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Bowing and scraping the bottom of the barrel?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

I remember my confirmation very well. It was the first time I remember coming into contact with a bishop in full chasuble and mitre. The bishop in question was a truly lovely man – gentle, affable and, to my young mind, holy. In fact, there is nothing about him to suggest otherwise even now in this time of personal iconoclasm. He doesn’t stand out among the bishops I have known other than the bishop that confirmed me. The dear man has long gone to his rest and I joyfully pray for his soul because he fulfilled his mission with due ceremony and quietness. I gather he was not a man for committees, but rather a wise pastor.

I remember being in awe of him. He seemed huge to a little boy, though I doubt he was as tall as other bishops, and certainly nowhere near the height of my current bishop. I was told to address him as “My Lord” and so I did when he spoke to me briefly. It was for me as important an occasion as meeting the Queen.

My Confirmation was also the moment that I remember wanting to be a Christian. Before then, I was just a boy who went to church and did churchy things. It was just a cultural thing. From this moment, I had been strengthened in the service of Christ even though I was very young to be confirmed. As I look back, I see that the Sacrament was truly effective and that, at the hands of this bishop, I had been given God’s grace.

I read in many places now how the age of deference must end. I hear of people saying that we should stop calling bishops, “My Lord” and “Your Grace” and that we should stop the bowing and scraping because it harks back to the feudal society. Some feel that deference to bishops and priests stultifies the laity and invalidates their opinions. The CofE Archbishop of Canterbury says that he finds it strange when people show him deference. To my mind, that says it all.

I want to show deference to my superiors, especially my bishop. He and I are good friends which is why I refer to him as “M’Lud” in a Gilbert and Sullivan sort of way rather than “My Lord” which I reserve for more formal correspondence. Nonetheless in showing him deference, I am making very real to myself that he is my spiritual father, my ordinary, and the representative of Christ in my Diocese.

There is a psychological saying that if you smile, you will start feeling happy. The same is true in the Church, the more you act as if Christ is present in another person, the more you will see Him. The Benedictine Rule is full of deference. We have to be humble and not press our opinions for the good of the community. There must be a limit on our influence so that Christ becomes much more visibly present to us. The more I call my bishop, “M’Lud”, kiss the episcopal ring and remove my biretta, the more do I remember Christ through him. He does not accept my opinions wholesale and does not implement all my suggestions and nor should he, thank God! As leader of the Diocese upon whom the buck stops, he is wise to take advice but is the only one who makes the decisions on behalf of the Diocese. If I demand that my opinion be honoured then I am wounding my Church as much as the dissenter in the Monastery. If he and I are "equals" then there can be no cohesion in the Church and we stand in fear of becoming a loosely connected group of individuals rather than a community of believers with the sole aim of loving God and neighbour.

Why do people reject the idea of deference to the clergy? The answer is simple. The clergy have not lived lives worthy enough to allow Christ to be seen in them. Both the RCC and CofE have been riddled with abuse scandals. The latest scandal in the CofE leaves even both Archbishops tainted with shirking the responsibility of care for the abused and there seems to be some allegation going around that they have been complicit in the cover-up of abuse. The trouble is that neither of them have been able to refute those allegations sufficiently.

This is the problem, the clergy have not lived so as to be able to allow people the opportunity to give them the deference and veneration as ikons of Christ. This is why Cultural Marxism has been allowed to try and level the playing-field by refusing deference to anyone and preaching the social equality of all.

Ironically, what Cultural Marxism actually achieves is an atomisation of community, by promoting the individual above the community by claims of victimhood and lack of privilege. Thus itself engenders another form of deference in which we defer to the "oppressed minorities' and those who culturally lack privilege. One only has to look at the diversity policy of the BBC to find people promoted by virtue of being in a "minority" rather than by their merit. 

To my mind it is better to give deference to those who accept their place as ikons of Christ and strive to live up to that rather than to those who assume it. I have too little respect for Archbishop Welby and have lost the respect that I once had for Archbishop Sentamu. I cannot see Christ in them any longer because neither promote Christ.

 I do see Christ in my bishop and brother clergy because nI know that they hold the Christian Faith to the extent of sacrificing much on its behalf. I see Christ in my monastic community in Salisbury for similar reasons. I see Christ in many lay-folk too, but I don't see Christ sufficiently well in others which I need to do, but many CofE clergymen seem bound to live lives contrary to the Gospel and encourage others to do the same. 

If we expect deference, then we will be disappointed and with good reason. If we live lives for Christ and clothe our lives in Him, then we will be His ikon as we should be. If people call for an end to deference, they will end up demanding deference to themselves and their opinions as being automatically worthy of consideration.

I will continue to call bishops "My Lord" and Archbishops "Your Grace" even if they are of the CofE because I *want* to see Christ in them and by doing so, perhaps I will. But then I will try and be the good Benedictine and show deference to everyone in order that Christ's presence may be more obvious to me and, God willing, through me to the world who badly needs to see His face once more.

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