Katie Taylor – darling of the media and Ireland’s new-found Chrisitan hero?!
Thanks Jo for your thought-provoking piece, to issues that have both inspired and disturbed me. I’m inspired by pure enjoyment at a fellow human’s achievement, but disturbed at the media’s response to Katie’s faith; and moreover the questions it raises for herself and all Christians. Allow me to explain by narrative:
Monday 13th. August was a most heart-warming, sunny evening in my adopted hometown of Bray sur-le-mer, sharing with 19,999 other inspired souls the courtesy, modesty and humorous, unassuming elegance of Katie Taylor; together Peter Taylor, fellow Olympian Adam Nolan and many unsung other local heroes, including the Bray Lakers, a community-based sports, social and recreation club for children and adults with an intellectual disability.
Now the nation knows how faith apparently mountains in the face of obstacles, and Katie knows about obstacles – Spartan gym facilities and Dickensian conditions! So praise the Lord for the Kingdom is here on earth now, yes we live it now, and in eternity. Praise his Spirit for having come among the people of Bray, Belfast and Mullingar – to give use heroes to lift our human spirits. Or am I over-enthused?
The Para-Olympics is yet to come with Bray providing another hero. And God thank you for sending us heroes in the midst of the temptation to despondency! If there was any doubt that Ireland has lost its soul during the boom or that we’re an emerging, non-spiritual, heathen society, rest assured that faith-filled, genuine people such as Katie are part of the communitarian, volunteerism and irrepressible spirit of the nation. Yes we do have right to dream and expect high standards of ourselves and others, and above all Speak Truth to Power: Captains of our Cringe-making Crony Capitalism, Banking and Politics take note!
Living in Bray (originally from Dún Laoghaire) for 16 year not far from the Taylor family (whom I don’t know), I’ve straddled the ecumenical and denominational frontiers between South Co. Dublin and Greystones. Nominally a member of my local Catholic parish I keep a broader perspective: as member of CoI / Catholic Enniskerry Gospel Choir I have also attended other services and seminar, including Buddhist. However, I’ve yet to visit Katie’s Pentecolist congregation. Attending St. Fergal’s Catholic Church last Sunday, it was somewhat ironic to hear the celebrant congratulate Katie “as one of our parishioners”…….truly the Spirit does move in strangely spatial and geographic ways. Thank you Abba Father – you do have a sense of humour.
Katie’s embrace of Pentecostalism (are not all Christian’s inherenty believers and followers of the Pentecost?) remains a private, as yet unknown decision, though I understand her mother’s influence was pivota. The attraction to evangelical and Pentecostalist denominations, may be due in part – for lapsed Christians of mainstream denominations – to the Irish church’s failure to inculcate independent exploration of faith, Bible study and daily prayer in its flock (only lately has the Dublin Diocese prioritised Adult Faith Development by promoting the Alpha course and through the admirable leadership of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin).
Regarding media laziness and/or indifference to probe into Katie’s faith and like-mined ‘born-again’ Christians, last night’s TV3 Tonight with Vincent Browne –with Sam Smyth in the chair included an interesting conversation on Katie’s faith. Justine McCarthy of The Sunday Times, found it disappointing and instructive that, Irish, British and world media ignored Katie’s explanation of core motivation – daily prayer and scripture – by not following up with any exploratory questions! Could this – is this? – reflected her in the secularisation of Irish society – our inability and unwillingness to discuss Christianity and witness in the public square’, with only tokenistic TV and radio programming. Does Katie’s witness now offer a window of opportunity to all the Christian churches on the island – and particularly for Catholics, in the aftermath of the Eucharist Congress, in line with Father Peter McVerry’s radical understand as Eucharistic celebration as personal sacrificial discipleship allied to social justice. Or are we to retreat again into our denominational silos?
What does concern me, and it was most evident at the Bray celebrations, was the class divide. Ballywaltrim is a poor but resilient community, and formally a Franciscan parish . It has suffered much at the ineptitude and corruption (planning, environmental, fire services) of local and State bodies. But these are tough, fighting people who campaigned for more efficient fire services, in the aftermanth of a series of fatalities over the last 20 years. So no wonder that it was to boxing that the Taylor family turned – Paddy O’Gorman made the point to Myles Dungan on radio one earlier today.
And her modest statement of a compassionate, centred Christianity shines forth like a beacon of hope, in a week when the ACP May initiative has led to the forming of a national lay Catholic organisation. Withe inspiring people like Katie and like-minded families, communities and neighbourhoods, dare we hope that the future might be brighter, despite the inaction and lack of State investment. Nevetheless, time for well-ground optimism and as An Uachtaráin Michael D said, “..give up your ol’ cynicism”.
Having said all this, one remaining, growing doubt remains: reconciling the Jesus of non-violence, of Gandhi’s satyagraha and non-violent civil disobedience with boxing. For how can Katie’s soulful, competitive motivation be compromised with Jesus’ teachings. How exactly does she square legalised assault – albeit safer than professional boxing – and pummelling of a fellow human being with turning the other cheek? But then boxing and sport are not mentioned in the Gospels per se. Nevertheless when she’s in the ring she’s not exactly practicing the Christ’s command to “love thy neighbour”, or am I being too harsh?
Can we still consider Katie a role model if she wasn’t winning all these matches, as the media elevates her to secular sainthood? Aside from her single-mindedness and self-discipline (good Christian virtues), what qualifies her for teenage hero-worship? Is beating and punching another, repeatedly in the head more times than she gets punched herself an admiral role for any young girl, Irish or not?. Katie, no doubt has integrity of character and conviction. But does her Christian conviction stem from a mature, deep Christian faith or one founded on a literal interpretation of her much-loved Bible, of Psalm 18 warlike god? Of Yaweh, the fearful vengeful God of the Old Testament – “an eye for an eye” ?
Writing in the Sunday Independent (12/8/12), Willie Kealy’s addressed the populist appeal, which seems to ignore this crucial issue: “In the end, there was something for everyone in Katie’s victory. She did it for God. She did it for her family. She did it for her country. But I suspect that, for many people, the tear that was shed was down to neither sport nor spirituality. It was the thought that for once, somebody told us they were going to do something good, something amazing, something uplifting. And, in the end, she did it. She didn’t lie to us. She delivered. That’s not something we have been used to for a long time. And for that we should thank God.” What so unique about Katie? Surely others have done amazing, uplifting things without violence – the young and not-so you volunteers at the 2003 Special Olympics, Bishop Willie Walsh, Jayson Sherlock, the survivors of child sex abuse such as Colm O’Gorman, Fr. Peter McVerry and his McVerry Trust volunteers, Gordon Wilson – the ultimate expression of non-violence, suffering Jesus (not the Jesus of individualist achievement, not the God of the all too prevailing American, neo-Cons ‘prosperity Gospel’)
In the final analysis, perhaps some of her appeal to modern day Ireland’s largely secular, anti-intellectual and growing anti-religiosity people, lies in their attraction to violence and celebrity, manifest in video-war games, destruction of the environment, poor civic responsibility, bad manners, trash TV ‘reality shows’, ego-centralism, instant response to offense and to the vulgarity and individualism of Western ‘culture’. But these don’t filled the void. And I’m not sure Katie’s version of Pentecostalism does either. Are not the gifts of the Spirit there to bring justice, wisdom, serenity and peace? After all are we not called to honour and nourish the beauty our humanity – bodily and spirituality – not to injure for pleasure and advancement? The ultimate objection to boxing as a ‘sport’ is manifest in the sad demise of Mohammed Ali.
So perhaps then the beautiful game beckons for Katie. Please God, not pro-boxing. Hearing of her legendary soccer skills, I pray that maybe the guiding hand of the Spirit will prompt her to return to soccer. Moreover, with Giovanni Trapattoni now re-building the Irish soccer team, perhaps the FAI might direct and hone those skills. Sad that Shay Given is retiring, but somehow I don’t see Katie as a goalie, but more as a forward, forward in hope to the goal!!!
So in hope we all travel. Standing among the crowds and the packed bars and pubs as the music died, it was evident that Katie’s with her integral, simple faith – one that has sustained this island’s people for hundreds of years – is on personal and communal journey of self-discovering. I, for one, will follow it with interest.
To guide her in her boxing career, she might well read the excellent daily writings of Fr. Richard Rohr ]of the Centre for Contemplative Living/Radical Grace, who writes well on the subject of violence;, as indeed on does the late Fr. Murray Bodo [http://www.murraybodo.com/], of St. Francis of Assisi’s ‘boxing bouts’ with his dark shadow side, and his and the Lord’s wonderful integration of our broken selves with His Divine Purpose.
As a believer in the Christ of Cosmic Salvation and a God of Infinite Compassion, my own journey has benefited much for learning from such sources of Franciscan spirituality. But that’s another story!
Yours in the Love of Christ, by his own words: that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Author is a parisoner of Our Lady Queen of Peace R.C, Putland Rd., Bray
Aidan J. ffrench MILI Landscape Architect
Past President, The Irish Landscape Institute
Republic of Ireland.