That Sinking Feeling

It’s very foggy outside this morning, but that is as nothing to the gloom inside. The turmoil over Brexit, the divisions in the Church, even the fact that I failed to bake some promised brownies yesterday, all contribute to a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach. I can solve the problem of the uncooked brownies, but what about the others? Can you or I do anything about them?

The trouble with Brexit is that we all have our own ideas, and because the Referendum from which the present turmoil stems required simply a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response and the Government of the day failed to make clear whether the referendum was to be merely advisory or legislatively binding, we have had two years of acrimonious bickering, with everyone claiming that their interpretation of the result and what they would like to see represents the will of the people. Rarely has the ‘will of the people’ been invoked so often in British politics, and with so little regard for consequences. I have made no secret of the fact that I think the decision to end our membership of the E.U. is bad for Britain, for Europe as a whole, and for the world in general; and I have based my arguments on exactly the same facts and figures as many of those advocating leaving, but with this difference. I am distrustful of ‘economic’ arguments deployed by people with little or no understanding of economics (don’t start me on the misuse of the ranking of world economies, for example) or of assumptions that have no basis in fact (£350 million a week extra for the NHS, for instance, promised by the Leave campaign). The problem for me is that my irritation with those kinds of argument may detract from what I consider to be the most important. I see the unity of Europe as the best protection we have against war and civil unrest, the best guarantee of mutual flourishing and benefit. I can keep saying that, to anyone who will listen, but can I actually do anything about it? The answer, alas, is ‘no’. You and I, unless we are politicians or civil servants, can only watch what is unfolding, pray, and wonder how it will end.

So, what about the divisions in the Church? There again, I have no desire to add to the cacophony of voices screaming for attention and claiming to represent true Catholicism, but I admit to being very, very concerned. The Hierarchy has mishandled the abuse crisis: I think we can all admit that; but there are many other matters which have not been dealt with in the way we might have expected. Hopes have been dashed; areas of doubt have been opened up, and there is a kind of free-for-all that ignores one of the fundamental tenets of Catholicism — the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, the Body of Christ, not some merely human institution. We cling to the Church, believing her to be what she always has been, but a niggle remains. Can we do anything? Again, we can protest about this or that, we can visit the Dicasteries in Rome to make our point, but we end up recognizing that we are just one among more than a billion, ultimately no more likely to have heard the Holy Spirit aright than anyone else.

The two examples I have cited, the dilemma over Brexit and the divisions in the Church, are examples of the kind of helplessness we may feel in the face of something that matters enormously to us but which appears to be entirely beyond our control. It isn’t easy to live with that kind of helplessness, but there are a couple of points to note.

First, we live in a democracy, an imperfect democracy, but thankfully one in which the rule of law still functions. We cannot take our freedom to express our opinions for granted, however. Already the law circumscribes what we may say or do (think, ‘hate’ crime, etc), and Social Media effectively circumscribe it yet further (think trolling, etc). We need to be on guard against the whittling away of such freedoms, especially at the present time. It has occasionally crossed my mind that the kind of debacle I foresee over Brexit could lead to major civil unrest and something like dictatorship — which nobody wants and nobody believes will happen, until it does. Gloomy? Yes. But it has reminded me to weigh my words, to listen carefully to those with whom I disagree, and to resolve that, insofar as in me lies, I will do my best to make whatever the outcome is workable. In other words, the current political impasse has reinforced my sense of being a citizen and of being engaged with society.

Second, with regard to the Church, I can only urge patience and prayer. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s prophecy that the Church of the future is likely to be very small strikes me as being accurate — but I do not share the certainty of those who believe that they, and they alone, will be that Church. The Holy Spirit has a way of surprising us all. Our job, if I may put it like that, is to wait patiently on the Lord, living virtuously, trusting him. That is to reaffirm our membership of the Church, our faith and our determination to do what is right, whatever it costs. In  other words, it is to renew the promises we made at our baptism and refuse to allow the powers of darkness to overwhelm us.

So, you see, my interior fog has one or two rays of light and warmth to pierce it. They may not be rays of light or warmth to you. We must each find our own but always, I would suggest, aware that we can never fall lower than God’s mercy. We are graven on the palms of his hands, we are the apple of his eye, and his are the everlasting arms beneath us.


12 thoughts on “That Sinking Feeling”

  1. I am still very unsure about Brexit. Four things happnes that worried me about Europe. First of all, two of my A level students who has lived in England for many years were sent back to India. Secondly, a man we had appointed to a job we couldn’t fill was denied a visa (he was American). Thirdly, I went to New zealand and realisd the effect we had on Commonwealth trade when we joined the European Community. Fourthly, there were news reports about people from the West Indies being deported. Freedom of move,ent in Europe may be good, but what about our ties to other parts of the world, where we have not alays done good things? Should we abandon them? Also, if there were free move,ent theoughout the world everyone would more to cou tries lime ours. Surely our task is to or, to raise the standard of living worldwide so that all countries are good to live in.

    • I’m not engaging here in any debate about Brexit itself, Sue, because that wasn’t the point of my post but I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring the points you make. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that I think the most helpful contribution I myself can make in this blog is to highlight what I consider to be how we cope with our feelings about being caught up in something that has its own momentum, and the kind of resolution that I think we all have to make, irrespective of what we think about the wisdom or rightness of Brexit. That is why I explicitly twinned Brexit and the divisions in the Church.

  2. “I’m not engaging here in any debate about Brexit itself, Sue, because that wasn’t the point of my post…”
    Still provocative though, and NATO not the EU has been our best protection against war while the EU’s ‘work’ has promoted civil unrest in Germany and Greece to name but two members.

    • My aim is always to provoke thought in others, which may sound arrogant but I hope isn’t. I’d hoped readers would see that my subject here is not Brexit or the divisions in the Church as such, but what I often call the three A’s — attitudes, arguments and actions; how the first two affect the third, and how we have to make a definite choice about how we will deal with things, especially when they are contrary to our own ideas and inclinations. If what I’ve written has any validity, it is of wider application than Brexit or the Church, isn’t it?

  3. Dame Catherine, I thank you for putting things in perspective. I have been discouraged with the happenings in my country. Strangely, a feeling of peace has come over me after reading your blog.
    I love my church. I feel the love of my God’s loving arms. This blog is a keeper. I shall read it again when I lose perspective. I thank you. You are always in my heart and in my prayers.

  4. Sadly I agree about the possibility of civil unrest + dictatorship. Were there to be a second referendum which produced the opposite result, i,e. choosing to remain, I feel bitterness and xenophobia would boil over. I totally agree that the initial choice questions were utterly inadequate, puerile even. Maybe dictatorship would be avoided in the event but serious rioting at the least would ensue.
    It is a pity that, post referendum, the politicians didn’t decide to have a “government of all the talents” regardless of party affiliation. But there it is. God bless the UK.

  5. The possibility of being overwhelmed or giving up in the face of our current cultural climate is real. Thank you for your post which reflects on ways to remain engaged and hopeful in difficult times.

  6. I think these events are good reminders that ultimately God is in control. History (and the bible) is full with instances where humanity has created a mess in a feeble attempt at control and power. Chaos, dissent, disorder are all tools of Satan to draw us away from Christ. A constant course correction back toward God has been the truest theme of history.

  7. I agree with much of what you say. The problem comes however when we are unable to control our own destiny. We can vote until we are blue in the face but we cannot get rid of the Junkers, Tusks and Barniers who control our lives. It was the lack of democratic accountability that drove me into the leave lobby. We were told all this in the 1970s when we voted to join the common market even though it caused great harm to the commonwealth. As the late Tony Hancock put it ” What about Magna Carta, did she die in vain”?

  8. O tempora, o mores… I feel that the state of the world is so uncertain and worrying. And then I read your last sentence, and exhaled. Thank you for that much needed reminder.

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