In an interview I did with him last month, David McWilliams agreed that the new generation in Ireland, whom he has portrayed both in writing and on television, made up the rules as they went along,
“It’s a la carte morality, which I would agree with. You have two ways to live your life: You have rules or discretion. As long as your discretion is based on a certain general view of what’s right and wrong, and I believe they have that, then jettisoning the rather strict rules that have governed this country over the last hundred years isn’t probably a bad thing. If you look at what has happened in terms of violence in this society, it’s not the people I portrayed who are perpetrating violence. They seem to be rather well behaved people”.
Mentally disagreeing with him at the time, I found his words came back to me this morning in an unlikely context.
Taking a monthly Communion service at a clinic for people with psychiatric illness or with dementia, I have been used to ministering to the little cluster of Anglicans resident in the clinic. Last month, a lady with long-term psychiatric problems came to me and said she was a Catholic but would like to join us for our service and hoped she would be allowed. “Of course”, I said, “do join us”. I then spent the next twenty minutes or so pondering the ethics of offering her Communion. Eventually, I concluded that to pass her by as I moved around the drawing room where we gather for worship would cause her greater hurt than any offence I might take if she refused. As it was she readily shared Communion with us.
This morning we gathered again and the nursing officer came to me; another lady who was Roman Catholic had asked if she might be allowed to join with us. I could hardly say no. The two Catholic ladies sat by side, pondering our 17th century prayers and sitting quietly while the half a dozen others of our number sang our way through three Christmas carols.
The discipline of the Church of Ireland is that all who are communicant members of their own churches are welcome to share the sacrament with us. The rule of the Roman Catholic Church is that their members must not receive Communion in our church; our ordination is not recognized and our Communion is not valid. What does one say to two ladies in a clinic who are possibly not able to think completely clearly, but are quite clear in their desire to join with us for worship? Does one say that their own rules bar their participation? Or does one accept them as people with individual dignity who must be allowed to make their own choice?
Rules or discretion? Upholding rules features large in the Gospels, their adherents being chiefly the scribes and the Pharisees; does following Jesus then mean that we are people who live by discretion?