If I were to try and sum up the ethos of Catholicism in one word, the word I would use is “redemption”. That is the idea behind the single most potent Catholic image, the Crucifix. Redemption is the idea mediated by the image of the dead Christ lying in His Mother’s arms; by any picture of the Madonna, the first of the redeemed; and by the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Redemption is what is announced by the angels on Christmas night, and seen in the Child lying in the manger. Redemption was what the crowds who followed Jesus sought.
Prior in time, but not necessarily logically prior, to redemption is the obverse of it, sin, that which we are redeemed from. I have no need whatever to speak at any length about sin, because all readers, unless they are completely lacking in self-knowledge, will have an intimate understanding of what sin means.
In England, in my diocese to be precise, we have just lost a bishop. This has happened before, in Ireland, and in Scotland, where it happened twice. But this is the first time in England.
You may remember the Irish case, that of Bishop Eamon Casey. I never met Fr Eamon as he was always called, but I met his reputation. His last job was as chaplain to a hospital in this very diocese; after he retired from that, some five years elapsed, and then I was briefly chaplain to the same hospital. I did what all priests do, I walked the corridors and I visited the sick. But wherever I went, I met people who would come up to me and say things like this: “How is Fr Eamon? When I (or my grandmother or some other family member) was in this hospital he visited me (or her or him) every day. He was the most wonderful priest. If only all priests were like him!”
It is perfectly true that Bishop Casey brought considerable trouble to the Church; indeed the current troubles of the Church in Ireland may be said to date from the Casey scandal; but, as Fr Eamon, he did huge good, and in his hospital chapliancy, and in his earlier missionary work in Ecuador, he, with the grace of God, worked his redemption. For Bishop Casey, there was a way back. There always is a way back, for everyone who fails. Yes, everyone, for Christ died for all.
Bishop Conry is someone to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, and he will always be welcome round my house. Many in his former diocese will feel the same way. He was very popular with many people, and his kindness to the sick on the Lourdes pilgrimage and his rapport with the young will be long remembered. His statement on his resignation speaks of considering his position, a phrase of which we all know the meaning in the narrow sense, but let us hope and pray that the phrase may now be understood in its widest possible meaning.
Let us all, not just Bishop Kieran, consider our position. Here were are, weak human beings, cast onto this earth, awash on a sea of troubles, and our behaviour is often incoherent, and often downright sinful. How we make a mess of things! Our life is a slow-moving train wreck. But, and it is a mighty but, in the midst of despair and trouble, there is hope. A bright light shines, and it is the light of Christ, who calls us to redemption. And if that light is not enough, or is too strong for our weak eyes, there is another light, that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who will, if we let her, guide us to her Son.
Bishop Kieran went to Lourdes twice a year. I hope he will go to the shrine many times to come in the future. In the meantime, let us say the rosary for him, and remember him at Mass. Oh, and let us do as Fr Z says, let us go to Confession.