Dear Fr John,
I am writing this letter to thank for being so honest. You have known my children since they were babies. I am proud to say all three of them have grown into wonderful adults. They are kind, compassionate, caring, but they stopped going to church in their teens. Their faith is strong and I see them sharing God’s love every day in the way they are willing to support and help anyone.
We have often spoken about why they don’t go to church. Their answer is clear. They do not want to be part of a religion that has tried to hide the scandal of child abuse, that doesn’t seem to welcome their gay friends and a religion that has failed to inspire them.
I am one of the generation of Catholics that grew up fearing God. I heard it from the pulpit on a Sunday and from the teachers at school. God would punish me if I stepped out of line. My childhood memories linked to church are fear, never being good enough, fear of hell and guilt if I didn’t go to mass, if I forgot to say prayers. One of my memories is my First Holy Communion and the priest shouting at me from the altar because I was holding the candle in my left hand and not in my right hand. Now, as an adult, I can reason and think perhaps he was stressed, wanted everything perfect, but as a child I felt sad.
How difficult for Catholic priests to be living under the terrible shadow of child abuse. When I heard about the cover-ups I thought how could those priests disregard the trust parents placed in them, how could bishops cover up that abuse? I went to church because I did as I was told. My Dad brought us up as my Mum died when I was young. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt my Dad. I tried to do everything the priests and teachers told me to do. They told me it was a sin to question, so I didn’t.
I am glad that my children’s generation have the confidence to question, to think freely and say no to a Catholic religion that to them is rigid and not always truthful. I know there will be many changes in the next few years, but I am happy and feel very positive because God’s love is working in the next generation whether they attend church or not.
Thank you, Father.
Love is more important than life. Everyone of us would be willing to die for those we love and, for me, that it is a beautiful proof of the existence of God. We share that truth of “love greater than life” with most, if not all, people – the highest understanding of being human. We all would willingly die because we love. It is human spirituality at its height and brings us together. That makes “loving one’s neighbour” the central truth of human life. Speaking and witnessing to that truth is our communion. It is not religious. It is far beyond religious and religion is only true if it reflects the call to all peoples “love one another”. Religions divide, separate and even teach hate and division, is ready to exclude and kill anyone opposing its power – our own Catholic Church history a shameful witness to that story.
The mission of Jesus was his Father’s love and his courage was to challenge powerful religious authorities who obscured that love. They crucified him. But he was right: he lived the love the Father sent him to share and he died because love is greater than life. The Father raised him to the fullness of human life (“risen from the dead”) and he became the wonderful witness forever to the truth for which he had died. He sent his disciples to teach that truth and it is our vocation to continue his message.
You don’t need words, though sometimes they inspiringly help, you simply need to love. Your smile, your look of understanding, your forgiving eyes preach the Gospel better than fine words. The saints you and I know in our everyday lives share love in the simplest of ways: the carer for whom the care is small acts of love beyond the timetabled details recorded by the clock-watching supervisors; the nurse who sits for a precious moment and holds a hand; the parent who gives the child a cwtch (a Welsh word for a holding that is beyond a hug, total support that allows complete surrender); the customer who appreciates the help at the checkout and says so; the passenger who thanks the bus driver who carries his road responsibilities and care for the passengers in hours of repeated moments; the ones whose silence is so understanding that we can hear it at great distances when, suddenly, they come into our hearts and minds.
We can imagine coming before God in that supreme final moment alongside our friend who never believed in God but always believed in love. We might say “My God, I finally see you. Thank you.” Our friends might say “So it was you! I saw you reflected everywhere and thought simply you were love. Now I can say ‘Love is God’ which my friend always said as ‘God is love’. We saw and shared the same truth, used the same words, but arranged them slightly differently.” God is love, we believe. Love is God, they say, smilingly. The human heart is capable of infinite and eternal love, we agree. The supreme human vocation is love – to be like God.
(31st July 2022)