by Gordon G Kinghorn
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life” - Buddha
I am always intrigued by Brother Boniface’s comments, they are not entirely in-line with my own beliefs, but I do so admire the conviction in which he constructs his testimony – both revealing and undeniably refreshing without question.
Despite this, I do on occasion become somewhat perplexed with the singular nature of his secular commentary …nevertheless, I cannot divorce myself from the principles of his theological conviction, we are therefore as one, irrespective of individual interpretation…let me explain.
It was a glorious sunny morning in late 1940s Ireland; World War 2 had been over long enough for the worst of the memories to start fading - Hitler now being viewed by most, as little more than a criminally comic figure – more than at any other time during the previous fifteen to twenty years that had passed since his rise to political infamy.
My newly wed mother and father had crossed the Irish Sea from Edinburgh to be reunited with an elderly aunt who lived in the small town of Arklow, County Wicklow. – a few blissful days away from the post-war grime of industrial Scotland – each of them venturing into the rich and verdant splendour of the Irish countryside – and a long way too from the North African battlefront that my father had endured for over three years of his life during 1941-44.
They were about to sit down for Sunday lunch when the kitchen door was knocked back on its hinges and the local priest marched in. My mother’s aunt leapt to her feet and dropped in what can be best described as a mini-curtsey.
There was no polite ‘Good morning’ or ’Sorry to burst in like this’ from the priest. ‘Where were you this morning Mary Margaret, and why were you not at Mass!’ Not a question, but a demand.
The aunt stumbled out some apology and explanation about her niece and new husband being over from the Scottish
Mainland - and it being a lovely morning and all - and wanting to take them both for a walk before they left to return home again, but the priest was not interested in any of that. Nor did he acknowledge the presence of my mother and father, fellow Catholics too.
‘Don’t do it again!’ he ordered. And he marched-out.
My father, up until the time of his passing in 2005, still recalled every detail of that morning in Arklow - and his anger was as bright then as it had been more than half a century earlier.
But such was the climate of obsequiousness in those days, that nobody challenged it because it seemed the natural order of things – but dad was the exception to the rule, he never stepped inside another church and forbid the presence of any priest in his home from that day forth – much to the sadness of my committed mother.
Perhaps my childhood community was a paradigm for the wider world. For many of we baby-boomers, our personal history will reveal that there existed an elite ensemble of authorative representatives of Rome who were present during our respective lives, to whom, by and large, we paid some heed.
Sometimes they were fair and just and sometimes – as with that appallingly boorish priest – they behaved like martinets or despots.
I suspect that the real religious deference shown by aunt Mary Margaret on that dreadful day, began its long, slow death not too many years after her encounter with the discourteous celebrant – religious obedience of this magnitude scarcely survived the sixties…and a good thing too.
Both Jehovah and his dedicated mediators on Earth, have long ceased to deliver – what caring God would permit the continuance of war and conflict, floods, widespread famine, religious extremism and despicable destitution after all – where children starve to death daily and mankind’s inhumanity to man flourishes without the interruption of a true and caring Supernatural being? None that I can possibly think of!
Yet given the appalling state of our circumstances modern times, I still believe that there exists more to this world today than merely the physical, Brother Boniface is not merely a good man, but a highly intelligent and pious individual – and he raises the question whether we have thrown out the baby of social responsibility with the bath water of religious deference.
Mankind as a whole has failed, since our undeniable rejection of spiritual ethics, values and standards – and the individual responsibilities so intertwined within the afore-mentioned criteria – we have found difficulty in defining them for ourselves.
This is an altogether more difficult scenario because we have not only rejected unthinking religious deference, we also now question authority and governmental institutions in a way that we never did before – ergo; a loss of control now permeates throughout the entire planet.
Few will mourn the passing of the automatic religious deference, so displayed by an aged aunt in Eire many decades ago, in which the Catholic elite set the standards and each and everyone were expected to conform.
We are better educated, more widely travelled and better informed about what is really going on, so we no longer need the Church to supply us with a specific set of standards…or do we?
Another question arises from this, if the religious authorities have truly lost their power – what has taken their place? No society, to my way of thinking, can tolerate an absolute vacuum – so, in the interests of our survival and sanity, something must surely fill it.
Given the inexplicable absence of God at this juncture, and the ubiquitous, religiously bereft manner in which we so conduct our day-to-day lives – would it not be more plausible, irrespective of individual spiritual beliefs, to embrace the Christian credo, the Ten Commandments and the Bible as a whole, with love, concord and understanding continually occupying our respective hearts and minds, for this so reflects all that is fulfilling and indeed necessary during our short tenure on Mother Earth – keeping in mind that Heaven should always be under our feet – what lies over our heads, well, that just remains to be seen.
“There is no need for temples nor churches, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness” – Dalai Lama