You are an author. lecturer, poet,
philosopher and in my opinion, one of the influential Catholics in the
Four, then five, then seven out of ten of our family went on the World Youth Day Pilgrimage to Poland. My wife and I were a part of the catechetical team that went from England; and, as such, we were invited to make a contribution to the various catecheses that were a part of the whole pilgrimage. I chose to do a catechesis on Edith Stein as, to begin with, I knew very little about her except that she was a philosopher with a connection to the thought of St. John Paul II. In view of the age group of our fellow pilgrims, I concentrated on works which drew on her life and provided excerpts on her thought; and, very gradually, I saw a number of themes common to her and to the times in which we live as well as to the work of St. John Paul II. Another motive was to encourage people to be real. Not long before we left for this pilgrimage a wife and mother of two had committed suicide. This young woman was connected to many people on social media but, somehow, the reality of her life had escaped the help she needed. I very much wanted people to meet each other, face to face and, with the help of the word of God, shared experience and various catecheses, to experience a concrete help in their lives. The catechesis itself, however, was given at a Carmelite Monastery and was a “sign”, as it were, of it being a gift from Edith Stein herself. I say this because there were several moments when the catechesis was due to be given and, each time, it seemed to slip through the schedule and looked, at one point, as if it was going to slip right out of the schedule altogether.
In the catechesis itself (a much more developed version of which is on the Homiletic and Pastoral Review website, I took a number of steps in her life in the hope of opening up the possibility that we would find points of contact with her and be drawn, as it were, towards the help that the life of a modern woman saint can give us; and, I have to say, I was also influenced by having encountered a number of aspects of feminism in the course of my studies and in the many conversations I have had with my eldest daughter about men and women. In terms of Edith’s life, then, although she came from a practicing Jewish family, she renounced prayer at fifteen; but, in later years, she saw the pursuit of truth as a kind of prayer that brought her to Christ. She came into contact with a leading modern philosopher, Edmund Husserl, who was developing a philosophy that led a number of people into the Catholic Faith because it invited us to be open to a richly realistic account of what exists. At the same time, in turning to Christianity, she drew upon the Old Testament figure of Ester, who successfully interceded for her own people, in order to understand her own vocation in the times in which she lived. Edith was also renowned for helping people find work as indeed she suffered a loss of work opportunities in the course of being in an environment increasingly hostile to anyone with Jewish blood. This closing of working doors to her also provided the occasion of recognizing that the moment had come for her enter Carmel. Nevertheless, in view of her Jewish background, she was rounded up and taken to a concentration camp where she died. Edith was a woman of exceptional gifts and gave her life for the love of the enemy. She said that marriage participates in martyrdom; and, as such, her holy realism is an encouragement to live in that expectation of the help of God that we need in daily life.
There is nothing automatic about the reception of the faith that we receive; and, in a certain way, it was the pursuit of truth that ultimately led me back to God – particularly the truth that I was a sinner. In a moment, however, it was God who revealed Himself as the “God who helps”; and, on the basis of this unexpected gift of faith, that He both exists and exists to help, I began to hope in His help and married. Marriage, up until this point, had been impossible; it was like trying to pass through a barbed wire fence and I just could not enter. I was forty and ready for suicide as the number of disappointments were outgrowing the possibility of hoping against hope in the possibility of being happy. Then the gift of faith came through reading in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: If God can create all that exists, He can make a new beginning for the sinner (CCC, 298). I am now married with eleven children, three of whom are in heaven.
|Gordon:||Why should more Catholics consider making pilgrimages?|
A pilgrimage is an opportunity to live life out of the reality of answering our deepest questions, to experience the providence of God and to participate in the mission of the Church to announce the Good News that God loves us! Before I had experienced the gift of faith, I had begun to turn to the Church for her help and I was sent on a World Youth Day pilgrimage to Denver; and, on that pilgrimage, although it was a few years before it began to be fulfilled, I heard in the Gospel read and preached by St. John Paul II: “I come to give you life and life to the full!” (Jn 10: 10). Thus, although I was to leave the charism of the Church to which I had turned because, like the man in the Gospel who had not recognized that he was a sinner and had not changed into wedding clothes (Mt 22: 11-12), I was to turn back again when I experienced the mercy of the gift of faith; and, on another pilgrimage, was given the word of Christ to the woman caught in adultery: go and sin no more (Jn 8: 11): a word Christ fulfilled in me and which made marriage possible. Secondly, a pilgrimage is an experience of the providence of God, then, which is so necessary to help us in our daily lives and worries about money, health, work, a home, transport and all the practicalities of life; and, as such, when my wife and I went to the World Meeting of Families in Milan with our eight children and were helped right from the start with money towards tickets, help with accommodation and an Italian guardian angel who managed to get us on a bus when we were lost and tired and trying to find our way back to our host’s home. Thirdly, then, a pilgrimage brings to light our missionary work of announcing to others the help that God gives us; indeed, just by being in Milan, many ordinary people said: Una Familia? Are you one family? In other words I have experienced the help that God gives to be open to life and to live life to the full even if it is, at the same time, constantly full of difficulties! Thus pilgrimage announces to us and to others that we are going to an encounter with the Lord of the harvest and that we will “take” whatever good He has made possible for us to do enroute.
A book on pilgrimage has just been accepted for publication entitled: “The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends”. Go to the LinkedIn Post “The Family on Pilgrimage” or to the publisher’s website for update
|Gordon:||What inspired you to write The Human Person: A Bioethical Word?|
For a long time I have been researching and writing about the mystery of human conception: both a completely human event and an act of God which begins each one of us. One of the expressions of Edith Stein’s philosophy that has continued to make me think is that women perceive phenomenon as a “whole”; and, by contrast, men are more conscious of the parts that make up that whole. Thus Eve does not speak of parts but of the man she has conceived through the help of God (Gn 4: 1). What, then, is a way of writing about the whole human being? Thus, you could say, Edith has challenged me to find ways of expressing the fruits of this extended meditation on the unique nature of the human person that will “speak” to this generation. In other words, what began as a discovery that there were incomplete answers to this question in the teaching of the Catholic Church has opened out into the task of communicating the intricately personal reality of being one in body and soul (Gaudium et Spes, 14) in a way that, hopefully, “speaks” to this generation. Thus, in choosing the expression that each one of us is a ‘bioethical word’, it is part of a general desire to express the unity of being a person: that we are not “parts” but an integral whole; and, if we are an integral whole, what will communicate that sense of the whole which each one of us expresses? Bringing together, then, ‘bioethical’ and ‘word’ is a way of restating the unitary fact of human being that arises out of an act of divine creativity. On the one hand, each one of us is a “word” of the Creator: a complex expression of many parts that yet make a single ‘word’; and, on the other hand, we are a bioethical word: a word which is at once wholly human and personal. When, therefore, the human being acts, human action expresses the whole being, indivisibly physically spiritual: the spiritual soul being “made visible” in the very visibility of the human being.
Altogether, then, the book sets out an account of the human person as a being-in-relation; and, therefore, it roots the more specifically bioethical discussions of the later chapters in an experiential account of the many relationships and activities that communicate the fullness of human life. When, then, it comes to discussing how to help the unjustly conceived and frozen human embryo, because the book has progressed through an account of human relationships, it is much easier to see that the frozen human embryo is suffering a “relational deficit” to which the child’s very existence and plight appeals to be remedied.
There is a WCAT Radio Interview with Bob Olson which can be found with the book on the publisher’s website:
|Gordon:||What are the primary challenges of the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom?|
This is a very difficult question in that I am not a part of the national life of the Catholic Church in this country; however, having said that, taking part in a week of evangelization throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of 2017 made me realize that there is a need for “witness”: a witness given in a wide variety of formal and informal ways, ranging from hospitality, sharing a word together, dialogue with people of other religious traditions and those simply willing to speak about their lives and beliefs. As we heard from the people who participated in this “two” by “two”, which was in fact a part of a world-wide initiative of the Neocatechumenal Way, it was clear that that this act of witness meant that many people were “met” in their everyday life; and, where it was wanted, they shared their experience of what their life was actually like. We were not there to promote a particular charism of the Church; but, rather, to speak of the concrete ways that God helps us in our lives: that God loves us. My companion and I visited and prayed in a Synagogue, sharing with our Jewish host our appreciation of their foundational contribution to the history of salvation; and, at the same time, how this word of God the Creator had made a new beginning in my life. We also visited many Anglican Churches, a Quaker Conference Centre, Greek and Ethiopian Churches; and, in general, my impression was of God calling us to pray and to a common witness: to sharing with one another how He actually acts in our lives. Although, then, this “two” by “two” was not organized as an ecumenical or interreligious event, God expressed His providential love in bringing about many helpful encounters between people.More generally, this country seems to find it difficult to “hear” that God loves us and that that love begins at conception; indeed, that being pro-life does not exclude any human need but, from conception onwards, embraces everyone. In other words, that there is a love that takes us from where we are to where we cannot go without His help. There are specific diocesan policies that reflect a poor understanding of the help of faith in living the vocation to marriage; indeed, it almost seems as if it is unheard of that God helps families to be open to life. Education seems to suffer from an uncritical reception of ideas generally but also from a conception of the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages” and an account of the past as if there were no real opportunities for women in the Church; indeed, whatever the faults of the past, there seems to be a marked lack of a really objective history, not to mention a lack of appreciation of the positive influence of Christianity on science. At the same time as modern culture values what is contemporary, the Church is ever called to foster reconciliation with the perennial goods in whatever culture or period of history they are to be found. Monasteries and convents, while willing to help others and, at times, very generously, seem to be struggling with aging populations; indeed, it almost seems as if the decline in large families, in the everyday nature of family life generally, is a factor in the widespread decline, not just of vocations but of the value of an everyday family life. At the same time, the unique voice and action of Christ is scarcely a distinct voice; and, therefore, there needs to be lived in the Church herself a new openness to Christ and His life. There is the overwhelming need for people to understand the beauty of the human person and to be attracted to the truth that attracts the love of God to each one of us. Then there are the growing number of employment needs, from warehouses with scarcely any windows to work rising to the point of drowning other activities, to zero contracts which seem to be all about the benefit to the employer of a weak labor force. But then, in the end, it is not about the difficulties of life; it is about every difficulty being an opportunity for God to show His active love for us. One of the primary challenges of the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is, therefore, to witness to a Love that makes love and life possible, whatever the situation we find ourselves in.
|Gordon:||What are the primary challenges of the Catholic Church globally|
In view of the really difficult experiences of illness, finding a home, work and earning a living, to be open to life is an act of faith; and, therefore, one of the primary challenges of the Catholic Church is fostering faith in God who helps: whose help is non-partisan and is for the sake of all. At the same time, however, as fostering faith in God who helps, it is imperative to embrace the many forms of dialogue and solidarity envisaged by the Second Vatican Council. There are so many urgent needs throughout the world, it is essential to foster a collaborative culture. On the one hand, there needs to be a distinctive account of human conception that takes account of empirical and philosophical findings and which is, therefore, capable of appealing to people throughout the world; and, therefore, there is a foundation of human rights on the basis of the common reality that each one of us is a unique gift of being-in-relationship. On the other hand, making the completion of conception a complementary right would naturally entail the almost miraculous rescue of frozen human embryos. What other way is there to acknowledge that each us is a witness to the complementary unfolding of the gift of being conceived. In the other words, whether it is the foundational wisdom of the universality of human rights or the proclamation that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to unfold the way to the Father from the moment of being conceived in the flesh by the Holy Spirit until death, the Church is the loving Mother of the Truth Incarnate; and, therefore, she is the Guardian of the whole human race, the unity of the family of man and the promise of the final consummation of Love’s embrace of everyone.
Announcing the changeless nature of the Love that changes everyone that God touches in a world divided by wealth, power and whether or not we are born, is as indicative of the supernatural nature of the Church’s grace as it is impossible to accomplish without it.
|Gordon:||Could we close our interview by sharing one of your poems with our readers?|
Autumn is the Fiery Season
Trees-a-bright with coloured notes: greens amidst yellows, browns and reds; what poor words for so many flecks of living lights, ablaze in the dying of the leaves:
what falls of leafy shapes lie scattered, scattering on the breeze,
almost washed up on the side,
like cornflakes along the path.
Pavements edged with goblin waste, as if splashing gobs gobbling stolen soggy cereals,
were washed aside as they rushed through the night-time robbing of cupboards, shops and tables ready for the morning.
Walking is a way of “being with children”, an unfolding of “being with child” in a wonder-world of imaged impressions, arising surprising shapes and their suggestions:
almost horses edged in luminous fringes, fuzzy arrow feathered angels and darkening mood drains and all kinds of “in betweens”.
What of clouds and storms and sudden, overwhelming changes, looming in the glowering sky, lowering the sky line and dropping upon us? Will flood and wind take what is within as well as what is without? What remains when what is gone threatens an abandoning of what is left?
Fruits end as green tomatoes redden on the window ledge, too late to change on the plant, apples fall and rot the more terribly the more is wasted, sunflowers lean, head-heavy,
sowing seeds in their splendidly shaped outlandishly eye-browed eyes,
Withering flowers, albeit a few remain, eaten leaves, scarcely green, more
like lime yellow, yet these old plants bear cup upon cup of seeds to fall,
as if a parable of old age in which the failing health of recent years is
a witness to the “worth” of weakness: a prayer full of
promises of future ripenings.
Contrast the colourless backs of “phone-heads”, turned ever away elsewhere,
towards what “other” sights and sounds than those around,
following whatever fashions billboards, generating conformity:
let us be the distinguished guest of full humanity – a person
brimming with communications “old” and “new”.
The older needing interrupted routines and contradicted un-thought through ways
and the younger needing what endures and even benefits from engaging with constant change or is it the other way round?
Like an old married couple, still burning bright,
flaming trees, feathered in their finest plumage, blooming in the sun, shrouded in mist,
dripping in the rain, festive even in the wet,
holding forth a commentary on the slowly silent changes in a life –
still sparking togetherness amidst the noise and race of traffic –
still showing forth the treasure of time wasted together:
glimpsing now in eternity.
The author also raises crucial concerns and presuppositions about science, ethics, eschatology and the disciplines of analytical reading (exegesis) and interpretation (hermeneutics).'