Saturday, 5 December 2009


I was driving along the other day when the word obfuscation popped into my mind. Now I like the word; it sort of rolls around nicely and drops off the tongue, but you've got to be careful what pops into your head and rolls off your tongue when your driving. Anyway, a short while later after a rest at the road side, I drove on and got home safely. But I didn't forget obfuscation. I knew what the word meant but checked out the dictionary for something precise: to darken or to confuse were two of the definitions and they suited perfectly what had developed in my mind.

Satan has many titles and one is the Prince of Darkness or you might say the prince of obfuscation; because Satan likes to darken and to confuse; to throw shadows over things or to make things seem different than they are. He distorts truth and tries to make us see things his way. You can see him at work in the world. Christians are called the children of light: the light of Christ. But that doesn't mean we can't be deceived by darkness. And of course as Christians, we should not be obfuscating at all. So when you see deliberate acts of obfuscation you can usually tell that the values of Christ are not at work, but more likely the values of Satan.

This was more or less the extent of my thoughts on obfuscation and Satan, prince of Darkness. But then I came across what seem to be examples of obfuscation: the deliberate darkening or confusing of issues. And these came from within the Church.

First an item about Cardinal Egan, former Archbishop of New York, and allegations that he was less than open during investigations into an abuse scandal in his previous diocese. Then I read an article in the Catholic Herald in which the writer, a priest, tried to explain how the Irish clergy could be less than open without telling lies by using a concept called mental reservation. This means that if you hold back bits of the truth i.e. reserve them to yourself, you are not guilty of lying. Apparently this is acceptable. the writer quotes the example of a parish priest asking a curate to say he isn't in when a troublesome visitor calls. By saying "He isn't in" and reserving to himself the words "to you" the curate is not technically lying. Mind you the example is light years away from the Irish clergy matter. Clever though, eh? So a lie isn't a lie if you don't tell the truth, or the whole truth. Sounds promising.

But to a non clerically trained person like me, not gifted in the subtleties of moral philosophy or whatever it is, a lie is a lie. Now, I lie like the rest of you; but I know when I am lying and, if there is such a thing, it's usually an honest lie. The idea of " mental reservation" seems to me awfully like the philosophical nitpicking that Jesus abhorred in the Pharisees, those "whited sepulchures". Not that I would want to apply the image of outwardly pristine but inwardly rotten to the events in Ireland. Never(post-modern irony).

Back to where we started. They obfuscated and , it seems, there has been much obfuscation in parts of the Church where such scandals have taken place. Is there a place in the Church for obfuscation, for casting shadows or shading the light? Is it the Lord of Light we serve or the prince of obfuscation?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Be prepared(1)

We are in Advent. For Catholic Christians, this is surely the beginning of the New Year, not January when we remember the pagan God, Janus, with his two faces looking to the past and to the future. Nor is our new beginning in Lent when we purify ourselves in anticipation of Easter. Advent is the beginning of our journey, and it is a journey we make in time. In Advent we symbolically live with Mary her journey through the nine months of her pregnancy: a time of expectation, anticipation and uncertainty. Mary prepared for the birth of her child as we prepare spiritually for the same event. But when we look at the Incarnation, the " end time" of Advent, we see a mirror image, like the reflection of a rainbow. There is another coming into the world, the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings, Lord of Lords to claim His Kingdom and to judge the world. The liturgy of Advent points us to both these inseperable events in the faith journey of humanity. We reflect on the end times of the old Covenant and the end times of human history at the return of Christ.

So, we, like Mary, experience feelings of expectation, anticipation and uncertainty. It is the coming of Christ that evokes those feelings and as we look at Scripture we are reminded that we are in need of being prepared for the coming of Christ; for come He will. Just as the Incarnation fulfilled Mary's anticipation and expectation, so too will the return of Christ be the fulfilment of ours. And just as Mary had to prepare for the birth of her children, so too we must prepare for his return. Advent is a reminder for us to prepare and to be prepared for the day of Christ's return the time of which only the Father knows. Advent is every bit as solemn as Lent, every bit as spiritually focused and every bit as necessary to our continuing growth to salvation.Sadly it is all too easily spoiled by Christmas; the pagan celebration that is, not the birth of Christ.

The message , then, is prepare, prepare,prepare. Do not be deluded by the paganism but arrive at the joy and celebration of Christmas by the discipline of a Spirit-led Advent. Be prepared and stay ready. Advent is not just for Christmas.