Shortly before everything came to a halt, I was in our secondary school, St Simon Stock, for one of my usual chaplaincy sessions that I have each week when school is running. Walking along one of the corridors was one of our livelier year 11’s who asked me with a laugh, “ Hey Deacon Ian, how’s Kevin?” With a smile I had to reply, “ He’s doing fine, Thank you for asking!”
Let me explain. A few months earlier I had been away on retreat with a group of our year 11’s, of which this lad was one of them. During our 4 days away we had Mass, and as usual it was my role to read the Gospel. All was going well until at pace, my teeth and mouth didn’t quite get into sync, and The Kingdom of Heaven came out as something that sounded like “ The Kingdom of Kevan“! And of course a whole group of over thirty 15 & 16 year olds aren’t going to miss that opportunity! But everybody, including the priest that was saying the Mass, realised it was a funny moment and we all had a laugh.
Being a Deacon, one of my roles is to be ‘a herald of the Gospel’, but there are times when that is easier said than done, especially when reading scripture aloud. I often feel for our readers at Mass, who have to deal with many of the Old Testament characters and place names. And, of course I get to read the genealogy of Jesus, from St Matthew’s Gospel, each year at the Christmas Day Vigil Mass. What annoys me though, is when people criticise those that have done their best. The reading is just one example, but I’m sure each of us can immediately think of things that get criticised, or indeed we criticise ourself.
I might recognise that I’m being critical of others, but do I consider why? First of all perhaps I need to look at what/who I criticise and why. There are times when we are asked to be critical, for example when we giving honest feedback and an appraisal of performance in a controlled and structured manner, perhaps in a work setting. And there are times when others ask for tips and pointers of how to improve things. This is positive and helpful criticism.
However, it appears that too often criticism is aimed at putting others down, at making others look in some way stupid, or simply as a tool to make the criticiser appear to be better than everybody else. We are mostly competitive by nature and the desire to be on top, to win and succeed, sometimes overrides our Christian calling to Love God, and Love our Neighbour. St. Paul in his letters to the various early christian communities urges them to correct others for the right reasons, to help them live a life of faith. That too should be our goal too when we criticise someone, or ourselves.
When I learn and improve through criticism, then I grow closer to our faith, however when I use criticism as a weapon, I turn my back on our faith – let me think before I speak!
For me, and thanks to Kevin, I’m now more aware of the need to ensure I proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven at a less hurried pace!!
Deacon Ian Black