BRIAN BRINDLEY is unexpectedly impressed by a radical priest
Sharing the word through the liturgical year, by Gustavo Gutierrez, Geoffrey Chapman £20
THIS IS A MOST INTERESTING BOOK, full of new and provocative ideas. I could wish it in the hands of everyone who finds himself responsible for preaching a homily, Sunday by Sunday, on the cycle of the Sunday lectionary.
Who could forget Evelyn Waugh's caricature of the aged padre in A Handful of Dust who, after a lifetime ministering in India, preached to his English country congregation in terms such as these: "...let us remember our Gracious Queen Empress in whose service we are here ...and let us think of our dear ones far away... across dune and mountain..."? The name of Gustavo Gutierrez will be familiar to many of you as founding father of South American "Liberation Theology"; but any radical priest who thinks he can save himself time and trouble in preparing his own sermon by reading Don Gustavo's verbatim from the pulpit is riding for a fall. I will not swear that the words "recent events in Lima" occur; but these are materials for pondering in preparing a homily rather than examples for direct use.
One must understand why Liberation Theology emerged in Latin America and not here in England. Here the Catholic Church has been the Church of the poor especially in those places where Irish immigration has been strong ever since Emancipation and the restoration of the Hierarchy. The
position of privilege and power enjoyed by the Catholic Church in South America was here occupied by the Established Church (to which itself the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement was to come as a kind of Liberation.) Consider these words: "Close under the Abbey of Westminster there lie concealed labyrinths of lanes and courts, and alleys and slums, nests of ignorance, vice, depravity, and crime, as well as of squalor, wretchedness, and disease; whose atmosphere is typhus, whose ventilation is cholera; in which swarms a huge and almost countless population, in great measure, nominally at least, Catholic; haunts of filth, which no sewage committee can reach dark corners which no lighting-board can brighten. This is the part of Westminster which alone I covet, and which I shall be glad to claim and to visit..." Are they not a rallying-cry of Liberation Theology? They are taken from Cardinal Wiseman's Appeal to the English People of 1850.
Why, then, bother with Don Gustavo? First, when a man writes a book he is entitled to be judged by that book, rather than by rumour or reputation: there is no trace here of insincerity or evasion. Secondly, the closer an expositor gets to Holy Scripture, the more fairly can he be judged. Here we find a conservative approach to the Word of God, at times verging on the fundamentalist; it is in his development of these ideas that he allows his fancy to roam free. Thirdly, every author, and even every preacher, must be allowed his own special interests; have we not all smiled as Fr X works his sermon round to Our Lady, Fr Y to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, Fr Z to the parish finances?
Fr Gutierrez' preoccupation with the disadvantaged is well known and never concealed: can we not afford to smile at how regularly and how quickly he comes round to the needs of the poor (real enough, God knows, in his context) "He would say that, wouldn't he?" Fourthly, our sermons could do with a breath of invigorating Peruvian air: my suggestion is that preachers should, on Tuesday or Wednesday, devote half an hour to reading the homily proposed for the following Sunday: some of the ideas will be worth using; others can readily, and with a clear conscience, be discarded. Our preachers and their congregations have much to learn; Don Gustavo has plenty to say to us.