As you will know, one of my roles within my diaconal ministry is as part of the team involved in the formation and training of our future deacons. It is always an interesting discussion when we are dealing with the subject of homilies and preaching. Apart from the practicalities of timing, style, mannerisms and the structure of a homily, the biggest and most divisive subject is without doubt the content. I will start the discussion by asking the group, “What shouldn’t we talk about in a homily?”
So, If that question was re-phrased for you, something like, “What subjects do you not want to hear about in a homily?” What would your answer be?
But it isn’t only in homilies that people don’t want to talk about certain subjects. Often people have unwritten rules that there are subjects that they avoid. These might commonly include money and finances, family history and relatives, relationships and sex/sexuality, and of course religion. Why is it that in many situations and households, any talk about God, and religious beliefs, is seen as a subject that doesn’t get mentioned?
It is true that on many occasions religious beliefs have been blamed as the root cause for conflict, even leading to violence and outright war. But, does this mean that it needs to be avoided at all costs? If I’m going to live my life as a disciple, surely it is right that I’m able to express my thoughts and beliefs to others? Part of the problem, if there is a problem, is the way in which the beliefs and way of life are being expressed. Not only being expressed but also being received.
The other consideration is associated with knowledge of the subject being discussed. Am I open to learning more about faith, not only my own but others as well, or am I content to just be happy with the little I know and think no more is required. When we hear somebody talking about faith or religion do I feel comfortable with my own faith, or in some way a bit inadequate?
I have had it said to me on more than a few occasions, that it is “alright for you as a deacon, you know these things!” The truth is that about many of the subjects that get discussed, when it comes to thinking about how they fit with the church I have to do some homework. I have to go and find the answers so that with some degree of certainty I can answer a question that might have been raised. The same opportunity to find the answers is available to everyone, if we are prepared to put in a bit of effort and do a little bit of searching and learning.
But, is it important to know what our faith teaches about the things and situations that we might meet in what could be described as ‘ordinary life’? What, for example, does the church have to say about the search for a COVID-19 Vaccine? You may be surprised to hear that on 24th September 2020, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (Department for Social Justice) issued a briefing note on COVID-19 and Vaccination (available here). I invite you to look it up and read it. The content isn’t the subject of this reflection, but it serves as a reminder that our faith should play an important part in all areas of our life.
Just because a subject is sensitive or difficult, it doesn’t have to be an invitation for avoidance or ignorance. If it is something that is important, if it is something that plays a part in my life, then I should know what my faith asks me to do about it. It cannot be ignored that the Church itself in the past has tried to avoid difficult subjects, and as we know that hasn’t ended well and continues to cause a lot of hurt to a lot of people.
As a person who professes to have faith, am I willing to engage that faith in all aspects of my life? When I ask the question about what is important to me and perhaps what I’m willing to avoid where do my loyalties land? It can be difficult to talk about the things that society ‘doesn’t want to talk about’, but can I reasonably hope to go through life, saying I’m a person who has faith, if I’m not prepared to meet the challenges that we all face.
I think this is a good basis to our invitation to prayer with the Lord. To open my life, complete with any struggles, is to say Yes to living with a faith. To say, ‘we don’t talk about that!’ denies my faith in that part of my life. There really isn’t a reason why something can’t be talked about!
Deacon Ian Black