep into the stories, to enunciate in some way the sense that Catholics have of not being able to shake the “dust from their feet” from this institution that raised them, but of deeply yearning for change and reckoning.
It was a project that led to much personal questioning. At times, I doggedly kept practising, often with little consolation.
Now the writing journey is over, but in many ways, the questions are open ended.
I end the book with a call to action and a personal commitment in the epilogue.
The book is available for $24.95 from the publisher’s website and amazon.com.au.
Excerpt from Epilogue of “All the Beautiful Things”
Whether breathing in the heady fumes of incense at a cathedral mass, or smelling soup wafting from the Vinnies van, the spirit of God and the beauty of Christ’s body is still present for me, and I want to be part of a solution, a reformation, a rebuilding.
I want to sit down in community and assemble the pieces.
I want to be the one who stops on the roadside and applies oil to the wounds of the stranger and wraps them in clean, fresh cloths.
I want to sit at the foot of the cross with my head bowed down and listen to the cries of those who have been crucified with Christ; those abused, betrayed, ignored.
I want to apply the balm of mercy, sing the songs of the ages, eat the bread of the broken body, and piece by piece, rebuild this reign of God as much as possible on the earth.
As I finish this writing journey, I am reminded of the words of poet James McAuley’s ‘In a late hour’.
In the poem, McAuley writes:
While the stars run distracted
And from wounds deep rancours flow
While the mystery is enacted
I will not let you go.
Of course we are who the Church always needs to keep our eye out for and rectify any institutional malpractices, and update those aspects of liturgical and other practices which are merely incidental to the timeless teachings of Christ.
However we need to be wary in Australia of speaking as if malpractices here and in some other countries must therefore justify changes which may not be acceptable to the universal Church, lest unrealistic expectations result in predictable disappointment and loss of faith here, not to say schism.
Similarly, I am mindful that following the last Council there were those in the Church who so welcomed some of the changes proposed that they seemed much more open to dialogue with our separated brethren in other ‘faith traditions’ including non-Christians, than they were to the sensibilities of some in their own Church, whose views they rejected and with whom they had no interest in dialogue, much less compromise.
Good book. Congratulations. If they ask why you wrote it, just say ‘Because’.