THE MAJESTIC STAG ran across the road, down the cliff face and into the sea. He was chased by domestic dogs yapping at his heels. He swam with strength, headed out to sea. The dog-walkers on the path were horrified; the stag cannot possibly make it to the opposite shore. What can we do they asked each other in alarm. Should we call 911 or maybe better, the coastguard?
The stag was huge and handsome with a fine set of many-pointed antlers. He was a survivor of urban sprawl and reduced habitat. He grazed on shrubs and flowers, infuriating neighbourhood gardeners who sought to banish such untamed creatures from their cultivated spaces. What was in his mind as he took to the sea and started swimming?
The dog-walkers could see the stag’s branching antlers growing smaller and smaller as it swam steadily towards the horizon. They understood well that this final bid for survival could result only the death of the stag. They were at a loss; nothing in their experience prepared them to prevent this tragedy. They grieved for the stag but also for themselves and our world, and even for their children who might never know wild creatures or the natural habitat in which they flourished.
Think of the stag as an image of the visible Church, hierarchical and all-male. From childhood we were taught to respect its authority and give loyalty to its teaching. Yet now the visible Church struggles to survive. It is hounded on all sides by threats both great and small; it has shrunk in size, in credibility and influence. In our life-time, so many baptised members have been pushed to its margins, disempowered, silenced. We who might be described as the invisible Church, are aghast to see this noble institution confidently headed for oblivion. What is our responsibility? What should be our priorities? How shall we act?
For members of St Iris Faith Community, recalling our shared homily on the gospel of Matthew, 22, 34-40,
“Which Lord, is the greatest commandment?” Sunday 26th October 2014