A Fresh Listen to the Parable of the Prodigal Son: The Rostrevor Benedictines, the Prodigal Girl, and Acknowledging the Abuses in the Catholic Church in Ireland

holycrossIn the Catholic liturgical calendar, the gospel reading this past Sunday was the parable of the prodigal son. This parable is so well-known, and its meaning so widely assumed, that I suspect many find it difficult to hear the story with fresh and attentive ears.

That’s why I so appreciated Kester Brewin’s alternative reading of the parable, which I mentioned when I reviewed his book Mutiny on my blog.

There was a powerful homily preached on the parable on Sunday at the Holy Cross Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor. I hadn’t tuned in this week on the monastery webcam, but I read the homily on the monastery facebook page. You can also read it on the monastery webpage.

For me, the homily is notable for two main reasons:

First, it includes acknowledgement of abuses carried out in the name of the Catholic Church in Ireland – something that has been rare enough by representatives of the Church. Here’s an example:

We should not forget the horrible, disgraceful treatment to which many were subjected in what was deemed to be holy Catholic Ireland. Society at large made it impossible for many to retain their human dignity. To make things worse, in certain Church run institutions things were compounded further still. An example of this is how people’s names were taken away from them. Even if they wanted to use their real name, the right to reveal their true identity was denied them. Many felt as if it had been taken away, robbed from them. I think especially of what happened in those places in which many were incarcerated to atone for their sins: Magdalene Institutions. Sin has to be paid for was the message they were fed. So much for grace! So much for free forgiveness!

Second, it focuses particularly on the unjust treatment of women by the Church – the so-called ‘prodigal girl’. Such an acknowledgement has also been rare on the part of representatives of the Church. Here’s an example:

As one former Magdalene said to me once: Isn’t it interesting that there was never an expression fallen men, but there was one which was coined for ‘fallen women’? The woman I refer to just now was quite a remarkable lady. I was privileged to give her spiritual accompaniment in the latter years of her life. She had gone through a Magdalene Institution as a result of having been abandoned during a pregnancy. While she was forced to flee to England, the child’s father maintained his good reputation as an upstanding Catholic businessman in the small Irish town in which she had worked as his secretary. He was an upright married man who was about twice her age. Not long before she died this remarkable lady gave me a text I would like to share with you this morning. I share it with you as a way of honouring her memory.

You can read the woman’s text, and the full homily, here.

Holy Cross Monastery was one of the case studies in my new book, Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: Religious Practice in Late Modernity, which was published this monk.

I also wrote a chapter titled ‘Christianity as a Vocation: The Rostrevor Benedictines and the Renewal of Faith in Ireland,’ in a new book, Mining Truths: Festschrift in Honour of Geraldine Smyth OP – Ecumenical Theologian and Peacebuilder, EOP, 2015, edited by John O’Grady, Cathy Higgins and Jude Lal Fernando. You can read the full chapter on academia.edu.



One thought on “A Fresh Listen to the Parable of the Prodigal Son: The Rostrevor Benedictines, the Prodigal Girl, and Acknowledging the Abuses in the Catholic Church in Ireland”

  1. As we are integral manifestations of godness (there being no actual ‘God’ other than as a concept) it is we who must show mercy.

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