Birth of St John the Baptist

Mid-winter here in the southern hemisphere, thinking of Mary’s journey to Elizabeth, the baby leaping in the womb. The prophet as a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Women walking across the hills, two pregnant women meeting, the mystery shared.


Arid times, slow prayer. Waking in the night to  say litanies and  old loved prayers, fight back fear, disbelief, lack of vision.


The images of Ireland I used to have, now  besmirched and muddled. From America:

The news from Ireland these days is more church horror: speculation of a septic tank filled with children’s skeletons at a home for women and children run by Bon Secours sisters. The media is in frenzy, the country’s bishops are struggling to respond sensitively and the world is again made aware of Ireland’s darker side. Then we heard that the story may be a convolution of truths that have been amplified by a media angry with the church, in line with their agenda. Whether they are true or not, these stories (and myths) remind people of the truth that many church leaders covered up crimes within the church for years.

What happened the bodies of 800 malnourished children is not the real focus of this story. We know that the child mortality rate in homes for unwed mothers and “illegitimate” children was significantly higher than elsewhere in Ireland at the time, due to malnourishment and other mistreatment. Sadly though, the truth is that this isn’t as much of a shock as we pretend. We know that many in the church acted in ways that stained not only the church but Irish society as a whole. We know that hundreds of priests, religious and lay people in church institutions abused vulnerable children and adults in mother and child homes, orphanages, schools and churches. We know that this was done in some collusion with the Irish government and supported by a society given over to a particular brand of Catholicism. Now we’re beginning to speak openly about how much was known publicly as it happened, but judged as proportionally acceptable.


John the Baptist, a wild man, an extremist, a visionary. Doing what he was called to do.


Old memories appearing like stray dogs at the roadside, a little unkempt and surly. The years  I spent attending  St Michael’s Catholic Church, the singing of hymns unfamiliar and  strange, the deaf priest scolding me during confession, the unfriendliness at times, the choir singing that moved me so, the brash down-to-earth homilies that made me feel guilty and not much else. Trying to glimpse God somewhere, trying to find a place to belong. South Africa under apartheid, oblivious,  depoliticised, the white suburbs going on as always, the smoke drifting over the Cape  Flats from burning buildings, the tanks and armoured vehicles grinding along main road. Nothing said about this in the church, the refusal of what was political and not spiritual. Single women regarded with suspicion, no  room for  a Justice & Peace group, nothing impinging on the  orderly and comfortable ways of the parish.

It is still like that, for all I know. Except that the past has been repudiated, a token nod to  something being wrong all those years…


The sacraments, the community, the struggle to participate even from a distance, the struggle to not-forget. And floundering, as if to be disoriented and  an outsider, asking hard questions and  straining to hear answers, as if this unbelonging might be my own path through the wilderness, a kind of calling.


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