But if anyone can, it is Dr Richard Lennan - the local priest who has gained recognition for his study of the church and is Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College in the School of Theology and Ministry.
I first met Richard when he returned to Australia in the early 90s to lecture at Sydney College of Divinity. He was fresh from his doctorate studies and was all fired up with enthusiasm for what the future of the church might be. It was about that same time that the sexual abuse of priests first became public knowledge and the effect on our church was shock and disbelief.
Undaunted by the scandal, Richard continued to draw upon the wisdom of the Catholic tradition and apply it to our present predicament and bravely speculate as to the future. He reminds us that in truth there has been no ‘golden age’ of the church, no time that we can go back to for certainty or assurance. In fact he challenged us with the assertion that we are the first and only Christians to try to live faithfully in this place and this time. I understood this to mean we are called to a unique response to God which has not been seen before nor will it be repeated.
Richard actually began the address by defining faith as ‘befriending God who wants our company’. This simple and profound thought was qualified by the constant warning not to limit God, not to try to contain or define God. God says Richard is ‘bigger and other than us’. Our faith response is to simply ‘allow God to love us.’ Now that can’t be that hard can it?
Of course it can, because faith is not just between me and God, it involves everyone else. This is where faith gets messy, because we have to deal with our present community and with the tradition that has handed on faith to us. Like each of us both our community and the tradition are limited, imperfect and sinful. According to Richard in need of conversion, transformation, improvement. Despite all he knows about the failings of the church, Richard professes hope that in faithfulness we will have a future in relationship with God and with the world in which we love and live today.
I took great encouragement from Richard’s frank, honest and learned approach to the question of faith. At a time when we are coming to terms with our past transgressions and are being challenged to listen to what the Spirit is saying it is heartening to hear a balanced voice of faith and reason.