I have been asked to explain why I love the Catholic Church despite all the woes we are suffering as a social institution. writes Father Frank Brennan in Eureka Street.
I love the Church because it is the privileged space where people can share their deepest insights, and it is the sacred space where we can hear those insights respectfully and empathetically.
As Catholics, we know that ritual, tradition and authority help to shape the contours for our religious belief and practice in the daily routine in life and the peak moments of joy and sorrow, beginnings and endings, equipping us to act for justice and with compassion serving those who would never dream of being master. To many non-believers, our professing of impossible ideals and admitting of our sin and need for forgiveness and reconciliation wreaks of nothing other than hypocrisy.
For consistency, we are urged to drop the ideals or abandon all hope of redemption. For us, the Church is the crucible, the network of relationships and the worshipping community which makes life to the full marked by justice and compassion a possibility in season and out of season.
Something crystallised for me at a recent appearance of the Opera House with A. C. Grayling and Sean Faircloth, a US director of one of the Dawkins Institutes passionately committed to atheism. We were there to discuss their certainty about the absurdity of religious faith. Mr Faircloth raised what has already become a hoary old chestnut, the failure of Pope Francis when provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina during the Dirty Wars to adequately defend his fellow Jesuits who were detained and tortured by unscrupulous soldiers. Being a Jesuit, I thought I was peculiarly well situated to respond.
I confess to having got a little carried away. I exclaimed: Yes, how much better it would have been if there had been just one secular, humanist, atheist philosopher who had stood up in the city square in Buenos Aires and shouted, 'Stop it!' The military junta would have collectively come to their senses, stopped it, and Argentinians would have lived happily ever after.
The luxury for such philosophers is that they never have to get their hands dirty and they think that religious people who do are hypocrites unless of course they take the course of martyrdom. Its only as Church that I think we can hold together ideals and reality, commitment and forgiveness.
It's only as the believing community that we can express light hearted humour about the most serious things in life. I remember when I was coming up for Regency as a young Jesuit just when there was a change of provincials. Pat O'Sullivan had suggested I commence legal aid work and public advocacy with Aboriginal groups. Paul Duffy came along and missioned me to teach year 10 Mathematics at Xavier College.
Why I still love the Catholic Church (Eureka Street)