Secular saints

When we speak of ‘saints’ we normally mean baptised persons who have been formerly declared as such by the Catholic or Orthodox Churches after a long investigation into their lives.  But there are so many people we could equally call saints who have never approached the waters of baptism. 

These are people who have pursued noble personal goals with immense courage and perseverance. They have “reached for the sky”.  The Ascension is a feast where the clouds are pierced for a moment and men stood their gazing into the beyond (Acts 1:11).

I was thinking these thoughts when I listened to a radio programme about Tony Garnett.  He had a traumatic experience at the age of five. For some seemingly still unknown reason, his parents decided they could not have another child and his mother died as a result of a “back street” abortion that went horribly wrong. His father was so devastated he took his own life nineteen days later. The family cared for Tony but they refused to answer his questions believing he was too young to understand.

He was driven with a desire to “know the secrets” even though when he did he hid them away even from himself.  He transferred his ache to understand other “secrets” – one of which made him famous. In the 1960s he collaborated with Ken Loach to make a film on homelessness in a post-war Britain. In the early years of that decade the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, told the voters “you never had it so good”. But the film, Cathy Come Home, was a powerful exposition of the lack of compassion among some social workers. The Minister of Housing called Garnett and Loach to his office.  “What can we do”, he lamented.  In the end they did little and the housing situation in the UK is worse today than it was fifty years ago.

Although Tony Garnett is not an angry man, he does sound like a modern day prophet.  He admits there have been great advances in society in the past half century but they have come, he says, at the cost of a loss of compassion.  “We have a country that doesn’t care as it used to.”  His experience is of the UK but his views have global impact. Now 82, he sees the emphasis today on individual freedom; people are absorbed in a competition for personal survival. They concentrate on their own goals with little concern for building relationships with others.  We have got the balance wrong, he says, we are building a society of unconnected individuals, each striving for their own well-being.  We have forgotten that we need each other, that we need relationships and community if we are to be happy.

13 May 2018                                       The Ascension

Acts 1:1-11                                          Ephesians 4:1-13                                 Mark 16:15-20

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  1. Macon Pane

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