|Steve delivering his Speech at the Southend-on-Sea Catenian meeting last week.|
SOUTHEND ON SEA CATENIANS
27TH June 2013
Groucho Marx famously claimed that he did not want to be a member of a club that would have him as a member, but that has never been my feeling.
I have always been happy to be a part of something where people have common interests and can share experiences.
Right from day one I was a member of my family and that served me very well for many years. Family has to be at the heart of everything.
When I was 11 I joined the scouts and I got a woggle, lots of badges, a tent, a really big knife and lots of friends and that took me a long way from my family and sometimes for a very long time.
It was great because it was fun
but it was also great because it got me away from my family. I got to go out on my own.
I learned a lot from spending time my fellow scouts and even more from making mistakes with them. In particular I recall that I learned that language that was acceptable on a camp was not acceptable in my mother’s kitchen and that if you tried to use it in the kitchen it hurt just about here.
But when I returned to my family after these times away I think I did so a better and a more rounded person.
As an adult I was the founder member of my own family club:
I invited Christine to join and she took pity on me and agreed to join and then we miraculously recruited two younger members Maria and Andrew. They all have opinions of their own, boy do they have opinions of their own and we have all grown together as we share experiences, ideas, stories and mistakes.
My family is great but during this time I have also been a member of a tennis club, a gentlemen’s club and a golf club all of which took me away from my own family for varying lengths of time but when I return I do so enriched and better for it.
So when I joined the Catenians I did so in the hope and expectation that I would meet many more interesting people with whom I could share stories, ideas and experiences.
I have not been disappointed. Indeed I am here with Bro’s Andy, Lance and Mike and I am richer for their friendship and for yours.
In my first year as a member I have been delighted to meet many like-minded people and I think that is where Groucho was particularly wrong in not wanting to join a club that would have him.
It is great to be a part of something where we all share something in common.
It is great to be able to have a laugh with people sometimes on issues that are really quite serious but which are open for humour because we all understand that they are serious but can still see the funny side of things in a way that you might not with someone outside the circle.
Our Faith is a fundamental part of who we are.
Our Faith colours our view of the world around us and how we relate to that world and it is good to share stories and ideas with people who have that in common with us.
That does not mean that we agree on everything all the time.
God and the Grand Council Forbid that.
What it does mean is that you can start conversations without having to justify the Faith that you hold.
Among my friends and acquaintances I include many Catholics and Anglicans, a few people of other faiths and many agnostics, atheists and some downright heathens.
I have lost count of the occasions when I realise part way through a conversation that we see the world through a different lens.
You simply cannot be a Christian and see the world the same way as a non believer. A person who sees birth, life and death as the be all and end all of everything with only the process of evolution connecting one generation to another will not start many conversations from the same point of view as someone who believes in a loving God, Salvation history, forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
For example it is very hard to share a perspective on abortion or euthanasia with people who have no concept of the sanctity of life.
I have also lost count of the times when I am asked to give what they perceive as my “Expert” opinion on the Christian or Faith perspective in a conversation.
This is not because I am an expert I hasten to add but because for many of them I am the only person they know who has any faith at all.
This gives me a privileged position but also reminds me that we are increasingly a minority group whose views do not impinge very often on other people and for whom we are an irrelevance most of the time.
I constantly find myself in situations with them where I am the only one who understands something in the News like
why this Pope or this Archbishop of Canterbury is different from the last one and why that should bother anyone;
or why CAFOD will or will not distribute condoms in Africa and why that’s a big deal or
why anyone cares if gay people are allowed to get married.
That can be interesting up to a point but quite frequently you then end up having to defend a faith position from attacks from all around the table.
That can become tiresome and tiring during an evening in the pub or in a restaurant…..even if it is vital missionary work.
So it is nice to belong to the Catenians, it is nice to be a member of a club that would have me, it is nice to be able to share stories, ideas and opinions with like-minded people who have the same sort of understanding of who and what we are, and I am very happy to be among you.
I have been made very welcome and so has Christine. We have made new friends and now we have spoken to some of the people we just used to see in church.
I have also been fascinated and a little surprised by the in house navel gazing that has been going on regarding definitions of Practising Catholic, Changing Structures and Rules and the interpretation of rules and the interpretation of footnotes to rules.
I confess that this was not what I signed up for but if it keeps some people occupied that’s ok and the rest of us can eat drink and talk and laugh together and in so doing we can strengthen each other; and if we are happy in our club then it is far more likely that we will invite others to join.
I like the Aims of our Society they are simple and clear and make complete sense. For an organisation to live up to those aims is enough for me. I do not need a mission statement or a lengthy set of targets or values or rules. I joined because I was asked and because I like the people and the aims.
to foster brotherly love among members.
to develop social bonds among the members and their families.
to advance the interests of members and their dependants by individual or collective action.
to advance the interests of young Catholics and to assist them in the choice or pursuit of a career.
to establish, maintain and administer benevolent funds.
to promote and support The Catenian Association Benevolent and Children's Fund ("the Benevolent Fund") and the Catenian Bursary Fund.
I firmly believe that if we do these things well and have fun in the process then all of the other things will take care of themselves.
It is not just NICE to belong to the Catenians; it is also restorative. I know many Catholics who work and socialise with people who have no understanding or interest in their faith and for whom the only communal faith experience is on a Sunday when they go to church.
That is so very hard to cope with.
I spent 20 odd years in a solicitor’s practice where my faith was not something that most people cared about. It is hard to be surrounded by views that are contrary to what your church tells you and we have seen recently that our faith is very counter cultural these days.
It is hard to hold on to values when everyone you come into contact with believes something else or nothing at all.
It is easy for people to believe that the faith that they hold is irrelevant or even wrong in the face of disinterest and opposition from all sides that is backed up by the media.
It is easy to lapse in such circumstances.
So the Catenians affords us all a place where we can be confident in our faith and where we can recharge our batteries and where we can draw reassurance and support in a very manly sort of way over a drink and food and good conversation.
This sort of male catholic community is a good thing for us.
For a short time it takes us away from our families to a place where we learn from others but then it returns us to our families better people for having been away. That is what being a part of a community is all about.
If I extend the idea about the need for being a community a stage further it takes me comfortably into the work of bccs which is very much a part of our Catholic Community.
bccs is not a formal part of the Diocesan structure of the catholic church. It is not funded by the Diocese. It is not governed by the church but it is very much “OF” the church.
Fr. John Armitage formed the Society in 1984 to give immediate, unconditional help and care to children, young people and families in need throughout our diocese.
That remains true today.
Most of the work we undertake today is through church primary and secondary schools in East London and Essex. We provide professionally qualified social workers and counsellors who offer a caring professional response to the child in need, irrespective of their background, race or religion.
It is sad but true that the demands for the services that we provide are steadily increasing and therefore the need for us to do what we do is increasingly important.
There is no doubt at all that children in our community are suffering.
There is no doubt at all that more and more children in our community are suffering hardships that are not their fault.
There is no doubt that poverty is impacting on more and more children in our community.
As you will have gathered: I am fond of the word “Community”
I am fond of it for all sorts of reasons. Firstly it is a word that appeals to the secular world and the world of faith in equal measure and there are not many of those. In fact a child at a C of E school was heard to ask quite sincerely why Jesus Christ had been named after a swear word. That gives you some idea of how far removed we are.
Secondly it is a non-threatening word that people automatically accept as a good thing without thinking too much about what it means. I am always fascinated by the gravitas given to someone on the news when they are described as a Community Leader without anyone wondering what the community is or who made this person the leader of it.
But most of all I like it because it properly describes what we Catholics actually live in or at least what we should strive to live in.
We live in our homes as families and we have friends as families. Some of these people are catholic and some are not but they are “Our Neighbours” in the physical and biblical sense of the word and as such they are part of our community.
We go to church on a Sunday and we meet all sorts of people. Some we know well and some we don’t but we recognise them as being in the same place at the same time. They are part of our community.
We have children who go to primary school near our parish and they mix with other children who also go to our church but also with children who despite the admissions policy of our catholic schools do not actually go to church every Sunday or even at all. Parents of these children mix to a greater or lesser extent. They are all part of our community.
Our home life, our parish life, our school life all intertwine to create a community.
One of the ways that a community may be judged is how it looks after the most vulnerable members of that community. I would suggest that a community that couldn’t care less about the most vulnerable members does not actually amount to a community at all and a very strong community would move heaven and earth to look after its most vulnerable members.
So one of the ways that our community can help itself is by doing positive things to look after the most vulnerable members of our wider community.
For bccs that means looking after children in our wider community. They are our neighbours, they are in our midst and they need our help.
They may be children of the person who we see at church but never speak to or the child of someone who goes to a church secondary school but never to church or it may be the child of a Eucharistic minister.
In some cases we may not even like the parents or their way of life or we may find the way the child plays with a tin drum during mass a little irritating at times; but they are all in our community.
Sometimes you don’t know they need help. It is not obvious and it is most certainly not always about money. Children can be hurt and harmed by others in any number of ways.
In our community
I have seen children being sent to school by their parents with satchels full of drugs to sell to other primary school children.
I have seen children being deprived of food by parents who chose to feed themselves first.
I have seen children in our community being physically hurt by parents or by the new partner of a parent. This applies to rich and poor alike.
I have seen children in our community neglected by parents both rich and poor who were either semi permanently drunk or drugged.
We see an increasing number of children who are suffering because of parents who despite their best efforts simply cannot cope. They cannot cope because they have no idea of how to look after a child, sometimes they struggle just to look after themselves and they have no friends or family around them to help.
We see an increasing number of children from homes with insufficient money. We see parents who are starving themselves in order to feed the children,
children who are depressed because all they ever see at home is hardship and poverty while on TV they see a word of consumerism and endless opportunities to spend money they haven’t got.
Children who come to school and are glad to get out of a house that is full of violence and tension and who actually fear the school holidays.
We see children who are bereaved, addicted to drugs, self-harming and some who are just plain unhappy.
They all live in our community and on behalf of our community we at bccs do our best to care for them.
You will see a direct correlation here between what bccs does and the aims of our Catenian association.
We also foster love among members of the community.
We try to develop social bonds among the members of the community and the families within it.
We advance the interests of children and their parents and siblings by individual or collective action.
We specifically advance the interests of children in the Catholic Community and to assist them to fulfill their potential.
We maintain and administer small benevolent funds.
We provide funds for a few children each year to go on a holiday.
The only real difference is that we don’t ask anyone to join we just assume that they already have.
What we do is we send in a social worker to help the child over the problem. We do it quickly with no waiting lists and we do it for as long as it takes to get things right. We use a wide range of counseling and social work techniques and we employ only well qualified people who have experience of working with children so that we can react to a wide range of problems that will arise in a particular place.
We work closely with our schools our parishes and the families that inhabit them and I like to think we help to make our community just that bit more caring of its most vulnerable members.