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The ‘terror’ of Christianity

‘Communication in the Church – a New language or a New Message?’ was the question addressed by Denis Bradley, former vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Police Authority, speaking at the AGM of Soulwaves Radio. Jesuits are founder-members of the radio syndicate which  supplies over 30 local and community radio stations throughout Ireland with news, reaction stories and features on a weekly basis.Other members of the syndicate include religious orders and the Church of Ireland.

The topic he addressed arose from comments by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin in the wake of the gay marriage referendum. He described the result as a ‘wake up call’ for the Church and suggest it needed to look at how well it was communicating its message.

Denis Bradley was  go-between for the IRA and British Government for 25 years when he work as a priest in Derry. He also worked with alcoholics and addicts in the city and after leaving the priesthood to marry, set up the Northlands  Rehabilitation Centre and the award winning film company Northland Films.

He began his talk by saying that all through these ventures his faith had sustained him. It was strong and nourishing. But today as he stood in front of those assembled he said he had to admit frankly that he was going through a difficult period of doubt. The comfort he took from this doubting was the often expressed wisdom of the mystics and theologians like Karl Rahner SJ that doubt was a crucial part of faith. “Faith is not knowing, its believing and sometimes  it feels like I’m jumping off a cliff desperately hoping someone will catch me. Perhaps it is the dark night of the soul that John of the Cross speaks of”.

He said that for him the Church had really got its message right with the wonderful renewal and reform of Vatican II. “That’s not to say that everything before Vatican II was wrong or meaningless.”, he added. “There were many good things that nourished people in their faith pre-Vatican II and a sense of community and solidarity in the faith that is not always present today’. Nonetheless there was need of much reform at that time and Vatican II offered hope of a whole new way of understanding Church, the role of the laity and liturgy. Unfortunately, he said, while much did change the real potential of Vatican II was never realised. “And that is what leaves the Church struggling today not just with how it communicates but with what it communicates. “Teaching dogma preaching doctrine is simply not enough anymore. Faith is not just about the head – a series of propositions or positions, it’s about the heart. There is no substitute for having the experience of a loving God and recognising it as such.” According to Denis Bradley, what all the Christian  Churches need is not necessarily a new message or to communicate more information. Rather they need people who have experienced God lovingly working in their lives who in turn can help others recognise that God is at work in them.

This experiential base is essential because of what he calls ‘the terror’ of the Christian message’. The message of Jesus, of Christianity is not one of success but of suffering, he believes. “It’s about taking up your cross and transforming your pain and failure into service and love through the power of the risen Jesus. You won’t be able to do this unless you have a real experience of Christ in your life. The present culture offers success as a bench mark, Jesus call is much more radical than that”.

Not surprisingly a lively question and answer session followed before Denis Bradley left to give an interview on RTE radio one’s News at One. He gave a no-nonsense insight into the impasse in the North, saying the British and Irish governments had neglected their duties and needed to get much more involved in the peace process again in order to help the political parties with contentious issues still unresolved after the Good Friday Agreement. This made headline news all day. He returned home to Derry leaving those who heard him, at the Soulwaves’ AGM or on the radio, the better for it.