Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sin, conscience and Ġorġ Preca of Malta

We are not marble statues!

© Godric Godricson
When we consider death, burials and the cemetery we inevitably come back to the idea of theology and the Christian faith. I was recently thinking about Saint Ġorġ Preca of Malta (recently canonised by Benedict XVI) and noted that there is an allegation of homosexuality against Ġorġ Preca. I’m not particularly interested in this ‘allegation’ of homosexuality; the allegation neither interests me or concerns me although it does bring up the idea of image or hypocrisy both for the living and for the dead.

Thinking about theology, reputation and Saint Ġorġ Preca;  I remembered a young friend of mine training for the priesthood some years ago. This young man couldn’t get over the idea that he was, at some indiscernible point in the future, going to be charged with hypocrisy or preaching one thing and going on to do another. He was particularly horrified when he understood that he would be an ‘icon for the people’ or an ‘alter Christi’. It was all too much for him in his young life. How would he cope with that level of stress and expectation as a gay man? He still has such feelings of inadequacy although he successfully manages such feelings. Sometimes, ordinands need support when faced by negative images which are unhelpful unless managed and channelled effectively. None of us are marble images and we are all ‘gooey individuals’ with a soft centre.

If ‘we’ all needed to be free from sin and the temptation towards sin before being ordained then ‘we’ would all be in trouble because ‘we’ all sin and despite knowing about sin we continue to sin.  We would all be up the creek without a paddle!

Hidden Cemeteries and hidden lives
Saint Edmund's - Hunstanton

© Godric Godricson
The idea of “hypocrisy” came to my young friend and he began to hate the idea of this sort of theological dualism and he began to have a sort of zealot existence whereby ordinands try to expunge sin from their lives and lead the most virtuous life imaginable and that sort of destroys life around them and destroys any real life with their family.  In the United Kingdom, after the MP expenses scandal and where the larger denominations have men who have broken most of the major rules about conduct it is a problem to be seen as a “hypocrite”. No-one wishes to be seen as a hypocrite and no-one wishes to condone that sort of moral ambiguity.

My young friend   sometimes hears the inner Policeman within him and he tries to silence the voices of criticism as he speaks to people about sin and the mindset of being sinful.  The  nature of hypocrisy is such that it is a sort of inner crime and we fear being caught out and exposed like an MP who has claimed inappropriately for a second home or the priest found to have slept with a parishioner.

The problem is that we, as men and women, expect too much of ourselves and we set the standard too high both in life and also in death. We are not perfect and yet we do have a belief that clergy are not like the rest of creation. We are all sinners who have fallen into the lake of sin and we are all collectively swimming to the shore. The task seems to be to help each other and to give each other support as we try to wade out of that great lake of sin that exists in life and in the afterlife. Rather than cast stones and berate people who are often swimming hard and against the tide; our role is to support each other and to be supported in our turn as we move closer to the judgement. We are all judged and will be judged on the final day.

Knapton
© Godric Godricson
It isn’t that my young friend has weak beliefs or has had a crisis in spirituality and faith and it isn’t that he has gone all ‘hippy’ and entered an ‘anything goes’ Catholicism. He has his personal Catholic faith and he does have a traditionalist belief. Moreover, he has a belief in the ultimate goodness of Jesus.He strives to live up to the beliefs and inner values given to him by the Bishops and clergy from long ago and ultimately from the Gospels. He turns and turns again to God and asks forgiveness and tries to encounter the Risen Christ. He is swimming, along with countless others, across the great sea of sin and towards a brighter future supported by the prayers of other flawed but wonderful human beings.

Is this itself a sort of hypocrisy? Well, I think not. Recognising our own human failings and weaknesses  is not hypocrisy and an allegation against Ġorġ Preca didn’t prevent him being declared a saint.  Understanding sin and human realities is not weakness. Instead, hypocrisy  would be the  failure to understand that failing we all have and to go about our lives as if we all were good all of the time. It would be a sort of abominable deceit if we failed to recognise the weakness in ourselves and then challenged the crimes and transgressions of others. It would indeed be wrong for us to pretend to be a totally moral person whilst being a crook or a charlatan or a fraud.


Ġorġ Preca of Malta

Carmelite Church - Valetta

© Godric Godricson
 The real and significant difference that we have as Catholics is that we are sorry for our sins. We recognise that we are all sinful and that we need to repent of our sins and then to move forward having learnt a lesson. The ideal is not to backslide although this is always a danger. We must keep moving along the pathway that God has set for us.  The true hypocrite in the 21st century understands all of the moral and intellectual problems that s/he creates and simply ignores the moral dilemmas.  

As far as sin goes, we all know the problems created by guilt. My neighbour in a previous geographical area was a man wracked by guilt and he displayed that guilt (and that hypocrisy) by always staying at prayer that little longer than anyone else. My neighbour always made the loudest “Amen”. You get the picture! This neighbour had a case of unhealthy guilt and that guilt was infectious as people looked at him and felt that he was a  model to follow. When we acknowledge our sins then that should complete and finish the matter.  If we then continue to hold onto past guilt and feel guilty then we should know we are in trouble. That reluctance to let guilt fall away may indicate a serious personal problem that requires the skills of a trained counsellor rather than a priest. 

My young friend tries not to judge others in his ministry as judgement is ultimately an action for God Himself. It simply isn’t up to humanity to judge others in the traditional sense. Yes, my friend cries out against injustice and he will take up the struggle when it is called for but he will not throw the first stone. He will always try to understand the sinner and the sin that is being committed before speaking out. He never speaks in anger and always speaks softly. 

We all struggle to swim to the shore as we move through the sea of sin and head for the light.  However, there is no need for my young friend to feel that he is under more  supervision or scrutiny in his current ministry because he is Gay. Perhaps one day he will be like Ġorġ Preca and be a saint even if that saintliness is known only to God?

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