During World War II, many bombers carrying out raids in Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories got shot at by anti-aircraft guns. Those bullets and shells were collectively called flak. Pilots had to have nerves of steel to fly into the hail of lead as they aligned their bomb sights on their targets. It is unsurprising that priests who get unabated criticism from their own faithful and clergy of other churches think of flak as an analogy. The hail hammers away and the blow succeed each other. Mostly, as with anti-aircraft fire, the ammunition would miss its target – but occasionally, a bullet would hit home, a critical component of the aircraft or a pilot.
Being a priest nowadays, and in just about every other period in history, doesn’t involve getting killed unless you are in some Islamic caliphate and liable to get your throat cut by some sadistic Englishman converted to Islam! Mostly, it is criticism and name-calling. That kind of flak undermines the morale and can bring a sensitive person to the brink of depression. It often happens. Having the love and support of other persons is a fundamental human need.
My Bishop reports on Facebook:
Recently I have been told that my presence in Canterbury has been dismissed by some of the local ‘mainstream’ clergy as simply playing dress-up. Since I have very little to do with the local Churches or clergy – other than to occasionally nod at each other in the street and say hello in passing – I don’t really know from first hand experience. It’s all very silly if it’s true, but the problem with second/third hand information, rumour and speculation is that it is so ‘willow-O’-the-wisp’ like, it bears no close scrutiny or, for that matter, cause to worry about it – but I have decided to throw my hands up and admit it’s true … well part of it any way … “dressing up”? They don’t know the half of it! lol
He then shows a photo with a number of frames showing his different ways of dressing, from his Bishop’s choir dress to a smart suit for working in the shop or going to town. I used to think that a priest should always be in clericals as a testimony to the world of the priest’s vocation and availability for ministry. The French Church after World War II was not wrong. We may be devotees of traditional Catholicism, but we have to live in the modern world. I too lived in the cocoon of Gricigliano, but realities awaited us after ordination and being sent to a parish.
I am not suit-and-tie like my Bishop, rather someone who has reverted to the ways of the early 1970’s and boyhood. Most of the time, I dress in casual clothes, and my hair is now shoulder length (about John Wesley’s length) – and growing… I wear my cassock and clerical suit for diocesan business in England and the very rare occasion when ministry in France would warrant it. Most of the time, the cassock is counter-productive and wakes up all the old prejudice against priests and the Church, which the paedophile priest scandal has hardly alleviated! All the same, I don’t hide my priestly calling. My fellow students and teaching staff at the musical school know I am a priest, as do the brave fishermen and sailors at my sailing club.
I take inspiration from my Bishop, by the way he adapts to all circumstances of life. Of course the ‘mainstream’ Anglicans would accuse him of being a fake bishop! I suppose that in a couple of hundred years, they will be as kind to our Church as they are to the Methodists. Let them fire their flak, and they will end up running out of ammunition!
Here is something my Bishop posted on Facebook. It needs to be reproduced here: