Christian harmony can coexist with modern beliefs and values

There is no contradiction between Christian faith and philosophy or science or literature

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

Recently I attended the funeral of a much admired and much-loved headmaster, Fr Paul Andrews. Over a third of my school class attended his funeral, which says something about Paul given that his stint at our school ended forty-seven years ago. In a sense, we, his pupils, were his children.

Sometimes it seems important for each of us to find a moment to remember a life which has been directed neither at fame nor at fortune, to acknowledge achievements which require no validation from tabloids or treasuries. We all know people who have lived such lives. For me, Paul was one of them.

Most of the wonderful people who have touched our lives will be the subject of no formal obituaries. Perhaps a few of them will. But either way, it is important that we try to find a small space in the daily churn of our thoughts to recall, as Joni Mitchell tells us, that “love is touching souls”.

The gospel at Paul’s funeral, the parable about the talents, was well chosen. I learned from the homily about the remarkable breadth of his talents not just as an educator but also as a psychologist, lecturer and communicator; about the multitude of lives which he touched with his gentleness, intelligence, humour and example.

If the Sermon on the Mount is right that the gentle are blessed, Paul will surely be one of those who will inherit the earth.

Unusual Catholic education

That Paul was a priest, a member of the Society of Jesus, is all the more reason to salute and pay tribute to his life. At a time when those who have brought dishonour on the priesthood must be unreservedly condemned and ruthlessly pursued, we should remember the many good men and women, of different denominations and faiths, who have dedicated themselves to religious life; people who have done so much good in the service of others.

Many years ago, one of my school friends came across a note which another priest at the school had written to Paul, then the headmaster. The note proposed an ambition for the school, an ambition which Paul clearly shared.

The overall aim, the note suggested, should be to offer us boys the opportunity to access the broad range of culture and thought from the Enlightenment onwards.

We were privileged, like the pupils of many schools, to have great teachers who enriched our lives. As much by their example as their words, our teachers offered us insight into the core Christian beliefs. Beyond that they did not tell us what to think but rather encouraged us to think for ourselves and to articulate our thoughts. This was probably unusual in Catholic education of the time. It was certainly a privilege.

One of the important things we learned at school is that there is no contradiction between Christian faith and philosophy or science or literature. To recall this wisdom, which influenced my own life, is all the more important because it is constantly challenged from two quarters.

Opposite points of view

On the one hand, there are those who see Christianity and other religions as being in contradiction with science and even with rational thought. Inspired by the observation that some religious beliefs, such as creationism, can indeed be irrational mumbo jumbo, they make the mistake of tarring all religious belief with the same brush. This requires them to ignore the great philosophers, scientists and writers who have seen no contradiction between their work and their religious faith.

On the other hand, there are those within the church who believe that there are clear unambiguous answers to all the great questions of life and that these answers are available through what they consider official church teaching. They act as if such teaching is not to be questioned.

Thus, coming from the opposite point of view, they likewise see some contradiction between faith, on the one hand, and rational thought and secular culture on the other. It is this view which in the distant past gave us the hauling of Galileo before the Inquisition, in the more recent past the censorship of great literature, and today, for example, a dismissal out of hand of the strong case for women priests and for gay marriage.

Pope Julius II invited Raphael to decorate the rooms beside the Sistine chapel, at the very heart of Catholicism. In one of those rooms, Raphael captures perfectly the harmony between spiritual and worldly wisdom. On one wall he portrays the adoration of the sacrament. On the opposite wall is his great fresco of The School of Athens in which he depicts many of the great scientists, mathematicians and philosophers of history.

Like many others, I will remember Paul for his great gentleness but also because he helped us to understand the essential harmony at the heart of Christianity.

Wilfred Owen, the first World War poet, noted that there is a better way to remember the dead than with candles. “Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes/Shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes.”

Bobby McDonagh is a former Irish ambassador to the EU, Britain and Italy

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.