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Posted June 23, 2005

Book: Vulnerable to the Holy in Faith, Morality and Art
Author: Enda McConagh
The Columba Press, Blackrock, CoDublin, pp.218

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Enda McDonagh describes his new book as a series of exploratory probes into areas in which he has been engaged intellectually, emotionally and practically over the years since his retirement from teaching. These pieces illustrate how the Other may be primarily holy-making if one accepts the grace of openness and vulnerability.

The first section considers ‘the strange richness and the poverty of the Church today.’ The author offers some suggestions about how, in its people, leaders and structures, the Roman Catholic Church can be vulnerable to the holiness of the wider church and world, and render them in turn vulnerable to the holiness, which for all its deformities, it continues to bear witness to. The next section focuses on the moral issues which have been of particular theological and pastoral concern in recent times. His meditations on poets, painters and sculptors open new ways of encountering the holy in a secular age.

Fr. McDonagh concludes with a section on The Vulnerable Self.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Letting be

‘And God said: Let there be . . .And God saw that it was good.’ In chapter one of the Book of Genesis the author provides a sense of the dramatic tension of the various stages of creation and of their divine resolution. Chapter three reveals the deeper drama of light and darkness, of good and evil involved in the confrontation between a divine authority and human freedom, requiring a new, prolonged, painful but finally redemptive ‘Let there be’ by the creator turned redeemer God. The creative and saving Word of God, the divine let there be, has always also enjoyed human forms. ‘In the image of God, (God) created (humanity)’. ‘And the (divine) Word was made (human) flesh’ in to thy Word.’ Human letting be was doubly endorsed in the mystery of redemptive incarnation.

In daily human interchange the mysterious divine concentrate is both concealed and revealed. The passive and active letting be of all our tribe in accepting and enabling reflects the redemptive-creative work of God; it opens us to the holy in other human beings and in all creation. It allows us to see that they are good as of God and of the light, however much they may also be of the darkness, just like ourselves. Discovering and enacting the complex demands of passive and active letting be is a lifelong task for human beings just as it is a creation-long commitment of their Creator. Along that road of discovering and enacting lies human fulfullment (or holiness).

. . . . Letting be as enabling people to realize their full potential as human beings and citizens is the first and most important task in politics. What that full potential might be and how it might be realized will vary from polity to polity and from era to era. In the present era, with its opposing dynamics of globalization and fragmentation, political leaders in the national, regional and global arenas face daunting tasks. At the most basic levels people must be helped simply to live in contexts of war and terror, of famine, drought and kindred natural disasters, of HIV-AIDS and similar plagues. This is the global political situation which the dominantly economic globalization at work at present is exacerbating rather than relieving. Despite the rhetoric and the promises from the Millennium Development Goals at the UN summit in 2000 to the Dublin Declaration on HIV-AIDS in 2004, action is so slow, inadequate and uncoordinated that the ‘letting go’, which might have been liberation from much of their enslavement for many of these peoples, has become abandonment of them to their continuing suffering and premature dying.

Such abandonment of the powerless by the powerful has complex roots. The temptations of profit, power and pleasure obscure the human needs of others, their innate dignity and its accompanying rights, their sacredness and holiness as persons. Ethnic and racial differences, religion, culture and gender compound the power-games and prevent the kind of vulnerability to the stigmatized others, which could be liberating for both sides. One of the ‘holy’ figures of the twentieth-century politics, holy in his sensitivity to the enemy-other, the Mahatma Gandhi spoke of the emancipation needed by the British as well as by the Indian people. Exploitative power in whatever arena, political, economic, military, religious, gender or race, is eventually enslaving of master as well as subject. Letting go of such power in the process of enabling or letting be, of liberating and letting go the people subject to it, is the way to liberation and fulfillment of the people with power. All that is very difficult to perceive and very painful to effect. To refuse that voluntary letting be and letting go of the oppressed is to face recurring insecurity and eventually loss of the power itself and frequently to a new and powerful antagonist. Empires are in the end self-destructive although their history of ‘other-destruction’ until that end occurs, usually makes very sad reading.

Letting be and letting go are aptly illustrated in the work of artists. The painful labor whereby a writer or other artist brings a work into existence, enables it to be, can lead to the pain of deciding when the work is finished, and when it may be offered to publisher or public, when its creator will let it go. For some artists and some work these decisions may prove impossible so the artist is trapped by the unfinished or unfinishable work and the public deprived of the pleasure of it. Acceptance of the work with its flaws and in its otherness means letting it go so that it is no longer simply under the artist’s control, but in a strange world where its reception may offer reassuring encouragement or dispiriting discouragement. In the releasing as in the making, the joy and the pain will be mixed both may contribute to the growth of the artist and the enrichment of her society.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Vulnerable to the holy

1. Encountering the Other

Part Two: In the Community of Faith

2. Shared despair?

3. The crisis of governance

4. Politics or prophecy?

5. Invite and encourage

6. Unopened ground

7. A communal hope

Part Three: In Morality

8. Friendship, sexuality and marriage

9. Friendship, marriage and the risk of God

10. Homosexuality: Sorrowful mystery, joyful mystery

11. Stigmatisation: HIV-AIDS and Christian morality

12. From Shoa to Shalom: The case for abolishing war in the twenty-first century

Part Four: In Art

13. Hopkins I: Vulnerable the holy

14. Hopkins II: Reconciliation and beauty

15. An office of readings

16. Birds of contemplation

17. Faith and the artist

18. Although it is the night: A St. Patrick’s Day reflection

19. The risk of priesthood

20. Letter to Sarah

21. Grace before seventy