On Being Oneself

A few weeks ago, when I posted some thoughts about online engagement, my friend Tim Hutchings very sensibly asked whether some of my suggestions didn’t cancel themselves out, making us less ‘ourselves’ online than we are offline. I think the specific question he raised was addressed in the comments, but there is a bigger question that concerns all of us, whether we go online or not. How can we be ourselves in a world that, by and large, is always pressuring us to be something other than we are? The world of advertising wants us to be thinner, richer, more ‘stylish’ than most of us could ever dream of being (i.e to buy what it is selling). The world of Church wants us to be . . . what exactly?

I often ask myself what the homilist thinks he is doing (in the Catholic Church, the sermon is always preached by a priest or deacon, who must be male). Do the admonitions to be more prayerful, more generous, more this or that really affect us? When I’m exhorted to act in a certain way ‘because you are a nun’, does it ever change me? I have to say that, by and large, I stick with being me, trusting that God doesn’t make junk and sees something incomparably wonderful in each one of us, even me. That isn’t a pretext for not trying to be more prayerful, generous, etc (see above), I think it is to recognize a fundamental truth: we go to heaven, if we go at all, as ourselves — smudged with sin, only half-understanding, full of contradictions, the person God created and redeemed. Being oneself is ultimately the only way in which to give God glory.

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13 thoughts on “On Being Oneself”

  1. Such thinking is becoming familar in church circles. I think it important not to go too far down this path, i.e. “Here I am Lord, like it or lump it, take me as I am”. Being ourself is surely a constant process of becoming oneself. As you concede yourself, this means making an effort to copoerate with grace and become a better person (however that may be defined). The sometimes tedious exhortations by preachers are just one way of being reminded of this fact. I think of how good parents constantly educate their children by exhorting them to do this that or other while at the same time wanting them to become nothing but themselves.

    As one who used to preach, I know that it is important to go easy on preachers. Many of them have little or no time to prepare and are often speaking off the cuff, drawing on a fund of overrehearsed personal favourite themes. What is said is frequently coloured by personal concerns and current stresses, rather than being the fruit of more objective meditation and study. Only a few ordained ministers have a real gift for preaching, but they all have to do it. Many of them no doubt serve the faithful more effectively in other ways.

    • If we are to note from which font the ardor parishioners base their faith on, seldom will it be from the pulpit- though of course there are exceptions. Most fall asleep, I myself am guilty of such. So what’s a poor country priest, as most are from my parts of the woods, to do? Definitely get someone else in- even if that someone is a woman- no let me correct that- especially if that someone is a woman.

    • I think Sr Catherine is right- In religious atmospheres there is too much trying to “undo” the person that God has “done”. If I had not laughed so much or wrote romantic love stories in my spare time at the novitiate, both considered in contrast with a religious calling, I would probably still be a nun today.

  2. The Homily at Easter and Christmas is usually given by the Prioress at Turvey Abbey.The monks have always been more inclusive, it came as a shock when I first experienced it but after a few years I came to expect it.

    • That is not permitted by the Catholic Church: the homily is reserved to a priest or deacon, as Digitalnun says. A lay person may speak after Communion, but that does not or should not take the place of the homily after the Gospel.

  3. I suspect we in the Catholic Church are coming at this one from the perspective of feeling deprived of something (female preaching) and therefore thinking that it must be better. Aside from the teaching office of Catholic abbesses to their female charges, Catholics don’t actually get to hear women explaining Sacred Scripture in a pastoral context unless it is done at the invitation of a PP prepared to bend the rules.

    Do female C of E clergy really have more success at keeping their congregations awake and interested? I have only heard a few Anglican sermons given by women, but my experience has been that they are much the same mixed bag of “success” or “failure” as the male offerings to which I am more accustomed.

    • Women like men are equally boring or interesting, I don’t believe one sex is better than the other. I wasn’t inferring that women should replace the priest in the sermon at all costs, but if a priest wants someone to say his sermon for him he should not overlook women which is the case at the moment. One of our P.P.s who is well aware that people go to sleep during his sermons does try to get someone else to do it, but it has to be another priest, not a consecrated woman or lay person. By the way, which Cardinal/Bishop was it who was reported by a Catholic News media (last week?) that urged priests to spice up their sermons… I believe he said by real life events… Let’s face it the hum drum of “un-spiced” scripture lecturing is enough to send anyone to sleep… But there are people who can bring the scriptures alive, simply by their tone of voice, expression and accessible language.

  4. I find it takes a lifetime to be oneself… The older I get, the easier it gets. The journey is quite exciting. It becomes more and more attractive to want to wear Christ (as much as one is able) rather than to wear the latest whatever 🙂

  5. Thank you for your comments. I’m always interested by the way in which comments can take a line and life of their own. I think anyone with a duty to preach also has a duty to prepare, by way of prayer and study, so that what is preached is at least orthodox. I’ve listened to many ‘inadvertent heresies’ from the pulpit since attending a parish Mass on Sundays! That, however, was not the point I was making. Eva has got it spot on: the ‘undoing of the person God has made’. Holiness is God’s gift, with which we must co-operate whole heartedly; but we must be holy in the way God means for us, not as he means for some other person we can never be.

  6. Continuing the degression from the main point of this reflection, ‘heresy spotting’ during homilies at least requires the listener to pay close attention to what is being said. Nuns, of course, are used to trying to focus their attention, and since their theological nous is normally considerably above average, they make for a demanding audience (no bad thing, by the way). Unfortunately, many people expect the homelist to do no more than entertain them, which completely misses the point. Pope Benedict is no charismatic when it comes to preaching, but his carefully constructed homilies repay close attention.

    Returning to your main point, I like the closing lines of Hopkin’s poem, ‘That Nature is a Heraclitean fire’. It sumarizes the contradictory tendencies in the human heart, while not denying that all is ‘immortal diamond’.

    • David, I can hardly believe that people who go to Mass expect to be entertained by the homilist- they do, however, expect that the homily will have some meaning for them… otherwise they could very well fall asleep- rightly so.

  7. I regret women cannot preach in the Catholic Church. I have heard great women preachers in other denominations. Mind you, there are good and not so good preachers in either sexes.

    I hope the Catholic Church includes women priests very soon, or deaconesses at least, even though some folks really see red at the idea.

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