On Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey
I happened to watch the first episode of Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey during the week. I think I need to mention up front that the show clearly warrants its M rating. And I think that some, probably many, Catholics will find some of the material offensive too. It is part-memoir, part-documentary and part-comedy sketch (with more than a few echoes of John Safran and Fr Bob Maguire’s religious odyssey of a few years ago). But I must confess that I found the show a little intriguing too, because it seemed to me that in the midst of much that I didn’t really enjoy or find funny, we were being given an insight into a genuine spiritual quest.
In this initial episode Judith explains that she grew up as a Catholic, entertained thoughts of becoming a nun, and had become an atheist by the time she had left school. As she revisits her spiritual origins, she talks to Sister of Mercy Rebecca McCabe; Dr Gerald Gleeson, a Catholic priest and philosopher; and Peter Kennedy (until fairly recently of South Brisbane parish). Despite being impressed by Sr Rebecca Judith ultimately dismisses any chance of a return to the Catholicism of her youth and resolves to look elsewhere for answers to her questions about faith, meaning and spirituality.
There is probably plenty of fodder for a blogger here, but I found myself focusing upon one aspect of the show that really struck me. It’s about the attitude required for faith, or what Blessed John Henry Newman called one’s ‘disposition’. The show first reminded me of Newman when Judith interrogates Fr Gerald about the ‘doctrines’ she cannot accept. When Charles Newman similarly took on his brother John Henry, Newman told Charles that Charles was ‘not in a state of mind to listen to argument of any kind’. Like Charles Newman Judith’s mind was made up well before she talked to the priest. More accurately though, Judith’s attitude or stance or predisposition was already decided. It is not so much an intellectual position that she arrived at as a conviction that she had already settled upon.
A very different disposition emerges when Judith spends the day with the Sisters of Mercy (especially when Sr Rebecca prays for her). The sisters remind Judith of aspects of the Church that she has missed and Judith is so impressed by the nuns that she wonders aloud whether she is having second thoughts about her rejection of Catholicism. Judith comes to respect and admire the sisters, and an openness to faith emerges.
According to Newman the deciding issue will be what ultimately takes hold of Judith’s imagination. We get a brief glimpse of Judith’s mental image of a Catholicism suggested by the Sisters of Mercy that Judith finds attractive. From her comments we may assume that the image of faith suggested by the sisters is intellectually respectable, compassionate, has a place for women and offers a connection with the transcendent.
Then Judith’s alternative image of Catholic faith kicks in: intolerant, divisive, sexually repressive. And thus unacceptable. Note that the implicit image here of Catholic faith is that it is predominantly a moral code. But it is important to note that it is the image that Judith has rejected as much as any rational arguments. She cannot picture herself within the Church and so she rejects any return to her faith because the image of Catholicism that wins the day is distasteful.
So I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened if Judith had been a little more open to discovering a more compelling image of Catholic faith and its corresponding image of God. Because she has a pretty distorted picture of Catholicism in her head. I found myself wishing that Sr Rebecca and Fr Gerald had been given the chance to say what faith meant to them, what their image of God is, and who they understand Jesus is, rather than simply have to explain their lifestyle choices or defend the Church’s moral teaching. That might have made for some really interesting viewing.