Do you remember in childhood days, there would always be someone to whom to appeal if you felt you were a victim of injustice? It might be your parents, it might be your teacher; there would be an adult who, if not able to remedy the complaint, would at least give you a hearing, would lend a sympathetic ear.
The years pass, and the courts of appeal change. Companies and government offices and educational institutions have their formal structures to express grievance. Trading standards and consumer protection provide an ample sufficiency of possibilities to pursue complaints. If recourse to the law is too inflexible to allow a desired solution, then there are councillors and members of parliament and, if all else fails, even Europe.
For a country cleric, aggrieved by comments, there are no avenues of appeal. Hurts and sleights are simply to be borne, a cheerful countenance is required. The temptation is to appeal to one’s congregation, an exercise more likely to cause confusion than exorcise the pain
In William Trevor’s Autumn Sunshine, there is the gentle, gracious Canon Moran, who has ministered for years in his little parish in Co Wexford, and who responds with a commitment to non-violence when confronted with the violent and angry republicanism of his daughter’s partner.
‘The following morning Canon Moran conducted his services in St Michael’s, addressing his small Protestant congregation, twelve at Holy Communion, eighteen at morning service. He had prepared a sermon about repentance, taking as his text St Luke, 15:32: ‘ … for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’ But at the last moment he changed his mind and spoke instead of the incident in Kinsella’s Barn nearly two centuries ago. He tried to make the point that one horror should not fuel another, that passing time contained its own forgiveness.
“The man Kinsella was innocent of everything,’ he heard his voice insisting in his church. “He should never have been murdered also.”
Harold would have delighted in the vengeance exacted on an innocent man. Harold wanted to inflict pain, to cause suffering and destruction. The end justified the means for Harold, even if the end was an artificial one, a pettiness grandly dressed up. In his sermon Canon Moran spoke of such matters without mentioning Harold’s name. He spoke of how evil drained people of their humour and compassion, how people pretended even to themselves
He could tell that his parishioners found his sermon odd, and he didn’t blame them. He was confused, and naturally distressed’.
Sometimes it is better to think about the good things in the parish and to try to ignore the things outside.