Dancing with a limp – Fr Chris Gleeson SJ - Madonna Magazine

Dancing with a limp – Fr Chris Gleeson SJ

08 August 2018

Two people hand-in-hand on beachHope is more than optimism, hope is based on the conviction that something is worth fighting for no matter what.

During the middle of January this year, I was fortunate to spend a week holidaying with that great life-enlarger, Monsignor Tony Doherty from Sydney. Promoter of the Good News wherever life takes him, story-teller and raconteur extraordinaire, he had great delight in sprinkling my days with quotations from some of his favourite authors.

No matter what time of day, what golf course or beach we were visiting, Tony was keen to share his and others’ pearls of wisdom. This one from Anne Lamott, a well-known spiritual writer from San Francisco, really captured my attention.

She wrote: ‘You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp’.

Whatever loss comes our way, all of us need to dance with the limp. ‘Hope begins in the dark’ as Anne Lamott writes elsewhere, ‘the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up’. We who are charged with bearing the Good News need to remember that.

Another story – not one of the good Monsignor’s – tells of a very bright, yet very hyperactive, little second grade boy who found himself headed home with a report card that was a disaster. After stalling through dinner, he finally got up courage and showed the report card to his Dad. ‘Son’ said the Father, ‘we are going to have to do something about these grades.’ ‘We can’t, Dad,’ replied the boy. ‘They’re written in ink.’

After the dark side of our Catholic Church in Australia has been revealed in the last four years – and committed to ink in the Royal Commission Report published just before Christmas – we are clearly needing to rebuild our house. And we will do so, I am sure.

In the midst of all the tragic stories of abuse victims and their perpetrators just before Christmas, there was a lovely news item about a young Year 12 girl who, in the previous year, found herself at the bottom of her class in Year 11 and realised that she needed a wake-up call. She had the courage to transfer to a new school in Year 12 – indeed, our own Loyola Senior High School at Mt Druitt – and became Dux of the College. It is a story of great hope.

Without wanting to evade the hard statistics of abuse reported in the public summary of the Royal Commission on 15 December last year – my own experience of the majority of priests, religious and lay companions with whom I have been privileged to serve over a long journey gives me cause for hope that we can rebuild our Church.

Men and women who have brought good news to the poor and bound up hearts that are broken; people who have proclaimed freedom to those caught up in their various prisons, and are wrapped in the cloak of integrity. Yes, the sins of fellow members of our Church have brought great shame on us all, and our hearts go out in sorrow to those victims who have suffered and continue to suffer.

In seeking their forgiveness, we have much to repair and for which to make reparation, but the darkness cannot be allowed to conceal the light that the majority of our brothers and sisters in the Church continue to bring to the world. It is worth remembering that hope is not wishful thinking or fanciful daydreaming. That is simply optimism. No, hope is based on the conviction that something is worth fighting for, whatever the outcome. Hope is a belief that in all the misery and gloom facing us and presented in the media each day, our all-powerful and all-loving God is still in charge of His world and will keep His promises to be always and everywhere faithful.

Pope Paul VI once greeted a group of Christian pilgrims in Rome by telling them that, as pilgrims, they had a very important role to play. After all, they might be the only gospel that many people in the world would ever read. May we continue to be a gospel of good news for all who come our way. Finally and fittingly, let me end with another quote from Anne Lamott – words not unlike the First Principle and Foundation in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. ‘I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right’. Let us keep on dancing with a limp.