Holy Week has come and gone, and for many will by now be almost forgotten. But we remain in the liturgical season of Easter, and so it remains appropriate to reflect further on this great feast.
The Easter Triduum in particular can be an emotional and spiritual roller – coaster, plunging the depths on Good Friday, quickly followed by the exultation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. This year, events in my religious life led me to feel this with unusual intensity – so much so, that I have felt simply unable to write about them until now. Write however I must,to bring some healing. In brief, I had cause to heel especially acutely two short lines from the liturgies for the Triduum: “He was despised, rejected..”(Isaiah 53:3, Good Friday), and later, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone”.
To make sense of the depths of this, I need to go back a little, into recent personal history.
Last year, I was increasingly jubilant at the changes pf emphasis being wrought in the Church by Pope Francis, and was especially inspired by “Evangelii Gaudium”, with its emphasis on evangelisation, and on concern and action for the poor. This is hardly surprising. For years, I have felt strongly that this passage from Luke 4:18, based on a similar one in Isaiah, amounts to Christ’s opening mission statement, at the start of his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…
By extension, I have written previously, this must include bringing good news to the queer, who also are oppressed, often by the Church itself. Evangelii Gaudium reminded me, uncomfortably, with the simple fact that it is not enough to “bring the good news to the queer”, which had been taking up much of my time and energy for some years, if I simply ignore the primary task, to bring good news (and relief) to those who really are poor and oppressed, in a direct, physical sense. The urgency of resisting church – based homophobia and exclusion seemed to be receding (at least in certain respects and countries), and I was in any case starting to feel that much of what I’ve been writing here, was simply restating the same issues, especially on gay marriage. I began to wonder if I should be devoting somewhat less time to writing as much about LGBT faith issues, and to commit more time and energy elsewhere.
New Year brought new clarity to these issues. In my parish bulletin, was an appeal for Cafod volunteers, as school visitors, parish representatives, and other roles. I immediately made a telephone call to sign up. There followed a total of three full days of training, several meetings at the Cafod Arundel and Brighton diocesan offices, and a trial school visit, in which another new volunteer and myself assisted the diocesan director in delivering a primary school Cafod assembly. On another occasion, attending a parish musical fund-raiser for Cafod, I was unexpectedly asked to say a few words about the agency, which I did.
Throughout this process of training, I had become increasingly enthusiastic about working with Cafod, and had thoroughly enjoyed the experiences of both speaking to the primary school children, and to the parish music audience. I began to think up a variety of ways in which I could contribute, even beyond my original intentions when signing up.
Then, at the start of Holy Week, this all came crashing down. The diocesan director had written to me, asking to meet to discuss further my role with Cafod. He came to my home for that discussion, and told me (with regret), that Cafod would not be able to use me as a school volunteer, after all, because I am publicly “campaigning against Church teaching”.
My initial response was to say that of course I understood his position and that of Cafod, forced on them by the rules of higher authority, and agreed that there remained the possibility of working simply within the local parish, where I am well known and accepted, and even find strong support for my activism.
However, the more I reflected on this later, after he had left, the more I found myself angry – not at him or at Cafod, but at the Church itself, which is so intolerant of any internal dissent or disagreement. Pope Francis has famously described one part of the mission of the church, as that of a “field hospital for the wounded”, but too often, it is instead inflicting the wounds, not healing them.
And so, feeling intensely, “despised, rejected”, I began to wonder again, as I have done from time to time before, whether my critics on both sides are not perhaps, correct. Do I in fact have a place in the Catholic Church – or should I make a move to another, one which allows for full participation in decision taking and regulation by laity alongside that of clergy, one that takes seriously the concept of a church for all the faithful that was promised for Catholics by Vatican II, but never implemented?