Faith anyone?

Using the word ‘faith’ in conversation can be a bit of a social faux pas when you’re living in a predominantly secular country like Australia. It’s safe enough to utter if you’re travelling among new age journeymen or if you’re a religious devotee of the church/synagogue/mosque/temple-going kind (or stadium-going if you’re a more modern Pentecostal type). But to not belong to any of these groups and still bandy the word about can catalyse a raised eyebrow or a slow backing out of the room from friends and colleagues. If you’re feeling mischievous, drop the word into your next boardroom meeting then sit back and wait for the clamour to erupt.

I was recently at a funeral presided over by that most irreverent of reverends, Father Bob. By the time the service ended I was gob-smacked that the guy was still standing and that the Catholic church hadn’t hired an Opus Dei styled hit-man to silence him. At the beginning of the service he acknowledged the ‘toxic’ impact of the Catholic church on so many lives and offered an unreserved apology for it. After the eulogies had been read he commented that it was these eulogies that represented the ‘real religion’ that we had come to hear, not the liturgy or other ‘religious stuff’. He made no bones about he shortcomings of Catholicism and often differentiated between between church and God, with the former coming off second best.

Now this is a man of the cloth after my own heart. No doubt he’s walking a precarious line in the eyes of many, but to my mind he embodies the struggle of people who are searching for a more meaningful connection to their daily lives without necessarily wanting to sign up to the austerity and conformity often demanded by organised religion. If Father Bob had been the priest at my local St Mary’s of the Angels when I was growing up, I reckon I would have been chomping that the bit to get to church. It might have spared my father the need to deliver a tirade of insults about my recalcitrant ways and prophesize about my surefire descent into hell.

While I don’t plan to rush back into the warm bosom of the Catholic church anytime soon, Father Bob did remind me that it is OK to express a faith that exists in-between. His faith seemed to me to be one that resided in the space in-between the humanitarian values of Catholicism and social justice. My faith, I think, lies somewhere in that sticky relational space between the Self and the Other.

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