Joy Cowley – Pride, Prejudice and Humility

CathNews NZ and Asia PacificAnalysis and Comment
For goodness sake
bad news
Monday, November 19th, 2018 – Joy Cowley

For the sake of all the beauty and goodness in the church, let us get beyond our grumblings. There has been a lot of bad news lately.

We are like little fish swimming in a sea of light but seeing only the patches of darkness that actually make space for future growth. Trouble is, we don’t see their potential.

There is something in us that longs for perfection, forgetting that if we were perfect we’d have no room for growth, no room for God working in us and with us. Life is all about transcendence, our darkness being a teacher, light unborn. But instead of learning from it, we try to reject it

We tend to condemn the growing space with judgmental words: ‘disorder’, ‘clericalism’, ‘abuse. These words become labels we can put on other people. Our faith becomes divided.

Where is Jesus our healer and teacher in all of this? What is he trying to tell us about spiritual growth?

Recently, an Australian bishop addressing the priests’ assembly, talked about the heart of the church being “rotten.” Certainly, he was carrying a burden of pain and anger, about the abuse situation, but what did he mean by “the heart of the church?

99.5% of the church is laity.

Were they included in his appraisal?

Of the ordained, was he considering the majority of priests like himself, who are good men struggling with the shadow cast by the crimes of others?

If we look around us we see that the dark patches in the sea of light, while serious, are very small indeed compared with the abundant grace poured out on the church. Perhaps the dark patches are also part of grace. Maybe we could call them the giving of the left hand of God, each having a teaching that will take us to a new place in our faith.

And perhaps in all those dark puddles, there is one big teaching.

Do you think the spirit of Jesus might be addressing the sin of pride?

Almost everything in the church is tainted by it. We all see ourselves as better than someone else, rank beginning with the Pope, then cardinals, bishops, priests, religious.

And the laity? Of course! We lay people are all sure we are better than people who are not Catholics. I’m in this too, my mind chanting like a child, “My school is better than your school.”

We don’t need to go far in the gospels to find out what Jesus thought about people who wanted to be better than others. ”He who exalts himself will be humbled,” is just one of many warnings.

We know the antidote to pride. So maybe we can look again at those patches of darkness, own them as teachings and with Jesus. See them grow into the light of humility.


Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.

I’ve always loved Joy Cowley’s direct reflections on spirituality and the Roman Catholic Church. Her own deep spirituality and her understanding of our common human frailty have always attracted me – as a reality check to all our human striving for ‘perfection’ – a quality that only Jesus managed to attain to.

And she certainly has a point when she talks about the fact that ‘The Church’ is often ruled by the behaviour of its clerical component – rather than tempered by its often long-suffering laity.

In our own Anglican Church in New Zealand (ACANZP) it is sometimes we, the clergy, who stir up (in the wrong way, with little justification) division in the Church.

While there is little evidence of the deep-seated abuse of the laity by its clergy  in ACANZP, there are matters of gender and sexuality injustice that need to be addressed – not least of which is that of our Church’s treatment of LGBT+ people in the past, that has brought about the need for redress of institutional homophobia and sexism.

Sadly, where Church Leaders might be thought to be in the vanguard of the Church’s efforts to bring social justice into play – e.g: for the minority of its members whose lives are naturally encumbered with gender or sexual variation from the binary standard embraced by the more conservative among us – a small number of the clergy in our Church have decided to walk away from ACANZP in protest against our inclusive approach to the blessing of S/S monogamously-partnered couples.

Where probably at least 80% of lay Anglicans in the pew are accepting of Same-Sex faithfully-ordered relationships, it is, sadly, some of their clergy mentors who have personal conscience issues that militate against them. They have determined that a specific conservative, collective moral conscientiousness should overrule the individual’s right to exercise their own God-given informed conscience – for which they elect to stand before the judgement of their God. Even Pope Francis, when questioned about gay people and their relationships was wont to say: “Who am I to judge them – if they love God?” 

Instead of accepting the place of individual conscience in such intimate and basic matters of human thriving, a small number of conservative clergy have taken it upon themselves to lead their congregations into schism – a matter which must concern us all, and for which we need to more fully try to understand the consequences – both for the Church and for the society we are meant to humbly serve – as a visible and attractive agency of “The great love of God as revealed in The Son” – Jesus Christ, the only Righteous One amongst us.

When God offers mercy; who are we to exercise punitive judgement?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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