Comment

 

Shame is low in the order of virtues, so low down on the list that it is easily disregarded. Too often it is only when faced with its deliberate rejection, in shamelessness, that we are reminded of its worth.

Much of the appeal of the modern day Olympic Games is in its bewildering range of sports. Nevertheless, the heart of an Olympics, that which ties the modern movement to its ancient Greek antecedents, is and will remain athletics.

The World Athletics Championships arose, in part, to keep athletics in the forefront of public imagination, so that our interest in and knowledge of the competitors and champions was maintained when the true championships, the Olympic Games, returned.

How fortunate, therefore, for London’s bid for 2012, that the city was not preparing for a World Athletics Championships when the final reports are being submitted this month, or when the final decision comes to be made next month. One cannot help feeling that posters for ‘London 2005’ would have scuppered the capital’s chances for staging an Olympics just seven years later.

How fortunate? How shaming! London was, as we know, awarded the World Athletics Championships for this year. In a failure of banana republic proportions, the capital city failed to produce the necessary sporting facilities in time, and Helsinki had to come to the world’s rescue. The idea that this abject inadequacy should help the same city’s Olympic bid is too shaming to contemplate.

Modern Britain may mock its own traditions of fair play and sportsmanship, but London’s current bid goes beyond this. It is an act of naked shamelessness. We are right to feel ashamed.

This magazine has always, and quite rightly, been concerned with ecclesiology, and above all the lack of a coherent or Catholic ecclesiology in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

We are not The Church, nor even A Church; we are but part of Christ’s Church; and we should think and act in accordance with that truth. It is, therefore, a matter of shame when too many of our bishops and synods behave as though they had not grasped this part of the Church of England’s historic self-understanding.

There is, however, a greater shame even than synods that claim inordinate power to themselves, or bishops who speak as though they do not understand the nature of their office, one that we ought now to acknowledge, and confess. Yes, we are ashamed at the Church of England’s historic neglect and disregard of the mother of Our Lord.

We welcome ARCIC II’s final report Mary: grace and hope in Christ. We shall discuss what it says in detail in next month’s issue, but for the moment it is worth pausing and recognizing that, as we look back over the past half millennium, perhaps the greatest accusation that can fairly be levelled against our church is (to use a current buzz word) our lack of respect for Mary, Mother of God.

We can be proud of our holy men and women, in every century, whose devotion to Our Lady has been a gift to the wider Church. We can be proud of our Anglo-Catholic churches across the land, where thousands come to share in Marian devotion week by week. We can be proud of what many of our number have done to restore her shrines, at Walsingham and elsewhere.

We must also feel shame that our church as a whole can be so cold towards Jesus’ own mother. Of course there are legitimate differences of theology and devotion, but to suppose that it shows honour to Our Lord to be disrespectful of his Mother is a most horrible perversion. This often casual negativity is unbecoming to our Christian calling, and until it is more properly restrained it remains a mark of shame upon the Church of England.

In some ways, almost as corrosive is the patronizing response, increasingly popular, which is prepared to acknowledge much worth in Mary, while constantly reminding us of the failings of the Roman Church; that can talk nonchalantly of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption as ‘problems’ or ‘sticking points’, as though we were a bunch of protestant shop stewards negotiating what status this woman might be permitted.

Fears were expressed in the media, when the ARCIC report was published, that it was far too much a case of Protestants having to learn from Catholics, and not the other way around. If this were a debate, it could not possibly be even-handed.

This is exactly right. It is clearly the case that some parts of the Anglican tradition have something to teach even those in the Roman Church, but the exchange is not between equals. Common decency demands we acknowledge our history. A sense of shame, from us, might engender a proper humility. A proper humility must recognize that we have much to be ashamed of and a great deal that we must learn about Mary, our Mother. Only then will our devotion to her be honouring to her Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

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