There’s a Carry On pun in which Kenneth Williams’s highly strung character’s excuse that he was “once a weak man” is interpreted as though “weak” were an adjective of time. For some reason it sprang to mind when I heard the news that the Catholic Herald was going to become a monthly magazine.
I have been a once-a-week man since I started writing for the Herald almost 20 years ago. The column began as the diary of a (relatively) young, newly ordained priest; the impressions of a (relatively) weak man trying to reflect on the awesome new experiences he was having. It was a diary because it was my own musings on these experiences and not a definitive interpretation. The first years I found it relatively easy to write, but after a few years of producing something every week it feels as if you have said everything you have got to say. So you inevitably start saying some of them again, hopefully with a few new angles. The late Cormac Rigby said that priests were a little like newsreaders, and if we were to proclaim the faith as being exciting and relevant, we had constantly to be engaged in developing fresh understandings of it ourselves.
The diary began when I was an ‘‘ordinary’’ pastor ministering in parish, school and hospital. For some years now my responsibilities have been different and I have concentrated particularly on working to bring spiritual and psychological healing to those affected by child abuse through the international ministry of Grief to Grace. I combine this work with spiritual direction, till recently through a rewarding school chaplaincy, and work with those who have spiritual afflictions. Most of this is, of necessity, confidential, so there has been less straw for making journalistic bricks in recent years, though plenty of powerful experiences. Many of these bear testimony to the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction; in many weeks the column could have written itself if sensation rather than discretion were directing the reportage.
In one respect it will be something of a relief not to have the burden of a weekly output. I do like writing, and I always value the connection it gives me to the wider Church community. But I will not miss the times when I was forced to burn midnight oil somewhere in another part of the world in the midst of a highly demanding retreat or conference schedule.
Having said that, over the years the routine has become familiar, and so too the readership who shared it, and writing only monthly will take a little getting used to. Initially, it may perhaps feel less intimate, as though I have neglected something, someone. Who knows, though? The quality of thought might well improve; some of my rants and bêtes-noirs might be tamed, or I might just become even more rambling and opinionated. It’s a win-win situation as far as I am concerned.
To all our readers, then, I promise a remembrance in my prayers and Masses this Holy Week and Easter, which are like none any of us has known. François Mauriac says that the seamless garment stripped from Christ symbolises his Passion and Resurrection. They are woven together, one act of love. This is why we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. The scandal of closed churches and no public liturgy does not limit the power of the Cross if we embrace it in certain faith that Christ has won the victory in this week of weeks.