Thinking Anew – Graciousness is a wonderful gift

In tomorrow’s Gospel, St Mark shows that the words spoken by Jesus made a deep impression on his listeners. And a significant reason for that is, “because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority” (1: 22). St Luke tells his readers that Jesus won approval of all: “And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips”. (Luke 4: 22)

The people listened to him because he spoke authoritatively and did so in a gracious manner. Graciousness is a supreme quality, a wonderful gift.

And you know it when you meet it. It is seldom faked.

Graciousness brings with it an air of authority; indeed I think it’s fair to say that it complements authority.


Two days after Joe Biden moved into the White House someone commented that he had spoken such gracious words and spoke them with authority. The person went on to say that often when we hear gracious words, we might well forget what was said but remember the graciousness of the person who spoke them. Surely, that's a lovely thought.

We have just come out of four years listening to a world leader haranguing, insulting, ridiculing and demeaning those who did not agree with him. We are punch-drunk from it all.

While Donald Trump may not be the cause of our fatigue and cynicism, he did reflect the confused state of millions of people around the world.

In this newspaper last week, there was an insightful article about QAnon, the deranged conspiracy theory that believes the world is run by a Satanic group of paedophiles and that Donald Trump has spent years leading a top-secret mission to bring these evildoers to justice.

Can you get anything madder than that? Yet it has millions of followers from right across society.

Mike Rothschild, who researches conspiracy theories, says about QAnon that it appeals to anyone who is disaffected in any way.

There is a void, a kind of emptiness affecting our world. Sadly there is precious little graciousness that speaks with authority. And that absence is noticeable in the Catholic Church in Ireland; indeed, probably in all churches but my competency allows me to speak about the Catholic Church in the country in which I live and work.

Though there are people, who speak with grace and authority, the institution is diminishing in front of our eyes. There is some sort of blindness being perpetrated. And to add to that, there is a development of cliques, many of which appear extremely right-wing in their views and beliefs.

Whom do we believe, where do we go to hear the truth?

Within the Catholic Church, and I imagine in all churches, there is urgent need for a real and honest discussion. It’s well beyond time when church leadership listened and indeed took a lead from its non-clerical membership.

Our church has become crippled by a top-heavy management system, strangled by an unhealthy hierarchical command structure. And the result is that the people on the ground have stopped listening.

In my job as a hospital chaplain, I have the great privilege of being inspired by the faith of the people I meet, patients and staff.

When last did the words of a bishop or priest genuinely inspire me? I cannot say. The words and actions I experience as a hospital chaplain are usually suffused with grace and a quiet and confident authority. They speak to me as the evangelist Mark describes. I too am astonished.

My hope is that when Covid regulations are lifted I can invite the new Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, to come to the hospital, where I work, and accompany me on my rounds.

I shall ask him to leave behind his episcopal ring and cross and experience for himself the lived faith of patients and staff.

The wisdom and faith of people must be recognised. There is so much to be harnessed. So often there is a graciousness and authority in front of our very eyes. We need to see it.