Knights of the Shabby Coat of Humility?
Feelings about Prime Minister Abbott’s decision to bring back the British Honours system’s Knights and Dames in Australia have been mixed. It would have been very interesting if he had consulted the community about who and what we should honour, and what titles would be most appropriate.
We are sometimes wary of honours, and of those who seek them, but honouring others is a very human thing and part of our Catholic tradition. We honour the saints for their example of holiness, and learn from them. We can learn from being honoured too.
Once, when I was working with an organisation of the Good Shepherd Sisters, I was introduced to a gathering as ‘audacious’. I didn’t feel very audacious, but I knew that in Good Shepherd circles audacity is considered a virtue. It is linked with their fourth vow – zeal for the salvation of souls. One thing that I love about the Good Shepherd Sisters is that they are women who get close and hear the pain and the hopes of people who are poor or marginalised, especially women and girls. They are bold in making these silenced voices audible. Audacity like that is worthy of honour.
Years ago, when I was leaving a position to take up a new role, a legendary Columban missiologist declared at my farewell that I was an expert in Catholic Social Teaching. I see myself as a student and a practitioner in the field rather than an expert. I shall never be as learned as the late great Cyril Hally. He was a significant scholar who was committed to learned ministry and deep existential engagement. I’d like to honour that kind of seriousness, commitment and depth.
More recently I was with a friend who was in the final stages of a terminal illness. He wanted to introduce me to another friend of his who he said was a good and unassuming person – like myself. Surely, in more than twenty years of friendship, he must have noticed my ego needs? It was high praise from a Jesuit who took St Ignatius of Loyola’s warnings against the dangers of riches, honour and pride very seriously. Brilliant and talented, Adrian Lyons spent his life in quiet ministries helping others. I’d like to honour such humility and service.
Titles like Sir and Dame just don’t match the things I want to honour. Maybe we could award people the Coffee Cup of Compassion or the Shabby Coat of Humility? Perhaps we could confer titles such as Nagging Voice for Justice or Dogged Seeker of Truth? What honours would you like to create?