Two Christian Women – Tenth Sunday after Trinity 2012

 

When Katie Taylor won her gold medal at the Olympics this week, she made no bones about giving God the glory for her victory; “it’s all due to the grace of God in my life”. I think most of us would regard her as a very good advertisement for Christianity, and in particular for her Pentecostalist tradition. Clean-living, courteous, cheerful, charming, dedicated, disciplined, modest, feisty, solid and sound. I think part of the pleasure in acclaiming her achievement was to see a positive example of what a Christian person might be, rather than the negative examples we have become depressingly used to. Katie might even be uncomfortably fervent about her relationship with Jesus Christ – but she’s completely honest, natural and unashamed about it. A good role model in more ways than one.

 

 

 

As you will have seen, a well-known character in Santry died this week: Mína Bean Uí Chribín, herself also indeed a fighter of sorts, and not unknown in the media. Mína, as you probably know, was an outspoken opponent of modern Ireland, espousing a very traditional, ultra-reactionary pre- Vatican II Catholicism – Latin Masses, the Irish language, and 1950s morals. She has certainly come to be identified with all that is now repudiated in Irish society of an earlier era: the suffocating piety, the monolithic nationalism, the repression and the judgmentalism, the puritanism and the poverty.

 

Unlike Katie Taylor, Mína never made Christianity sexy. And indeed I didn’t know her well enough to decide whether she was sincere if misguided, or a kind of horrible malformation of Catholicism, or even a bit mad. But like Katie, she was a brave woman who was not afraid to stand up for her beliefs; she was not afraid to attempt to give expression to the social vision that was part of her faith.

 

Her efforts were not always very wise, her resources and understanding limited. She flew in the face of contemporary opinion, both in church and state, and brought upon herself considerable public opprobrium. Intense opposition may confirm us, rightly or wrongly, in the correctness of our opinions – but it is not easy to bear, and tries our patience and endurance. It is to be hoped that the increased sympathy in Benedict XVI’s Rome for the old ways afforded her some consolation, for she was very attached to her Church.

 

Curiously enough, she was a neighbour and friend to our parishes. Completely at odds, one would have imagined, with Protestants, on historical, cultural and religious grounds, not to mention our relatively permissive ethics, yet there you are: religions and relationships are very odd things. There was a photo in the Northside People some years ago of herself and the late Dorothy Doolan at the site of St Pappan’s Well; and she and her Tridentinist Gaeilgeoirí once borrowed St Mobhi’s to make a recording of their music. Friendships and neighbourliness can bridge even profound differences of opinion.

 

It would be wrong to attempt to pass judgement on the inner life of another, even if one knew them well enough, but one might reflect a little on the different images associated with these two women in the media. Even the very secular media is (currently, at any rate) willing to portray Katie’s faith as a good thing. Mína, on the contrary, was always portrayed as the best argument in favour of an atheist state. Is it any more than the difference between an attractive and successful young modern woman, and an elderly, homely espouser of lost causes which one is glad to see the back of? I want to make two suggestions.

 

Both Katie and Mína would believe in hard religion. Religion that knows what it believes, that lays claim to absolute truth, and makes demands of believers. Under the pleasant exterior Katie’s muscles are rock-hard; and the same goes for her faith. A religion that makes no demands, that requires no sacrifices, where anything goes – is not worth having. That is off-putting to the casual enquirer, but to the serious seeker it makes sense. We should not be ashamed of hard religion. But what has sometimes come across is not so much hardness as harshness. A lack of human compassion, an impatience with human frailty, our own included. I think it’s fair to say that the Jesus we meet in the Gospels combines hardness with humaneness. It is a challenge for us to hold the one without losing the other.

 

 

A related factor is the question of joy. Katie radiates joy – as well she might, champion of the world. But one feels that the joy is deeper than just happening to win this time. Joy – Christian joy – grows out of our sense that God is, and that he is good, and that he loves us, and that “the kingdom, the power and the glory” are his. Rowan Williams spoke about the way we Christians often approach those of other faiths or none; how often our insecurity leads to anxiety or arrogance. Are these not the contradiction of joy? The very opposite of trust in God? One feels that the religion of a past era was too suspicious of everything it couldn’t control, preferring penance to pleasure: “If you enjoy it, it must be a sin”. Can we find a confidence in God and an openness to his goodness, wherever we find it, that engenders that most attractive spirit of joy?

 

We wish Katie even more well-earned joy; and Mína is gone ar shlí na fírinne, where we all will receive the only judgement that matters. May God touch us with his joy, that others may want to come to him by what they see in us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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