Last Sunday I was speaking about people feeling guilty because their adult children were rarely going to church or not going at all. My suggestion was to stop thinking about your past errors – regardless whether they were real or just imagined – and supporting them here and now. Obviously we cannot change the past, but we can and should determine our present and future time, as far as it is within our power. However surprisingly many people seems to forget this and they spend their precious and ever shortening time in tireless, but ineffective pondering on the past.
Recently I had a chat with a very nice couple. Among several of the different things we were talking about was one sensitive topic that surfaces time after time: that of their grown up children having little or no contact with the Church. The parents’ feelings seem to be of disappointment mixed with guilt. It’s particularly painful for parents who have been practising their faith all their family lives and who keep the faith. Sometimes this question is expressed in a direct way: ‘What have we done wrong?’
When we listen to today’s gospel, telling us the story of St John the Baptist’s nativity, we can have the impression that everything was prepared in advance. His parents had been given a kind of instruction manual, guaranteeing full success if followed faithfully. In some ways they appeared to have the task of raising their child simplified – they knew his future role, his future destiny, and they knew the way to attain it.
As a teenage schoolboy I was struggling. The end of each school year faced me with a battle to get enough credits to go up to the next year-group. My Achilles’ heel in particular was physics – it was my nightmare for six long years. But, and this is funny, at the same time I was devouring all the available books and magazines about science, physics included; and, actually, this interest has never ceased. The only difference between the school physics and the other one was the way it was presented; the former was unattractive and boringly academic; the latter presented even the most complicated problems in a usually simplistic but fascinating fashion. Attracted by such things, I have dug deeper to learn more and to understand better. I got interested in Scottish culture after watching a historically inaccurate but passionately made film ‘Braveheart’.
A year ago, when I was still working in Elgin parish, Fr Colin decided to begin the introduction of the new translation of the Missal. We ordered special leaflets, got them, and then he took seriously ill. So seriously that he was completely out of action for three months. Suddenly the task of gradually introducing the new translation became my responsibility. It was strange and funny at the same time: a foreigner with rather moderate English and a strong accent was doing an essentially linguistic task across Moray from Lossiemouth to Tomintoul. During that time I was asked several times by different people about one particular word that had appeared in the Creed: ‘consubstantial’. Every time I heard this question I promised to give a broad explanation of it in a sermon. But I haven’t done it yet. Till now.
In our present economic situation news about huge unemployment, particularly among young people, appears on the news on a worryingly regular basis. There are stories about graduates desperately looking for any job they could grab. High education seems to be a fast-track to wealth and position – but far too often graduates find themselves unemployed, in debt and with poor prospects. On the other hand, last Tuesday one of the country’s biggest companies, the car firm Arnold Clark, has described many young Scots as “unsuitable” for work. […] The company’s training arm said that, of 2,280 applicants to its apprenticeship scheme, 81% were not employable. […] Its report said many candidates had a poor attitude to others and poor communication skills with no concept of citizenship. […] Many potential employees were also shocked at the number of hours they were expected to work.
In 1993 a young Polish man was completely paralysed after a motorbike accident. Even his breathing had to be supported. But his mind remained sharp and clear. Despite the great care provided by his parents, he was feeling so isolated that in 2007 he applied to the President of Poland to let him die. Permission wasn’t granted for legal reasons; but his request prompted wide public discussion. However, and more importantly, his request attracted the attention of some charities and individuals. As it turned out, his request was in fact a cry for attention and love. Five years later, as disabled now as he was back then, he enjoys life and is an inspiring figure for many people. In Poland euthanasia is forbidden by law. But there were vibrant individuals, many of them inspired by Christian values, who really saved his life.
Recently I’ve seen on the internet a picture of a Catholic priest; the ironic caption read: “the expert on love, sex, marriage and the raising of children”. Obviously, what could a Catholic priest know about these things, supposedly having had no practical experience of them? This way of thinking is quite widely held among many people. Do they all believe that only a doctor who has personally experienced a broken leg or broken arm can successfully help those with broken bones? Or that only those firemen whose houses have burnt down can properly extinguish a fire? Of course, experience has a distinctive and – in many aspects – crucial impact on performing a job. But education and knowledge are even more important, because they provide tools for the professional to analyse mistakes and to correct them in the future. A desirable attitude to cultivate is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. In this regard active priests have a plentiful supply of them. So, I think I’ve just cunningly justified my right to speak about love.