If Rita had been ordained
Do you remember Educating Rita?
Michael Caine and Julie Walters. It must be close on thirty years since it came out.
It remains fresh in the memory; partly because its locations included many scenes familiar to anyone who has studied at Trinity College in Dublin; partly because it expressed truths as valid for most people as they were for Rita.
There is a scene in the film where Rita suddenly becomes aware of being a spectator to what was going on in her life. Sitting with her family and friends in a pub, those with whom she sits begin singing a song and she looks around the pub and asks herself what she is doing there.
Such Rita moments are probably common to most people; there can hardly be anyone who has gone through life without asking at least once how they came to be in the particular place in which they had found themselves; how they had found themselves doing things that had been no part of their plan for the future.
Attending a grand occasion in a huge cathedral, there was such a moment. The procession of clergy was so long that, despite the vastness of the building, the front of the procession almost reached those walking at the rear. It was hard to feel any sense of connectedness with the world in the streets outside. This is not to disparage the occasion, or to be disrespectful towards those who think such moments are important, but to acknowledge that different people have different ideas about where they should be and what they should be doing.
Had Rita been the Reverend Rita, she would have looked on the scene as a spectator might and wondered what she was doing there. Seeing moments as a spectator would see them suggests they are not as vital and gripping to oneself as they might be for others.
For years, it was difficult to understand those army officers in successive generations who preferred to be with their men than to have staff posts. It seemed odd, why would anyone not take a safe and secure job in an office if one was being offered?
The passing years have brought a tiny glimpse of what it was that those officers might have sought, it was about looking for what was real, what was authentic for themselves. They no more desired to sit in an office at headquarters than Rita wished to sit in a pub singing a banal song.
If a sense of authenticity in ministry is to be found in sitting at hospital bedsides, talking with residents in nursing homes, sharing bread and wine at kitchen tables, driving boreens, and standing in farmyards at knocking at doors, then walking in vast processions is probably a pastime best to be avoided.
There was a time when I thought posh frocks were just the thing, and mincing around in processions gave a sense of occasion and corporate identity. All that has completely gone. Clergy – indeed professional gatherings of any description – I now find almost impossible to bear. Do you think it could be that as we settle into ourselves, as Rita did, we no longer need the trappings of insecurity like processions? I saw the FB pictures of clergy processing to CCC and wondered if they had stopped to think how ridiculous they looked, especially the eejit in the cope. Did they think that passers-by would be impressed? Or were they so wrapped up in their robes that nothing else mattered? Psalm 17:10 They are inclosed in their own fat and their mouth speaketh proud things. I caught the end of the service on the webcast and saw the choirmaster flapping like a demented hen (why are they allowed to stand in the middle?), and then the procession. With a few modifications, you might all have been at home in the religious arm of Blackpool’s Golden Mile in north Norfolk.
The remove from pastoral reality is so great that I can’t cope with camp Catholicism!
We have had a glimpse of something similar in Uk politics this last week or so, the sight of various Mp’s popping into Greggs for a pasty was more than I could believe – not least of all that both the Government and the shadow, thinks we are all idiots. A bit of a Pulp, Common People moment – not even funny anymore..
Amongst the graffiti in college days, there was one that said, ‘Whoever you vote for, the politicians get in’. The church has more than its share of politicians, who would protest they are authentic – just as pasty-eating politicians are.