*Hagiophobia, I have just discovered is the fear of saints or Holy things…. ok so we are all familiar with Vampires cowering from crucifixes, or troubled by holy water, but I am thinking about a more subtle and perhaps more serious form of cultural hagiophobia.
Christopher Hitchens’ almost visceral hatred of Mother Teresa would be an example of this, his book the Missionary Position, is a classic case of a hatchet job. But at least Hitchens described himself as a polemicist and was quite open about this. However Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall and its sequels contain a more subtle but equally relentless character assassination of St Thomas More. Her distorted and cruel caricature of one of the great figures of the Tudor times, is a great calumny.
Mantel, raised a Roman Catholic and educated at convent school, has turned her back on the church of her youth with an unusual and unbalanced venom. In an interview in the Telegraph she said “ I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.” With the stroke of a pen she condemns 1.2 billion people. At the time I remember reading many comments expressing relief that we have been saved from the ‘respectability’ that Mantel obviously craves. And she has achieved that respectability in glorious fashion with back to back Booker Prizes and now wall-to-wall gushing praise for the BBC adaptation of her books.
This leaves me very uneasy, as one of the biggest problems that a post-Christian culture faces is a cultural amnesia. A lack of historical grasp can be dangerous, repeating mistiakes and underpinning prejudices. This portrayal of More as a zealous monster, and Cromwell the destroyer of the monasteries, as a hero, flies in the face of history. This is important as so many of viewing the series will see this as history, my atheist sister after reading the books declared with a certain provocative pleasure – what an unpleasant character More was. The vast majority of historians describe More as one of the intellectual greats of Europe, a renaissance man, the author of Utopia, great friend of Erasmus who worked for the reform of the church from the inside. As the newspapers are full of gushing praise about Wolf Hall – they focus on the lavish production values, the great acting, its what the BBC does best, historical dramas – and I can see the producers eyes filling up with dollar signs as they anticipate the DVD box sales, and BBC Worldwide licks it lips anticipating the sales to foreign broadcasters. The problem is the History Sucks – and we will be exporting it around the world and most people will be watching it as fact.
The series has just been reviewed on Thinking Faith
AMDG Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester on Sun 18th Jan 2015
We live in an age of spam – no matter what form of communication is invented – the postal service. Phones, emails, texting, tweeting, messaging – sooner or later someone will start to use it to bombard us with unsought for invitations…. Win a car… Lose Weight…. Make Money etc etc…. and it doesn’t matter what spam filter is invented to counter this… some always sneak through. And so we waste time deleting things, clearing our inboxes etc…. and during Exam Time you don’t need to be reminded how precious time is! That’s why I’ll keep this homily Short….
So in an age of spam – in an age of an incredible volume of communication- what seems like infinite opportunities it is important to develop a skill we Jesuits call Discernment….. On a superficial level discernment is the ability to know what voices bring us life, and what voices lead us deeper into death….. Who should we listen to – what invitations should we respond to – What is spiritual spam and where is the genuine voice of God.
The First reading – Story of Samuel – is a lovely example – the Child who hears of the voice of the Lord but doesn’t understand. The Master Eli who patiently coaches him in the way of the Lord ….. It is the voice of Lord that brings us abundance of Life, a life, a joy, a freedom that is without limits – I have come so that you may have fullness of life….. So often we can’t discern the voice of the Lord on our own – and in many religious traditions you can see how beginners in the faith often search for someone wiser, often older, to accompany them. Here at the chaplaincy we have over 60 students now who come for ‘spiritual direction’ every so often – many to Fr Ian – but also to the other priests, and other trained spiritual directors – you are welcome to come and see me if you are interested in finding out more…. It is this accompaniment in the spiritual life that often sharpens our skills of discernment and leads us to fullness of life.
In the Gospel we see that when we discern God’s voice and when respond to the Lords invitation to come and see…. When we find the messiah…. A future that we had never dreamed of opens up before us. And the message of the Lord is counter- cultural – we are told in the Second Reading that ‘our bodies are not our own’ but rather Temples of the Holy Spirit ….. if we really believed that, if we lived that, we wouldn’t care if we were not the right shape, we would be freed from the oppression of hyper-sexuality, we wouldn’t waste our time and happiness on chasing an elusive dream – but discover a life of freedom and joy. So let us be like Eli, and Simon Peter, and Andrew and try and discern his voice amongst all the noise that surrounds us, so that we can respond, we can go and see and say’ speak Lord your servant is listening’ …. And remember we can’t do it on our own……