I am and will forever remain Catholic, I could be no other. I accept the basics, the existence of God, the Trinity, the revelation through Scripture, and a non corporal Resurrection and transformation. However I am not likely to pass any doctrinal examination on orthodoxy, as I reject outright much of the Church’s outdated mythology. Like Hans Kung, I am not likely to find a job teaching in a Catholic theological faculty, even though qualified, as I am not onside with its understanding of life and the world, its social and moral stance, with the role of authority, and the position of women. In short, I am not a Catholic fundamentalist. I do value the spiritual heritage I imbibed with my mother’s milk, the sense of the otherness of God, and the rich Celtic mystical tradition. But looking back, I find way too much that is embarrassing, intellectually limited, and indeed offensive. But nevertheless, I still pray, and I still believe in Jesus the Christ.
The Newfoundland where I grew up had to be one of the most ethnically Irish areas of the world, and Irish community life cantered on the Church. There was ‘us’, and there were the ‘others’. The Irish brothers trained us to be Catholic gladiators, and our arenas were hockey rink and soccer pitch. Strong on obedience to doctrine and on forms of observance but intellectual torpid, the Newfoundland Church concentrated its energies on ensuring that every Catholic child received Catholic schooling. There was an undue emphasis on ritual and form, and less on substance and understanding. There was little in our common education through those early years that inspired us to question. The ‘sacred deposit of faith’ was the answer left to fill in the gaps. Scrupulousness was an abiding inheritance passed on, a psychological bias that as one matured would inevitably led to either blind acceptance or outright rejection. No one ever bothered to tell us that there was nothing in the world more prone to illusion and self-deception than religion. Consequently our inheritance was an abiding belief in another world, and deeply ingrained feelings of personal sinfulness. It was belief in that other world that prompted many to consider priesthood and religious life, and it was rejection of that mythology that prompted many of those same people to give up all religious observance for good. Is there any wonder? Of course the “other world” focus is not good theology, as it implicitly denies the sacredness of creation, and the deification of matter through the incarnation of the divinity. The world to come is also a palliative, an opiate in the language of Marx, given to people to make them compliant. After all we were an English Colony, repressed, puritanical and suspicious of open minded enquiry, and indeed also of foreigners. We came of age in a community within a community that was suspicious of all social sciences, but most especially psychology and psychiatry. Individual Brother Teachers in their love of literature and poetry helped us to transcend a little, but honesty demands that we admit it was meagre and limited. Ours was an anti-scientific environment as if to embrace science was someone to reject God.
We also inherited a puritanical gene, that abiding sense of sin, and in many ways we are not all that different from those ‘crazies’ [ read about Cotton Mather] who were terrorized in New England in the 17th century. Of course many of you will laugh at my assertion that you are puritanical to the core; hell, you will scoff, we rejected all that stuff. However dig deep inside yourselves and reflect, then ask your kids if they consider you a little rigid and puritanical. How open are you to their atheism or agnosticism? Do you know what they really think? Enough of me and that for today!
In the language of Robert Heinlein, I have just ‘folded space’ from St. John’s. I went there for a funeral, but my real joy came from getting together with many of you. Thirty plus of you showed up for a wonderful evening, and some stayed on till almost midnight. John ODea, Ed Walsh, Bill Collins, and Joe Murphy sent their regrets, and I certainly missed Joe Woodrow and Ed Shortall, but we had an ‘altogether grand evening’. Fifteen showed up for the Memorial Mass in honour of Gerry White, and the ten others of us who have now died. My old friend Wayne Bolton, S.J. did a good job for us, and offered his services again if we should ever so wish. John Byrne spoke warmly of his old friend Gerry White, who left us when he was but 24, and according to his sister has never been so remembered by anyone other than his immediate family. His brother Ron also attended. Derm Penny, John Breen, Brian Shortall and myself went over to see Jim Prowse after the Mass. I will not mince words, I was shocked, and happy to have others with me. In fact, I recommend that the best way to see Jim is to come with at least one other. Then you can have a conversation, and Jim, who is present but cannot speak, will lighten up, and his emotions will become apparent.
In coming together you have given me a great Christmas gift, thank you all for taking the time!
Lovely piece. S