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Fr Denis' speech from the launch of Building Positive Relationships

2015-06-08 12:45

tl_files/rpbooks/images/newsletter/bpr blog.pngBuilding Positive Relationships: Freeing our present from our past

Archbishop Peter, Father Len, dear friends:

It is good to back here at St Anselm's, particularly on this wonderful occasion of the 30th Anniversary and for this moment in launching Fr Len Kofler's new book, Building Positive Relationships: Freeing our present from our past.

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, once remarked: "He who believes the past cannot be changed has not yet written his memoirs." Some of the best fiction writing is included in people's memoirs as readjustments are made and history reshaped into a kinder configuration. There is the compulsion to tidy up and avoid the blunders we all make in life.

Fr Len believes that the power of the past can indeed be changed - not by writing over old distress or ignoring it, but doing the opposite, by meeting it again, calmly and seriously, and interrogating it as the source of unhealthy behaviour patterns.

All our pasts need to be challenged:

The past is not dead: it invades every fibre of our being, much of it good, happily, some of it bad. The good news is that people can be released from its sometimes destructive hold. That message is truly Gospel: it is the mercy of Jesus offered to all: that no one should be held hostage by past destructive experiences; that no one should be imprisoned by crippling habits formed over the years. The future is unwritten, waiting for all of us.

Revisiting the past on your own can be a lonely and wearisome journey, as the disciples of Emmaus found on the road leading away from Jerusalem. They were haunted by a past that crippled them and affected everything about them: their identity and their direction and outlook. They got lucky because they were joined by a wise stranger, who took them back to a deeper past that shed light on their story.

Jesus went way back into the past, beginning with Moses, so the little group must have been travelling at a leisurely pace! I see Fr Len's new book as a leisurely journey, like Emmaus, where your trusted guide will be Fr Len, a man of enormous wisdom and insight that has been gathered over thirty-five years working in the field of human relationships. You do not have to walk this challenging road alone; in this book Fr Len walks the road with you, hoping you will have the courage for the journey and the trust in him as your guide.

Fr Len is a man of great knowledge and distinction: to prove it he has more letters after his name than most people have in theirs. But there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom: as an ancient Greek philosopher noted, "You should never confuse knowledge with wisdom. Your knowledge helps you to make a living; your wisdom helps you make a life."

Fr Len has made a wonderful life, and helped so many others make a wonderful life for themselves. For the danger was that the wisdom he has gathered would not be shared beyond the confines of this wonderful Institute. I remember saying to Fr Len some years ago that it would be criminal if he died with his wisdom accompanying him to the grave. That would make a double funeral, which would be a double loss. He should share it.

I encouraged Fr Len to share what he knows in a popular way that might reach people who do not have the advantage of coming to St Anselm's: ordinary folk who cannot afford a psychologist but who might afford to buy his book. So this is the second book he has written for Redemptorist Publications. And as requested, he has not appended academic notes, but let his wonderful voice speak to people as if he is in the chair opposite them, or walking alongside them on the road, listening to their story and responding.

This book is not to be read and returned to the shelf: it is the beginning of a journey of insight and should be made a companion, one that is listening to you, interested in who you are and what you have experienced, and humbly offering insights and challenges on the way. You will be surprised what you say to yourself if you take the time to answer the questions. Sometimes a veil is lifted, sometimes fresh understanding reveals itself, sometimes a new strength comes from within.

Finally, I would like to share one of my favourite poems, written by Derek Walcott, from the island of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. It is called Love after Love, about the real self in you that you have ignored through the years of making your life. We spend so much of our lives trying to make ourselves - we live in the culture of aspiration. Yet there is an older tradition that says that who we are is there at the beginning, like the acorn in the oak, and our task is to discern that pattern and give it permission to emerge. Our true self can be the stranger we ignore as we aspire to be someone else. Walcott writes:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Fr Len's pastoral contribution has been to help people sit and feast on their lives, to uncover their true selves, in spite of all the problems and challenges we all face. Like Jesus, Fr Len is a most indiscrimate host: anyone can approach: everyone will be loved. "Sit," he says, "Feast on your life."

It is time for the man himself: Fr Len Kofler.

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