Many of you will be enthralled by the recent TV adaptation (version) of Sherlock Holmes by the author Arthur Conan Doyle starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Each of the episodes has you on the edge of your seat. The strange & preposterous figure of Holmes, played so well by Cumerbatch, has extraordinary powers of deduction, putting together the smallest pieces of information to unlock puzzles and crimes that seem impossible to solve. He is often up against his great nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, who you always know, although impossibly intelligent and incredibly cruel, will never overcome Holmes.
At the same time as Arthur Conan Doyle was writing his stories, GK Chesterton was also writing detective stories featuring not Holmes but a gentler and more uncomplicated character, the priest called Father Brown. Chesterton was to write 51 stories around the figure of Father Brown.
Many people have contrasted the figures of Brown and Sherlock Holmes – and it is not unimaginable that this is exactly what Chesterton intended.
On the one hand Holmes, a person living on the edge, addicted to opium, rootless, unable to make relationships with people and Father Brown a conventional character, easy going, at peace with himself, untroubled. But their world-view is different, Holmes uses deduction, evidence, science to solve his crimes. Father Brown while also using evidence has intuition, he reads people’s hearts, enters into their soul, explores motivation, a world which Sherlock Holmes could never enter.
Arthur Conan Doyle was known to have been a man who had left faith behind, brought up in his early days as a Catholic but who left it behind. G K Chesterton was himself a convert to Catholicism and became one of the great literary figures of 20thcentury who championed Catholicism. They write from 2 different points of view about the human mind and human heart.
What is being played out between the 2 different characters is that tension that exists for many between what can be known and what is unknown. Between the material and spiritual. Between what is known in the head and what is known in the heart. For some they are never able to resolve that division, for many the worlds collide for some the stars align.
On the feast of Corpus Christi we see that clearly. For some the bread remains bread, it can never be changed, it can never be something which it is not. For some they could prove that under the microscope its substance hasn’t changed but has all the reality of bread. But for others they know in the heart the reality changes. That it becomes something else, that it takes on another reality. That it takes on a power in grace. It becomes what Jesus commanded it to be, united with his life giving death on the cross, truly his broken body and blood. Through it, those who receive it, have communion, friendship, and an unbroken bond with him. Through receiving it lives are saved.
For some the stars collide but for others they align. We know that for Conan Doyle this was a game changer and he took a different path. But for Chesterton this was the path that led him to the Lord.
All of us would wish that those paths don’t diverge and we acknowledge that grace continues to be present in all men and women who take different paths, God continues to be in each of us whatever path we take in life.
Sherlock Homes in the books is often heard to say “Elementary, my dear Doctor Watson”. we know that not everything in heaven and earth is elementary or is sufficiently explained by science and deductive logic. There are mysteries beyond, not in the sense of X-files, or murder mysteries.
The mystery of the Eucharist is one such mystery. Why God would allow himself to be present in such a way. The humblest of foods, the smallest of things, the easiest way to receive him. Of all the ways in the universe to be present he chooses to come into our life in this way, to offer himself to us is a great mystery. A mystery which end of the day can be easily put to the side, ignored or even badly received. In great humility, the creator of all things chooses to show himself to us in this way, allow himself to be received in this way is a great mystery beyond us. It can only be about love.
I think if we were asked to choose between these two characters, Holmes and Father Brown, we might be hard put to do that. There is something admirable about Holmes’ razor sharp mind but there is also something admirable about Fr Brown his insight into the hearts of men and women. These men represent something in each of us, we are something of the mind and something of the heart. We are often a mix of both.
I suppose at the end of the day the person of faith has to be both. We are armed with reason and we are given a heart to feel things. We travel by the light of reason but we would be poor individuals if we did not have any heart. Our heart tells us that every time we are at Mass the Lord is near and that he even allows us to be united with him in the act of receiving Holy Communion, that has to be a thing of great wonder.