Faith & Spirituality in Review
A voice crying in the Wilderness: Hubert Richards: What Really Happened?, Clare Richards, Columba Press, 2011, 260 pp, pb, rrp $31.95
Hubert (Bert) Richards’ life tells one thought-provoking story of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century. He was born of German parents who met and married in England, but returned to Germany where Bert as born. The family came back to England when he was a child. He was a gifted scholar at school and became fascinated with the Scriptures. He was advised to study in Rome, but had to return to England at the start of the Second World War. He later returned to Rome and studied at the Biblicum, the training ground of Catholic Scriptural scholars at a time when Catholic biblical studies were beginning to flower. He showed himself a convivial friend, a leader and a man of wide culture – surely a future leader in the church.
After returning to England he taught at St Edmund’s Seminary during the Second Vatican Council. This proved a difficult time, as he and younger priests worked to introduce the new vision of Vatican II into the liturgy and the theological teaching and pastoral approach of the church. Seminaries were places of tension, with the liturgy often the centre of dispute. In many seminaries younger priests were removed and replaced by older ‘safe hands’. Richards was also removed by Cardinal Heenan, who was personally kind to him, but had little sympathy with the underlying directions of Vatican II.
This tension was intensified by the hostile and often unjust comments made to Bishops about priests who popularized the theology of Vatican II. Richards was named head of Corpus Christi Pastoral Institute, which was loved by its students but suspect to many Bishops. He was later replaced. He spent a few years as teacher, and finally asked to be dispensed from his priesthood. He later married happily and had a productive life. This book is written from Bert’s diaries by his wife.
Reading back this story one is struck by the learning and hope that went into the making of Vatican II, and the energy which so many gifted and pastoral people like Bert Richards drew from it. The extravagant waste of so many generous and enthusiastic lives and of the contribution they could have made to the church is also palpable. Misunderstandings, readiness to believe false accusations and lack of skill in negotiating directly the differences and misjudgments inevitable in a time of change directly led so much energy to be diverted into negativity. Good people lost hope that the Council could ever shape the life of the church.
Bert Richard’s own life was neither sad nor a loss. He remained a good and faithful man. But his potential contribution to the church was needlessly lost. That is always a pity.
True North: The Story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack, Brenda Niall, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 272 pp, pb, rrp $32.95.
I first became interested in Northern Australia and in the relationship between White and Indigenous Australians through reading Mary Durack’s book, Kings in Grass Castles. It told of her grandfather’s epic journey from Ireland to Australia and then from Queensland to Western Australia, had larger than life characters, particularly the resolute women who sustained the cattle drive across Australia the establishment of stations in the Kimberley. The book also displayed a love passion for the land and its people.
At first reading I imagined its author as securely settled on one of the family stations, a privileged member of the pastoral aristocracy, with a deep sense of ownership of the land.
Brenda Niall tells a very different, more complex and more interesting story. She studies not only Mary but also her sister, the painter Elizabeth Durack. The heart of the story does not lie in the sisters’ secure possession of their ancestral properties, but in the their longing from a distance for the places from which their father visited them and which they occasionally visited as children. The family had a secure home in Perth, but its circumstances were always insecure. The Durack holdings in the Kimberley were heavily indebted to the banks, and were sold in the sisters’ lifetime.
Like two of their brothers, Mary and Elizabeth spent formative years in the Kimberley during their early adult years, and came to know the Indigenous families on the stations. They saw the North as their home. Mary in particular came to see their situation differently as the age moved, but she also saw the complexities. She supported the movement to pay equal wages to Indigenous pastoral workers, and lamented the response by many station owners to banish the people from the stations.
Brenda Niall’s book is probing and measured. She is interested in the movements of the heart that guide people to adventurous and unpredictable actions. She also has a deep understanding of the complex terrain of human creativity. With Mary and Elizabeth, both willful and mercurial at times, but also intensely faithful, she has subjects who constantly tease her beyond what can be known. Both Elizabeth and Mary, one feels, would have been delighted by the firm, gentle way in which she holds them and allows their lives to unfold.
Nothing prepared me for this, Jesuit Social Services, rrp $12.00 (incl. p&p). PO Box 271, Richmond 3121.
We shudder when we hear that someone has taken their own life. We feel for the pain that must have made life unendurable and for the loss and devastation that their suicide will cause friends and family. We also sense faintly that we too are diminished by the chosen death of another human being.
For those close who survive, the pain continues, often unnoticed. The horror that people feel at suicide condemns those affected by it to a silence that can fester. So the Support after Suicide Program of Jesuit Social Services encourages relatives to share their feelings with counselors and people who understand what it is like.
Nothing prepared me for this presents some of the fruits of this project, mainly in poetry. It is moving and poignant. Finally it is also deeply encouraging because it reveals people’s resilience in the face of so much pain and bewilderment. In the poems they express their memories of the suicide, the shock they experienced, the ‘only if’ thoughts that tormented them, the love that causes pain, and the hope that grows slowly like grass through cracks in concrete.
All the stages of the experience are described in simple and raw words. The first response is one of disbelief:
Dead, you say she is dead?
How can this be?
I have watched her from infancy,
grown with her, shared with her
fought with her, triumphed with her…
And everybody broods on the things that conceivably might have,
but really would not have made a difference:
I would have done the dishes,
I would have washed the clothes,
I would have let her watch Grey’s Anatomy
instead of watching what I wanted.
And sometimes, life and hope return, but always seen through the unillusioned eyes that have looked on such a terrible face of death.
Hope, who left my girl,
you did not wait with her.
I guess patience and perseverance
are my friends, to follow hope.
Nothing prepared me for this is a demanding book to read. It is also a tribute to the people who have come through a demanding experience and to those who have accompanied them there.