The Diocese of London has sought to address this on a personal level in its Lent Appeal, asking ‘Who inspired you when you were younger to become the person you are today?’ To support this the diocese produced a brochure and a card on which people could write their answers. Some weeks back I distributed the cards in the church I serve, asking people to fill them out and return them to me by the end of Lent.
Only one person, it seemed, had been inspired and returned the completed card. So after the service on Palm Sunday I stood over people and got them to answer the question. I am planning some kind of event – details have yet to be worked out – to highlight and discuss their answers.
On a sneak preview of the cards, I was struck by how many people looked to their families, often one parent or both, as the one(s) who led them to be who they are. I heard myself musing that perhaps St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green was a shrine to ancestor worship. That would belittle the respect that members of the church feel is due to those who brought them to today.
Of course, having asked others to undertake the task, I have had to do similarly. I find I came up with two English teachers at my school. They both led me, perhaps indirectly, and no fault of theirs, to writing.
The first was Stan Sinclair, a somewhat chaotic and maverick teacher who filled me with love of words, and especially Shakespeare. One drunken evening at his home – this was long after I had left school; I was working as a journalist at a regional television station as a reporter – he attacked me for having sold my soul. He said he had seen creative talent in me. Earning a living as a hack diminished my gift. Stan died before my first play was performed or book published, so I have no idea if he would have changed his assessment of my worth.
The other teacher was Julian McDonald, a Christian Brother who went on to be the Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, and someone I would dare to call a friend. He brought an arguably more grounded approach to life: one of commitment, discipline and service. All that channelled into a love of God and a respect for study and literature.
It is now over forty years since I left school but I still get a weekly email from Julian which takes the form a meditation or commentary on the Sunday readings for mass. He often throws an arresting light on the texts.
In paying homage to both these men I realise how hard the question posed by the Diocese is. Singling out one – or doubling it in my case – inevitably leaves someone out. It is the challenge of lists. Yet it is one worth responding to. It tells us something not just about ourselves, but the very things from which we draw value. And that is inspiring.