When Courage Fails

For several days I have been trying to avoid, as far as I can, being drawn into any of the arguments that occupy the headlines or excite social media. At one level, it hasn’t been easy. I have had to remind myself many times that party politics are forbidden territory for Catholic clergy and should be for Catholic religious, too. Whether the parties concerned are British, French, American or whatever is irrelevant. We do not endorse one party over another. That does not mean that we do not have opinions or do not discuss matters of political moment, but we do not take a party line. That leaves us free to weigh arguments and to engage with all kinds of people, even those whose opinions we find unsympathetic. Some of our American friends find it odd that we do not endorse whichever party they happen to favour but most respect our party political neutrality. That is especially important in the year when a presidential election is being held.

Neutrality, however, is not necessarily a virtue; and there is always the danger that refusing to engage in a dispute may not only be cowardly but also lead to further misunderstanding. For example, I’ve noticed a great deal of comment, principally from non-Catholics, on the case of Fr Matthew Hood and the consequences of his having been baptized by a deacon using an invalid form of words. It would have been easy to launch into an explanation of classic Catholic sacramental theology but my courage failed as I thought of all the hoo-ha that would result and the amount of time and energy it would require to answer the sincere but not always well-informed objections of those who read what I wrote. So, I have kept quiet and spent my time thinking about how such ambiguities were resolved in former times, the ex opere operato principle and so on and so forth, and whether we always look at the sacraments from the right end of the telescope, so to say. Certainty matters, of course it does, but our experience of lockdown must have made even those living in the West aware that access to the sacraments is also a major challenge for our times.

So, what have I been doing while I’ve been offline? The daily round always absorbs most of my time and energy and there have been a number of ‘extras’ recently, not all of them welcome, if truth be told. I haven’t done all that I hoped to do during the past fortnight, but I’m glad to have completed the series of Rule of St Benedict readings for the Anchor™ Digitalnun podcasts. You can now listen to the reading for the day in English via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, etc. rather than having to go to our web site. I’ve also caught up with some, but by no means all, of my correspondence. At the moment I’m hampered by not being able to sit comfortably or for very long (don’t ask!) but I hope to get our September newsletter out shortly — and there is that wildflower garden to make a start on. Let’s hope my courage won’t fail when it comes to that!


11 thoughts on “When Courage Fails”

  1. Thank you for the great gift of the complete daily readings. I’m still new to the practice of daily reading of the Rule (about ten years, now) and find deep meaning in listening to the Rule rather than simply reading it on my own.

    • Thank you. I think the Rule is meant to be listened to rather than merely read with the eyes. As novices we learn the text by heart, in English or Latin or both, so it can easily be called to mind.

  2. I read this post earlier today and have been pondering it since.
    The first matter about the invalid baptism is a mystery to me – a cradle catholic but it does seem a bit like the magic in Harry Potter. However, I can’t get worked up about it, if it matters to so many, there are more pressing issues to get concerned about, I feel. Although I think I’d welcome a calm explanation of why words rather than intent are what matters.

    As for party politics, I absolutely see why religious should not get partisan but the big issues of the moment – climate change, migrants, poverty and so on, have been robustly addressed by +++Francis and rightly so I think. Truth, justice and peace are political if not (always) party political and it behoves those of good conscience to speak up and not retreat from debate, or even confrontation, from those who assert that the ‘church’ should not get involved in politics – that being a political position in itself of course.

    • Thank you. Forgive me, I’m sticking to my refusal to cover ground others have already gone over because both my energy and time are limited. I’d hoped I’d been clear that political issues can and often should be addressed by clergy and religious but endorsement of parties not? For both baptism and political engagement, may I refer you to the Catechism?

  3. God bless and heal your sedentary problem, which must be troubling you as your stoicism normally precludes mention of your specific ailments. A special thank you for completing the audio of the Rule – not an inconsiderable achievement. Lastly we are all looking forward to the wildflower garden, the Lord’s blessing for you, your Sisters and, online, for your followers. Peace and love be with you now and always

  4. Due to circumstances a bit beyond my control I’ve lost touch with your blog Sister Catherine. I’m trying to catch up with a few months of reading as I do enjoy your writing so much. This post caught my eye a bit and I won’t go there because I don’t quite understand all the intricacies of Baptism and such for Catholics. I guess as a baby I was baptized in the Catholic church but my parents didn’t bring us up in the church and I don’t ever recall going with them as a child. We weren’t ‘religious’ folk as it were I guess. I was though baptized as an adult a few years ago in a Baptist church I now attend. I think it was one of, if not, the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. Which brings me back to the point of I’m not quite sure I understand infant baptism. It seems more meaningful, as an adult, making a choice of your will. It’s interesting stuff regardless. Thank you as usual for helping me to think a bit.

    • Welcome back! The only comment I’d make now is that infant baptism developed when life for newborns was very precarious and baptism was considered (as it still is) of immense importance. Every Catholic renews his or her baptismal promises every year at Easter — a solemn reaffirmation of their original choice, or the one made on their behalf by their godparents.

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