Bishop Graham Rose: Musings …in a Strange Time
Reviewed by Günther Simmermacher
MUSINGS…In A Strange Time,
by Bishop Graham Rose.
SA Catholic Online Books (2021). 114 pp.
Bishop Graham Rose likes a good conversation, but the opportunities for those were limited during last year’s severe lockdown. So he started monologues by way of written reflections, sharing these with the priests and people of his diocese, Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal. Now he has collected these writings in one volume, covering six months from March to September 2020.
Musings is a snapshot of thoughts and emotions at a particular period of time. As such, it is already a historical document; and being in print, rather than digitally stored and potentially lost with the next computer crash, it has a permanence which may well delight future historians. But as we look towards a post-pandemic future (albeit one in which Covid will likely still be endemic, like influenza), can a series of reflections set in the worst of our lockdown experience still be relevant at this stage? Yes, I think it can.
Many of Bishop Rose’s reflections are framed around the coronavirus crisis — “a global Lent” that isn’t constrained by calendars, as he notes — but the lessons he draws from them are universal,and can be applied in most situations of national, societal and even personal trauma and hardship. In short, they lead us to God, especially at a time when we might feel removed from him. God is always there to guide us if we allow it.
But our faith, the Church teaches and Rose echoes, cannot exist in the isolation of our personal sphere. It requires community, and this, in turn, demands of us solidarity with those on the margins. This, the bishop says, can be as simple as growing vegetables in a garden, or even a flowerpot, and sharing the produce with the poor — to “feed our Lord in the hungry”.
That, he suggests, is also liturgical, especially in a time when access to the Mass is limited. “Liturgy must be related to life; priests and people are called to be liturgically-minded and socially active… we Christians should be as concerned about worship inside our churches as we are with life outside in the streets,” he writes.
Opportunity for change
The pandemic offers an opportunity to change things — in our politics, in our ecomonics, in our society, in our lives. It is a kairos moment. Rose endorses the view that “we can’t go back to before because before wasn’t working very well”.
Of course, the world wasted a kairos moment in 2008, when the capitalist system could and should have been transformed to diminish unchecked greed and to protect the poor. Politics and business did the contrary, dogmatising greed and forcing the poor and the middle classes to pay for the errors of the rich through cruel austerity measures. Is there any indication that the present pandemic will produce a better outcome? It doesn’t look like it. Nevertheless, it is important that those of us who seek economic reforms in line with Catholic Social Teachings should never tire of advocating for it. Rose’s reflections help us articulate the Church’s position.
Also included in this collection is Rose’s powerful litany “Woe to the corrupt”, a “J’accuse” so potent that The Southern Cross published it in its penultimate weekly edition, September 16.
But not all of these reflections are pegged on a Covid hook. Rose offers some superb spiritual reflections. One of these reveals, to my surprise, that theologian Fr Karl Rahner and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both Jesuits, had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, though one far from the simple pieties often associated with it. They are but two of several people of diverse provenance to whom Rose refers in his writings. I suspect that this is the first book by a bishop that quotes the Afrikaans protest singer Koos Kombuis.
Musings, a collection that might have been served better by a less generic title, is an engaging and accessible read, and frequently illuminating. It is best read one chapter at a time, allowing time for due reflection. It is also an opportunity to spend some time with a bishop who really likes a good conversation — he dedicates a chapter to that activity — and has something to say about the kingdom on earth and in heaven.
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