My latest two reflections on aspects of Church doctrine have had some interesting responses. `I am not referring to social media, which I indulge in very sparingly. Letters in the Irish Times, and emails to myself, varied from those who were very supportive to those who, in the case of some emails, were quite abusive and condemnatory. After a good few years in the public domain, due to my work with the ACP and my writings, I am used to all this, and it doesn’t cause me any great concern. But I do find it interesting that some people get so worked up about somebody raising questions and promoting discussion of various doctrines.
For myself, I am surprised and happy to find that at this stage in my life I am stimulated by questions of faith, and the authenticity of beliefs that I have carried through life with me. Maybe it is the fact that I am no longer preaching, that I have a freedom inside myself to explore and question that I never experienced before in my life.
So, questions like the following are occupying my mind these times:
— Are we born into sin and death or into life and love, and what are the implications of each of these understandings?
— Who exactly was/is Jesus, and what can we draw from the various accounts of his life and teaching?
— What are the consequences of the fact that Church teaching and spirituality have been shaped almost exclusively by men, and that the feminine voice and intelligence have been suppressed?
—And of course most fundamental of all, who or what is God, and how can we understand and relate to him/her/All-Embracing Love?
`I am aware that none of these questions are new, and that I am not by any means the first or last person to engage with them.
I am spending a fair share of this Holy Week reading three books on Jesus, two by Australian writers and one by a Belgian Jesuit. The one thing that all three have in common, and which I regard as essential for my reading nowadays, is that they eschew theological jargon, and write in simple, good quality language. My experience of a great many of the theologians and bible scholars I have read during my life is that they seem to me to write for each other, rather than for the people. They freely discuss issues, like for instance the large amount of the Bible, including the New Testament, that is myth and story rather than historical account, but will never say or write that in non-theological fora, like a newspaper article or a Sunday homily. Is it that they are afraid of censure, or that they just want to keep it all ‘in-house’? The result is that the people have been starved of a meaningful commentary on the faith, and are walking away in great numbers from what they regard as no longer credible. I somehow doubt that, whereever I attend the Easter ceremonies this coming weekend, I will hear a homily outlining a number of possible interpretations of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. I know that some traditional believers might be upset, but a great many others, who would be at Mass on Easter Sunday morning, but who are not regular attenders, would be stimulated and maybe provoked into thinking anew about what they have largely left behind.