“Phall if you but will, rise you must”

In this Easter season especially, we need to recall constantly the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “We are the Easter people”.


This is particularly important for me personally this year, after the disappointment I wrote about yesterday (“Despised, Rejected”). That post told only part of the story: the rest was hinted at early, when I balanced the despondent phrase from Isaiah with the familiar, much more positive one, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

At the heart of the Easter story, and of Christianity itself, is the resurrection: with every fall, comes a “resurrection” of some kind – as Joyce puts it, repeatedly, in Finnegans Wake.

The Wake is often dismissed as an incomprehensible, monumental waste of literary genius, but to its admirers, it’s anything but.  It deals with profound themes, with resurrection prominent among them, but is also a great comic novel, filled with life, laughter and extraordinary verbal legerdemain. It’s the only book I’ve ever bought twice, the second time in hardback, for the simple reason that my first paperback edition was starting to fall apart from extended use.  At times of great stress and anxiety, among others when my then wife was in Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital  for an extended two month stay, and I was left with child care, running the home, and holding down a full – time job while also juggling hospital visits, I read and reread selected passages for comfort, healing – and laughter.

It’s emphatically not an easy book to read. To take one simple example relevant to my present state of mind, there’s this:

“Phall if you but will, rise you must”.

The literal sense of this is straightforward enough: if you fall, you must just get up again. But by combining “fall” with “phallus” to get “phall”, he’s turned a simple banality into a bawdy joke.

In my present position in respect of Cafod and the Catholic Church, I see several little ironies. One of these almost qualifies as a bawdy joke itself.

The reason for Cafod rejecting me as a schools volunteer, was my public profile as an (allegedly) campaigner against Church teaching – specifically, sexual teaching. But part of my motivation in wanting to become actively involved with Cafod in the first place, had been a sense that it was becoming time to back off the constant obsession with matters of sexuality and sexual ethics, and to become more involved, and outspoken, on the far more important elements of Church teaching with which I, and Cafod, emphatically agree – matters of social justice, the preferential option for the poor, and the like.

Because these are indeed pf fundamental importance in Catholic teaching, and the sexual issues relatively minor, it did not take me too long to conclude once again, that there really is no place for me to be, other than in the Catholic Church. This is where I belong, and this is where I shall stay.

But if, as I have found, I have been effectively prevented from broadening my focus away from “campaigning” on the sexual matters – the obvious lesson is that on the contrary, I must continue to do so, with redoubled effort and effectiveness.

The Church is stuck with me, whether they like it or not. This stone which the builders rejected, will indeed become a cornerstone.

(With heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful messages of support and encouragement. I did not need them in my decision to stay, as that had already been taken at the time of posting, but they were valuable as affirmation of that decision).


as affirmation




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