Sometimes you have to laugh. And often, I find, a fit of the giggles comes on just at those moments when it would be highly inappropriate to let them out. But this is not one of those occasions. This time, giggles and guffaws and near-painful belly-laughs are the only sane response.
The man to whom we should give full credit for this cheerfulness on a grey December day is DUP councillor John Finlay of Ballymoney. John has been telling anyone who’ll listen his opinion on the planned visit to our island of “the wonderful and ever so humble Pope Francis”. See what John did there? Irony, it’s called.
Because John is agin a Papal visit. What’s more, he’s shocked that others of the Protestant faith haven’t stepped up to the spiritual plate and shared his objection.
Why does John think they should join him in opposing a visit here by Pope Francis? Because “the Pope claims temporal and spiritual power over the whole earth”. Fair point, John. Nobody in their right Protestant mind would favour the visit of a man with such global ambitions.
But there’s more. John says the Pope “claims to be the Vicar of Christ on earth, but the Reformers and Puritans correctly identified him as an enemy of Christ and the of the Gospel”.
And not just any old enemy of Christ. John knows his Westminster Confession of Faith and he quotes it: “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.”
Now, John concedes that some will see the above as “the bigoted ramblings of a past age”, but he doesn’t care. He stands four-square behind those words. What’s more he calls on “all evangelical Protestants in church and state” to likewise speak out against this proposed visit by the Antichrist.
John, we’re in your debt. It’s easy to slip into an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other frame of mind, on matters political as well as religious. In a world where others get stuck in the muddy fields of compromise, you stride clear to a firm foundation and tell it like it is.
My only misgiving is that mixed in with my admiration of John’s bold stand is a vague feeling of guilt. Because, you see, I’m a Catholic, but I don’t really mind if the Pope comes to Ireland or not. Back in 1979 I passed on Pope John Paul II and I think I’ll pass on this one as well. But I really do hope John Finlay and those of equally high-minded Protestantism get out there and jeer and blow whistles and yell “Go home, you man of sin, clear off you Antichrist you!” Because maybe then the world will know the kind of people we are trying to be reconciled with.
And that’s no laughing matter.