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New book highlights writings of ‘expert in holiness’

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Terrence Farrell, Fr Martin Sirju, Fr Herbert Charles and Maria Neilson read from Ongoing Conversion: From Good to Better at the launch at the Assumption Parish Centre, Maraval on April 2. PHOTO: CLYDE LEWIS

The New Testament of the Bible was written by various authors in the years between AD50 and AD90. Twenty to 60 years after Christ’s death. 


Who wrote the books of the New Testament is not clear, even for scholars who have studied the Bible for decades. The gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John may well have been written by multiple scribes, followers and religious leaders.


The Old Testament was written between the years 950 BC (almost 1,000 years before the birth of Christ) and finished around the 5th-century BC. 


Although many of its books are attributed to figures whose stories are told within them, like Moses, Joshua and Isaiah, nobody knows exactly who wrote them.


We also know they were written by human beings. Not by God. How men interpreted the word of God, wrote it into a book and compiled the two books into one book for one religion, Christianity, is something theologians continue to debate.


Priests can debate too, but they also have to deliver. They deliver the Bible’s meaning in the form of homilies.


Fr Henry Charles, who died in January 2013 while preparing to deliver a funeral service at his parish church in St James, was considered to be a master of homily writing.


A book compiling his homilies, titled Ongoing Conversion: From Good to Better, has just been published. It is edited by economist and former deputy governor of the Central Bank, Terrence Farrell with assistance from Maria Superville-Neilson, programme director of the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence.


At the book launch, held at the Assumption Parish Centre in Maraval, Farrell explained what a homily is.


“What a priest tries to do with a homily is relate the particular reading to your particular circumstances and life today,” he said. 


“We’re talking about things written 2,000 years ago, so the challenge we have is to relate those statements made by Jesus…what does it mean to you today? What you are struggling with in your life and so on. And that is the genius of a good preacher, someone who is able to make that translation.”


Henry’s younger brother, Fr Herbert Charles (also a priest), feels the homily is the most important part of worship and of understanding for a Christian. 


“Henry said it for years, the homily is the key thing and requires preparation and thought,” he said. 


“The homily is what keeps people in church, they aren’t coming for the music, that’s what they’re coming for. If after a while they don’t get it they’re gone.”


In these modern times where people have little time for religious thinking in the daily struggle of their lives, the art of writing and delivering a relevant, meaningful homily appears to be key.


“You have to work at it,” Charles continued. “You can’t plan a homily on Friday for Sunday, you have to start from the Monday before. Henry said, if by Saturday you’re not prepared, you’ll be talking stupidness on the pulpit.”


Farrell and Charles both spoke at the book launch, as did Fr Martin Sirju. 


Sirju spoke of Charles’s ethos that priests should become “experts in holiness,” ie they should know what they are talking about. 


In his speech Sirju did not hide or duck. He stated a fact: that secularism poses a huge threat to religion. Particularly in the context wherein “even the historical existence of Jesus has become questioned.”


Charles, keenly aware that Catholic belief and practice cannot exist in a vacuum, devoted himself to learning and reading in a range of disciplines. 


He studied Classics with Greek and Latin at University College Dublin and Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. He completed a masters in Ethics at Harvard and a PhD in Ethics from Yale.


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