Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Relating an opaque theology to contemporary circumstances"

I am reading, for the second time, Linden MacIntyre's award-winning novel The Bishop's Man. It is the story of a priest, just turning fifty, who is assigned by his bishop to a small parish in rural Nova Scotia. This is his first pastoral appointment after many years of being the "bishop's man," a special agent of the chancery sent out to deal discreetly with the problem of wayward (i.e. abusive) priests.

Here are some of his reflections on being a pastor:

Nothing in the seminary or since had prepared me for what I now faced every day. Relating an opaque theology to contemporary circumstances. Seeking guidance in the ruminations of great medieval minds, now rendered unintelligible except in transparently manipulative parables, the old promises and threats designed to sway the superstitious, now empty. I thought of Pat and laughed aloud. I thought of Sextus and my sister. There was nothing in my experience, personal or pastoral, to help me deal with these realities.

But it didn't seem to matter. It seemed to be sufficient that I was here. It hurts, they've told me, when a place loses a school, a post office, identity. Losing the church would be the last straw. I agreed with everything. The church is the guardian of life itself, a lonely sentinel. I didn't tell them what I really thought: how the spire has been supplanted by the satellite dish. I dared not tell them what I think about the right to life.

They wouldn't listen anyway.

I wonder how many real priests come to the same conclusions as this fictional one and how they deal with the cynicism, the disillusionment.

This one seems to like to drink.

Photo Credit

by cphoffman42 at

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