Given the calls over the last year for serious reflection on how we live our lives in Ireland, I wonder how people will approach this Christmas 2009? The sexual abuse scandals and the systematic covering up of these terrible violations have rocked people’s religious beliefs, and call for an in-depth examination of what religion and spirituality truly mean. The economic recession and the blatant misuse of tax-payers and investors’ money have called into question how we live our lives and, most especially, how we relate to ourselves and others. Religion has not served this country well; but then neither has materialism. One wonders what will we next turn our attention to. Given the time of year is it useful to turn to the story of Christ for an answer?
The wonder is not that Christ lived but that his story lived on in the hearts and minds of billions of people for over 2,000 years. It appears to me that this phenomenon is even greater that the notion that Christ was God. I am much more comfortable with the idea that Christ was man – and what a remarkable man he was for the short time he graced the world. His teachings on love, non-judgement and the hope of immortality have been and remain inspirational. Sadly, in Ireland, we have not experienced Christianity but a Catholicism that has proven to be light years away from the principles and teachings of Christ.
Christ in his own life demonstrated the joys, struggles and sufferings each one of us endures. He went to the heights of ecstasy (The Transfiguration when the apostles exclaimed ‘Lord it is good for us to be here’) to the depths of despair (on the cross when he cried out ‘My God, my God why hast Thou forsaken me’). His story is a light in the sea of Catholic darkness – the sexual abuse of children, the covering up of these violations, the arrogance, dogmatism, sexual prejudices, marginalisation of women, materialism and dilution, even denial, of the great neglects perpetrated. However, it is vital that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water by throwing out Christianity with Catholicism. Many people are abandoning the Catholic Church feeling utterly betrayed by the behaviour of its religious orders, clergy, bishops and archbishops – not only in regard to children but also in the abuses uncovered in the Magdalene laundries and the orphanages run by Catholic personnel. I have one other major concern here and that is that we do not confuse abandonment of the Catholic Church with abandonment of many well-intentioned individual Christian clergy – religious and lay – who attempted and continue to live a Christian life.
Will the Irish Catholic Church survive the present crisis? – I hope not! What I do hope for is the emergence of a Christian Church that goes back to the roots of the story of Christ and to the profound simplicity of much of what he brought to us in words and actions.
Coming up to this Christmas we are seeing the need for fundamental changes in the way we govern our country, economy, education and religion. Mature governship arises from a governship of self and the provision of the love and opportunities for others to govern themselves. This essential process of self-responsibility begins within the family and the relationship with self and level of self-control that each parent has attained is the most important determining factor of whether or not their children achieve such mature governship. This process is a well-substantiated psycho-social reality, and it is a reality that is strongly echoed in the words of Christ ‘You love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.’ The love of self – the cornerstone of Christ’s teaching – was the best kept secret in the Catholic Church. However, to love self is to know one’s true nature, uniqueness, individual expression and power beyond measure to take responsibility for one’s own feelings, thoughts, dreams and actions. Organisations – religious, economic, political, social – have a fear of such power as it militates against the control they would like to have over their members but it is never too late to return to what is essential to human wellbeing and there is no time like the present to begin that practice.
Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including The Mature Manager.