kenosis in Australia today?
One of the features of Fr Peter Maher’s funeral this week was (as in death so in life!) the powerful struggle within it between two forms of Catholicism - one in which I passionately share spiritually (with others of other labels); and the other still addicted to power rather than justice, law rather than grace, patriarchy rather than the dynamic mutuality (with appropriate recognition of charisms) of the priesthood of all believers...
Formed in the tradition of 19th & 20th century English liberal (Anglo) Catholicism - and accompanying Christian socialism - of Maurice, Gore, Temple and Ramsay, and, of course (even more so), of Maude Royden and the first wave Christian feminists - I know that tension well. At heart - as I and others were reminded powerfully recently by Garry Worete Deverall at the recent UCA ‘Walking with First Nations’ conference (see further his edited address here - “For your sakes he became poor …”: How the churches can reckon with their colonial legacy) - is what we mean by kenosis (the ’self-emptying love’ of God in Christ, exemplified above all in the great kenotic hymn of Philippians chapter 2). Gore and the classic Anglican liberal Catholics were passionate advocates of kenotic theology and sought to live it out (hence their kinds of Christian socialism and all that). It went a bit out of fashion - not helped perhaps by the ‘noblesse oblige’ character of some of those who expoused it without examining their own preserved privileges (!), and whose liberalism only went so far (typically into the sometimes suffocating comfort of a bishop’s residence or ivory tower university). Liberal Anglican bishops and some other Church leaders are frequently prone to the same contradictions - may they be helped to resist!
Fr Peter Maher, like his (and my) brilliant friends among the Australian (rather than strictly Roman) Catholics who gathered at his funeral, show for me what true kenosis is about - including learning love with the excluded, the willingness to be rejected, to stand up for justice, and to speak truth to power whatever the cost. They, like those who are genuinely ‘pilgrims on the Way’ in other spaces, give me hope that perhaps we can yet respond, if imperfectly, to the call from Aboriginal and other voices for true kenotic faith today.
Another of my favourite Catholic priests and inspirations, John O’Donohue, used to remind us of Jesus’ saying - from those to whom much is given, much is expected’. We can’t simply jump out of our privileges - whether of race, class, education, wealth, gender, sexuality, or anything else - but what matters is how we live out of them. If you have power and privilege, use it to empower others - and, vitally, at least share, or give them away, to those who need and haven’t got them - as Fr Peter Maher showed us powerfully. Of course the power addicted and privilege unreflective will come for you - even try to hijack your last moments! - but then you/we may finally have begun to learn what kenosis really is.
If we truly care about Christ’s kenotic reality, we do have to face up to the implications - not least, as Garry Deverell has tried to din into some of us, giving First Nations peoples their land back. Maybe until the Church (in any of its guises) does that, we are still playing unkenotic religious games in these lands now named Australia?
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Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.