Come, Holy Harlequin

Sydney Carter wrote this song in 1974. This paper suggests that he was thinking of Jesus as a kind of ‘pied piper’ – although I have always found it a song that makes me think of the effect of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. Carter, whose most famous song is probably “Lord of the Dance”, is often associated with a kind of leftie, liberal, progressive Christianity. While his songs are not, I think, suitable for the Divine Liturgy, I wonder if they are as opposed to the Gospel of Jesus as some might think?

Come, Holy Harlequin

Come holy harlequin!
Shake the world and shock the hypocrite
Rock, love, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Let the feast of love begin,
Let the hungry all come in,
Rock, love, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Come holy harlequin!
Show the world your slapstick liberty
Rock, love, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Show the crooked how to live,
Be forgiven and forgive,
Rock, love, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Come holy harlequin!
Shake your rags and shine like a diamond.
Rock, roll, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Caper with your Columbine,
Turn the water into wine,
Rock, love, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Teach the crippled how to leap,
Throw their crutches on a heap,
Rock, love, carry it away, turn it upside down.

Rock, love, carry it away,
Lift the world up by your levity,
Rock, love, carry it away,
turn it upside down

Why am I thinking of this song? Because I think our new pope is a kind of “holy harlequin”. He seems to have the Gospel in his bones, and he is living and showing it in a way that many are finding refreshing. Others are finding it decidedly threatening. Many “magisterial Catholics” – and I would include myself among their number – are struggling to make sense of what he is doing. We were challenged by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but in a way that we could understand. Pope Francis – who has made it perfectly clear that he isn’t going remove one jot or tittle from the law – nevertheless is rocking, loving, carrying away and turning everything upside down. Just when we thought that all was over for his Apostolic Journey to Brazil bar the shouting, he gave his two most significant talks on the whole trip: the address to the CELAM bishops and the 80 minute interview on the plane to the journalists.

I am not in anyway surprised that his advisors have been said to have advised him against giving the latter. Interviews with popes on planes often turn out for the worse, no matter how well intentioned. But Francis seems to have handled it all with a candour and an honesty that, as the Catholic Herald notes, few bishops are even capable of, let alone popes. Nothing he said contradicts Church teaching, but it sure as hell hasn’t ever been put this way by a pope before.

What’s he doing? Why is everything he is doing and saying so unsettling on the one hand and so beguilingly attractive on the other? What pipe is this harlequin playing and where is he leading us? I suspect that the tune he is playing might just possibly be the Gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. And where this Gospel is proclaimed, God’s holy Church will surely be established – but perhaps not quite as we expected it would be. Certainly not in a way with which any of us are going to be comfortable…

In the mean time, is this blasphemous? Because it seems to fit…

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  • About Schütz

    I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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    14 Responses to Come, Holy Harlequin

    1. Joel Hutchens says:

      Yes, it is blasphemous.

      • Schütz says:

        I guess it all depends how you take the meme. Am I suggesting that these men are “icons” of the persons of the Holy Trinity? Well, yes, in part – because there is a sense in which all human beings are in one way or another that. Human fathers, for instance, are all “icons” of our Heavenly Father – marred though they may be by sin. All priests are “icons” of Christ, no matter how imperfectly. The Church is an “icon” of the Holy Spirit etc.

        But I was although thinking of their theology and effect upon the Church. John Paul II explained to us, for instance, the dignity of human beings and the Theology of the Body – Creation themes. Papa Benny was a “Word” and “Christology” man – focusing upon faith. Pope Francis seems to me to be like a whirlwind of prophetic energy – very Holy Spirit like.

        Also, there is a communion between all three, although all three appear to very different. Their teaching and their office are one.

        The meditation could go on, but these are the things I was thinking when I put it together.

    2. Tony says:

      … whose most famous song is probably “Lord of the Dance”, is often associated with a kind of leftie, liberal, progressive Christianity. While his songs are not, I think, suitable for the Divine Liturgy …

      I’m not sure that these dancers would agree! ;-)

      I don’t pretend to have a comprehensive sense of how the various ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ (for want of better terms) are assessing PF1’s papacy thus far, but my impression is that although he’s left both camps a little confused at times, it seems that the conservatives are taking it the hardest.

      On the matter of his remarks about gays and the directive to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, in particular , the reactions seem to range from ‘nothing to look at here, all is well, it’s not as bad as you think’, to real anxiety, to ‘I told you so’ outrage. I’d refer you to Fr Z, Australia Incognita and Rorate Caeli as exemplars in order.

      But maybe he is doing exactly what Christ did, in that while assuring that he wasn’t about changing the law, he certainly confronted those who made the law ‘the Lord’?

      Just my impressions.

      • Schütz says:

        But maybe he is doing exactly what Christ did, in that while assuring that he wasn’t about changing the law, he certainly confronted those who made the law ‘the Lord’?

        Yes – the Gospel does not abrogate the Law; rather it reveals that the Law is not an end in itself.

        You raise the old “conservative”/”liberal” problem. There are a number of commentators today (mainly on the left) who are arguing that we need to get away from these labels. I think they are right, but not for the sake of unity in the Church (which would be, if accepted on their terms, a false unity), but precisely because there are elements of the Gospel of the Kingdom which make being either “conservative” (in the sense of maintaining the status quo) or “liberal” (in the sense of being antinomian) practically impossible.

        The Gospel is deeply, deeply opposed to the status quo. Anyone who reads the Beatitudes can see that. The one act of Jesus most directly linked to his crucifixion was the overturning of the moneychangers tables in the Temple. The act of St Paul that probably led to his beheading was his proclamation of a different King than Caesar, and a different Kingdom than the empire.

        At the same time, the Kingdom of God is not immorality or impurity. Nor is it disorderliness and chaos. It is deeply moral, deeply committed to the commandments of the Lord, and deeply ordered. The call to holiness is no joke; and in the Church liberation from sin comes from repentance and the forgiveness of sin, not excusing it or denying it.

        So, both “conservatives” and “liberals” will get Pope Francis wrong if they follow the set paradigms of conservatism or liberalism. Francis is following neither. He is a servant of the Gospel.

        • Tony says:

          By way of clarification, David, I’m not against such labels per se; they can be useful. I’m against them being used as rhetorical weapons which, in my experience, is just about all the time.

          When used in that way they contribute nothing to understanding and everything to sustained division and hostility. Not, I hasten to add, that I claim purity here nor, with even more haste, do I count you among those who regularly fall for the trap.

          The call to holiness is no joke; and in the Church liberation from sin comes from repentance and the forgiveness of sin, not excusing it or denying it.

          In this context, David, there is no ‘excusing’, ‘denying’ or ‘joking’ from this corner.

    3. Joshua says:

      Amen to both.

      What did St Paul tell those Galatians who were tempted to take upon themselves the burdens of the Law?

      “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)

      But by this did he mean “Go, and sin more”, to wickedly reverse Our Lord’s words to the woman caught in flagrante delicto – with the Apostle, we say Me genoito, by no means!

      St Paul continues:

      “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Gal 5:13-14)

      The new Law that Christ brought is not principally a written rule (though we can note down important teachings, of course) – it is principally the Holy Spirit, engraven on hearts. For this reason Paul states:

      “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:16-18)

      After all, the freedom to do good is a great and glorious and widespread freedom of activity; whereas sin, as a moment’s introspection will confirm, tends to be very much a boring repetition of the same old vices, enslaving rather than liberating.

      Christians ought indeed be marked by a surprising freedom; the great saints were singularly free – I think immediately of the antics of St Philip Neri; or of the shocking liberty with which St Teresa of Avila prayed to God when she was in danger fording a river in spate: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” The ease and candour and spontaneity of Pope Francis are very engaging, and are instances of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (we humbly pray) active in his life.

      If only the same were true of us poor sinners:

      “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29)

      The saddest thing is when Christians appear as the very antithesis of this, as sad, glum, mediocre, closed-off, rather stupid people, never smiling, always condemning. As the Pope mentioned, we ought not judge; we ought instead show kindness and embrace those with all manner of difficulties under which they labour.

      Now St Paul was not averse to telling off the fractious Corinthians, but as he himself admits in his letter to them, when he was present among them in person he was meek. It reminds me of the old proverb whereby a priest ought be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional: there is a time to rebuke, entreat, exhort, and a time to console and to gently minister to those in confusion, trying to deal with their brokennness and all their problems.

      I could go on but none of this is unknown to those “here”, so “Here endeth the Lesson.”

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