Saturday, January 27, 2007

In Prase of Meddlesome Priests

Henry II along with numerous Popes have been overheard by willing minions as they lamented "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest"? Even before Thomas A'Becket the Church and State have been calld to account by women and men of faith. However in the status quo of ecclesiastical hierarchy, the men have caused more angst.

This week we are again called to lament as another "voice of conscience" is taken from our midst. The passing of Abbe Pierre hardly raised a paragraph in Australian media. Fair enough as we are in the midst of a major tennis game and Nicole managed to crash a car on a film set. Only faithful viewers of SBS and subscribers to Church Resources would be aware of the significance of this event. Apart from that, I believe my old mate Bob Maguire is the first Australian commentary on this remarkable man.

I did manage to find a reference in the SMH back in 2005 when the Abbe published a book including admissions of his sexual activities. New Idea must have been so miffed at missing that scoop!! Local ACU scholar, Alan Moss writes: of the book: "Abbé Pierre’s memoir merits a mention to a wider circle of readers than those who might take up the book for themselves. His life spans almost the entire twentieth century. He has experienced the tragedy of war and occupation, has shared in efforts of church people to help the Jews, has been touched by the spiritual awakening of the church in the years leading up to the Vatican Council. Over many decades he has actively confronted the uneven distribution of the goods of the earth, and he has a voice in the context of the movement of peoples. His name will endure in the Emmaus communities."

A Vatican rep eulogized: "I believe the Abbé Pierre, his writings and speeches as well his communities’ spirit should be studied and the lessons drawn from them should spread everywhere because the Gospels and the spiritual and cultural motivations that push us to fight “the only possible war, that against hunger and destitution” are always relevant."

Other Tributes worth reading
The Independant Tribute
Le Monde (of course en Francais!)

Barney Zwartz, religious affairs writer for The Age. quotes Archbishop Mannix's observation that: politicians like to complain about meddling clerics, but they only really object when the intervention is on behalf of the other side The quote from Mannix should remind us that we also have a fine tradition of "troublesome bishops"

So, what does the passing of a French priest mean for us in the Land of Oz? A new debate about faith and politics is brewing. The publicaton of Kevin Rudd's "Faith in Politics" has stirred our most public Catholic Tony Abbott the devout former seminarian to propose that Christianity is a Liberal virtue more than a Labour vote. The full text of Mr Abbott's speech on January 27 should be online soon. This is an election year for us and the comments from Peter Grant should be posted on every Church door in the country.

Abbé Pierre spoke not as a social worker soliciting charity, but as an angry prophet challenging the French to heed their moral duty. The measure of a civilised society, he insisted, was to be found in its treatment of the outcast: "la misère juge le monde."

The life and words of the Abbe remind me of the life of James K Baxter, our own tribal prophet whose personal life was also lived with all the joys and hope, grief and anguish that are the lot of those who follow the Practice of Jesus.

May the spirit of Meddlesome Christians and Holy Irritants inform and inspire us as we go to the polls later in the year. May the Spirit who is the "enemy of apathy" teach us to sing a new song in this ancient land so that the downtroddden may be lifted up and the mighty ones put down. May our song of justice and mercy speak of the values of true religion in the "polis".

Your comments and responses are welcome using the comment tag.