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Sheep without a shepherd?

March 1, 2013

So, the first day since the pope’s stepping down from office is drawing to a close for the world’s Catholics. Most of the media coverage of the resignation, an event unprecedented in the modern age, refers darkly to a crisis in the Church. The resignation of the pope is a grave blow to his flock, we are told. It is likely to shake their faith; a possibility strengthened in Scotland, where our well-liked and only cardinal has just been forced into a sudden resignation after allegations – as yet unproven – of ‘inappropriate behaviour’.

I converted to Catholicism last November. The clues have been here to find, but readers who have been with me for a while might be surprised, even amused: I have long protested my doubts and reservations about my husband’s religion. I am a bit surprised and amused myself. They got me in the end!

But how extraordinary to be, in C.S.Lewis’s famous phrase, ‘surprised by joy’. I won’t go into the reasons here: suffice it to say that perhaps, at long last, I stopped asking questions long enough to hear the still, small voice that had been waiting all along to give me the answer. In any case, trying to rationalise such an experience is almost impossible, as I am discovering. Trying to think of reasons to explain the decision to my family – although it felt less like a decision, more like a grace bestowed – I suggested not so long ago that one of the appealing aspects of the Catholic Church is its strong leadership. Like it or not, the Church knows where it’s come from and where it’s going, which is not always the impression given by the hand-wringing Anglican leaders, bless ’em.

Well, that claim of strong leadership seems to ring a little hollow this week. Our diocese has had no bishop for months, the last one having retired owing to failing health. Now we have lost our cardinal and our pope in the same week. Are we, then, as the media insinuate, sheep without shepherds, milling in confusion, turning every one to his own way?, 1.3.13-1

Of course not. It is indeed a troubling time for the global flock: naturally we wonder what the future will hold for the Church, rocked as it has been by crimes and cover-ups, dissension and resignations. What very few commentators seem to have grasped, however, is that the faith of Christians is not founded on any frail mortal; however exalted he might be in the hierarchy of what is referred to, in a beautiful and telling phrase in the liturgy, as God’s ‘pilgrim Church on Earth’. The faith of the faithful is in the transcendent God, in the risen Christ. And thank heavens for that., 1.3.13-2

18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2013 12:07 am

    It is interesting to read your perspective. We have a Catholic/non-Catholic household. Over the last couple of years we have had many discussions over changes in the Church, and of course the level of the discussions has elevated over the past 2 weeks. All I know is the Catholic Church now is not the Catholic Church of my youth.

    • March 2, 2013 12:15 am

      No doubt of that. Funnily enough, my husband says that the one thing he regrets about my conversion is that we can’t have the Protestant vs Catholic arguments that have kept us entertained ever since we met! 🙂

      • March 2, 2013 12:18 am

        Funny, we never argue, we analyze. Actually we analyze EVERYTHING, like some weird hobby.

  2. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    March 2, 2013 12:22 am

    Strong leadership, with emphasis on leadership,is an okay thing. My problem is that i believe that I can speak directly to God without an intercessor. I don’t believe that God has ever answered me directly but that’s ok too. An intercessor to me, is a sign of weak and uncertain leadership and irrelevant. My respect for you, however, tells me that people can disagree on everything and that’s ok too.

    • March 3, 2013 6:01 pm

      Disagreement is fine by me too. I take your point about intercessors: coming from the Protestant tradition, I am still getting used to the idea of them. Personally I don’t think that applying to intercessors precludes one from having a personal ‘hotline to God’ as well…but what do I know!

  3. March 2, 2013 4:22 am

    Sublime post, as usual. I am so glad that you have found a belonging so profound that you can’t find the words. Amen to that. I have a great appreciation for many of the Catholic church’s great fathers and mothers, like Saint Theresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola. Benedict, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, and of course, Francis. You join a beautiful tradition, even if it is mired in an all-too-human present.

    • March 3, 2013 6:02 pm

      Thank you, Melanie. You put it all beautifully. Your last sentence, especially, resonates with how I feel about Catholicism, with all its contradictions.

  4. March 2, 2013 3:35 pm

    Your final paragraph sums it up for me, DB. Leaders are there to be the servants of the servants of God, who are the faithful throughout the world. Just a parish won’t founder between one priest leaving and a successor arriving, neither will the Church, because God is always with us. Unfortunately most journalists have very little understanding of religious affairs and at a time like this it shows.

    • March 3, 2013 6:07 pm

      Yes, it makes one realise that practising Christians seem to have become a quaint anachronism in Britain. A democracy is supposed to champion the rights of minorities; although it hasn’t felt much like it recently.

  5. March 2, 2013 9:54 pm

    An interesting and thoughtful post. I don’t share any religious faith but as Boyd said we can disagree and that’s OK. And even without sharing the Catholic faith even I have been annoyed at the media portrayal of Catholics in crisis etc! Oh pulease!

    • March 3, 2013 6:08 pm

      Thanks for adding your dose of common sense, Sian. If only the media could tone down the hysteria and take a dose themselves!

  6. March 5, 2013 6:05 pm

    I returned from a week’s work trip to Europe to discover that everything has changed. Walking to work on Monday morning I passed the TV satellite vans outside St Mary’s Cathedral and felt so sad about the media onslaught.

  7. March 5, 2013 9:26 pm

    “stopped asking questions long enough to hear the still, small voice that had been waiting all along to give me the answer.” This is the hard part. Modern life is so loud and busy – and with so many children not being raised in any church, some grow up without the ability to sit quietly and still – so how can they “hear” truths that are attempting to get through.
    We are not Catholic, but the Church has had tremendous impact on civilization and the development of humankind. One thing I do know is that it isn’t in crisis – it will endure. It must for all of us. It is truth and guidance.
    (Have rediscovered CS Lewis recently – fascinating writer.)
    (And that last picture is amazing – just perfect. Spring/rebirth is just down the road)

    • March 6, 2013 1:03 pm

      Thanks for these supportive comments. It’s encouraging to know that there are still people who can distinguish between the failings of members of the church, and the wisdom and kindness of the church’s message as a whole.

  8. March 14, 2013 9:57 am

    Yes, I am hopeful too! 🙂


  1. Grace | Dancing Beastie

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