Book: Owen Hardwicke's Living Beyond Conformity

First published on ICN - LONDON, 6 August 2001

Beyond Conformity - An Experience of Ministry and Priesthood; Published by Columba Press. ISBN 1 85607 308 4

Born and bred in Cardiff, Owen Hardwicke is a priest of Wrexham diocese in North Wales. In this book he charts his pastoral and emotional life journey.

After 15 years as bishop's secretary and parish priest, he spent nearly 20 years in secular employment in youth and probation work before returning to parish work. He also founded a peace and Justice centre in Wrexham.

Throughout the book there is a sense of his great faith and commitment to the church, combined with an uncompromising refusal to go along with the beliefs and practices in the church and outside it which he feels to be untruthful or inhumane.

Owen Hardwicke is a fine and concise record-keeper. His descriptions of the way the second Vatican Council was seen and interpreted on the ground evoke the era beautifully: "The fresh air of Vatican Two was already more like a nasty draught for some people" he writes.

His chapters on Humanae Vitae, with extracts from letters exchanged between priests and bishops, laypeople and the press, present the clearest record of the arguments for and against the document I have ever read. His discussions and views - developed through a great depth of experience and prayer - on everything from clericalism, the place of lay people within the church and parish life, the church and social services' attitude to young people, 'just war' theory, inter-church relations, church music, and prayer are refreshing and thought-provoking.

Besides the sometimes very intense passages documenting his struggles over various issues - Owen Hardwicke comes across as a very warm human being, with a great love for many people. Often self-critical, he writes entertainingly about his enthusiasm for classical music and his doubts over some of the Old Testament passages and psalms, in which we are encouraged to curse and batter our enemies.

Owen Hardwicke has many criticisms to make of our church today, but while so many of his contemporaries have left the priesthood, he has remained firmly loyal. In his final chapter he quotes Karl Rahner: "Christianity is not the religion which solves all the riddles of the universe, but that which give us courage in the grace of God to shelter ourselves in an incomprehensible mystery, and to believe that this mystery is love."

(Meditations on Priestly Life).

For more information about Columba Press visit their website at: Columba Press

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