THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
Fr Tim Buckley CSsR (Parish Priest)
You know by now that I try to be attentive to those moments when we see God’s providential hand at work in our lives. I had another classic example of this during my recent week in the south of England. One afternoon I called at the Jesuit House in Bournemouth in the hope of seeing Fr Brendan Callaghan SJ, who had supervised my thesis in the 1990s. I had heard that he had been convalescing there after a recent illness. In the event I learnt that he had recovered well and is due to be moving soon to the University Catholic Chaplaincy in Manchester. However, I was made most welcome by Fr Norman Tanner SJ, who provided tea and cakes! We had a fruitful conversation and as I was leaving he kindly gave me a signed copy of his book: New Short History of the Catholic Church.
In days gone by the lives of the saints and the history of the Church were usually written in such a way that the best possible interpretation was put upon everything, presumably that we might be duly edified and inspired to try and follow suit. The problem with this kind of approach is that far from inspiring us to strive to be better, it can so easily be counter-productive and leave us feeling inadequate. I have shared with you before my joy that some new lives of St Alphonsus, our Redemptorist founder, portray him as real human being, struggling with himself and his relationships, in a way that bring him alive and make him much more lovable.
Fr Tanner has written in a similar vein about the whole history of the Church, telling the story as it was: the story of real people striving and often failing to live the gospel message and not a continuous series of triumphs of good over evil. I have often quoted Pope John XXIII at his opening address at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. He knew he had his critics, among them the pessimists who considered the calling of the Council a huge mistake. This is what he said:
We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.
In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations… And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.
We hear from similar prophets of gloom today, challenging Pope Francis, who continues to challenge us to get our priorities right.
And this brings me back to the situation in our own place and time. The history of the Church is a history of God’s people in constant renewal. The beginning of a new academic year provides us with ample opportunity to continue that renewal in our two parishes and in our pastoral area. I have been talking a lot about the letter I am preparing with a view to developing the conversation about how best we can help one another, especially in our liturgies and the celebration of the sacraments. The letter as it stands is quite long and I am continuing to seek ways of making it as succinct as possible without it losing its desired impact. I hope to begin by sharing it with the parents of the children who are due to begin their preparation for First Holy Communion next year. Accordingly, I am consulting with the catechists and the schools about postponing the beginning of the programme so that I can start this conversation in earnest during the autumn. Now that we do not have to cover the preparation for Confirmation as well, I think it may serve us well to begin the programme proper nearer the end of the year. This will give us ample opportunity to test the letter and begin the conversation with key groups in both parishes.
By way of a couple of addenda: may I strongly recommend Fr Tanner’s book? It is published by Bloomsbury and retails at £12.99. And finally I commend to your prayers the sister of Fr Brendan Callaghan, Kath Gibson (a member of St Mary’s parish), who is seriously ill at present, and indeed all the parishioners in both our parishes who are struggling with health or other problems.