This article appeared in the Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 6th September 2013.
This is the time of year when it begins to dawn on us that we have left summer behind and we start gearing up mentally for shorter days and colder weather. (At least this year we were able to enjoy some warm summer weather.) This is also the end of the ‘honeymoon’ period in schools when teachers notice that the early excitement of new P1 or S1 pupils may be beginning to wane. Parents may also begin to notice a growing reluctance in their youngsters to rise bright and early for school.
Of course in this, as in life, so much depends on the attitude of individuals. My three year old granddaughter Chloe has just started Nursery school and she is desperate to go every afternoon to see her teachers and her new friends. For her, this is not the end of her infancy when she played and learned and was cared for at home by Mum or Gran but the start of an exciting time of new friends and new learning in a new context. She is fascinated by new opportunities to learn and is not threatened by the unknown at this stage of her life. Long may this continue.
Some of us may be more inclined to regret the passing of important stages in life as opportunities lost or as precious experiences which can’t be recovered, other than as dusty memories. At times we may even be quite threatened by change, by any questioning of the status quo or by new invitations, opportunities or challenges.
These thoughts seem particularly relevant at this time of significant change for the Catholic Church in Scotland. We seem to be under the cosh, at the mercy of critics in the media and elsewhere, challenged to defend the Church and even our faith more generally. Specific revelations about the actions of some individuals have coalesced into more general attacks on a Church which is being perceived by some as being dysfunctional and a Hierarchy which is portrayed as being out of touch with the reality of people’s lives in the modern world.
Coming under attack in these ways, it’s natural that we feel inclined to keep our heads down and to leave others to mount a defence, particularly if we feel that we are not well enough informed to respond. Some may even feel that the criticism is valid, that the Church has never experienced such self-inflicted wounds in our lifetime and that the damage may be irrecoverable.
And yet . . .
I believe that the Church will emerge stronger out of these recent crises. I am eagerly anticipating the appointment of four new Scottish Bishops who will bring their own talents and energies to the significant task of leading our Church in faith. I hope that the distressing revelations of recent months will cause us all to examine our words and actions and to measure them against the truth of the Gospel and its portrayal of a merciful loving God. I pray that such sincere reflection and subsequent actions will lead to the voice of the Church being held in high esteem once again.
My hopes are supported by the words and actions of Pope Francis who continues to surprise us with his direct, frank approach to faith. In his public addresses and, it seems, in his personal encounters with people, he is disarming in the challenges he is setting out for the Church and for the world.
His approach is well caught in many of the Tweets which come from his @Pontifex Twitter account. Among my favourites so far are: “Jesus is more than a friend. He is a teacher of truth and life who shows us the way that leads to happiness” and “Every time we give in to selfishness and say ‘No’ to God, we spoil his loving plan for us.”
In delivering such messages to the world, Pope Francis is building on the teaching of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI who did so much to explain why we believe what we believe. The surprising end of Benedict’s Pontificate led to the beginning of that of Francis. As people of faith, we must learn from the past as we travel on into the future with Christ ever present with us – yesterday, today and tomorrow.