By Fr. James Tolhurst
One of the earliest letters I ever received from Father Edward Holloway, or “Slim” as he was universally known, arrived when I was only two months ordained. It contained a piece of spiritual advice that I have never forgotten: “Aim high, dear friend, while you are young or you are bound to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and break up later; get into orbit now”
And that is how I remember Slim, who of all the priests I have ever met has left the most lasting impression upon me. At a time when the theological storms were beginning to be felt in these islands, long after they had been blowing a gale in the rest of Europe, Slim was for many of us like a rock, standing firm as all about us was moving and capsizing.
His theological and philosophical writings were like a beacon of moderation and sanity in an increasingly insane world. However there was more to Slim than just the theologian and the philosopher. For many of us he was also a personal friend and spiritual guide.
A Spiritual Director, both Spiritual and Direct !
It was Slim who vindicated for me the concept of spiritual direction which should be a part of every priest’s ministry and is so clearly valued and fruitful in the Faith Movement.
For this a clear theology is needed as well as a willingness to put oneself forward as a model in the same way as St. Paul did for his listeners when he wrote: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1Cor 11:1). In this respect Fr. Holloway’s attraction - and also in the eyes of many of his detractors his greatest weakness - was his directness. He dared to confront one with the unlovely side of one’s character. “I did not understand all your meditations or musings. Or rather, perhaps I did and do not like them at all” wrote Slim to me in 1979. And that was by no means the only reproof.
But he insisted that Satan’s best weapon was pride and its defeat lay in humility. He liked to quote St. Maximus the Confessor on the same theme: “When reproaches and dishonour weigh heavy on you, know that they have been of great use to you, for through humiliation Providence has cut out vanity from you.”
‘Like Summer Tempests’
Yes, Slim’s approach did ruffle feathers. “I do not have the grace of playing it cool” he wrote to me on one occasion, with characteristic understatement. On another, with a sense of self-reproach, “I’m afraid I gave him hell.”
Yet those of us who knew him knew that his occasional outbursts were due to his passionate nature and were motivated by real love and concern for individuals and for the things of God.
His temper was quickly roused but also passed quickly, and he was a man who did not find it difficult to apologise. And with that forthrightness, there went also great compassion and encouragement. Slim believed that the gradual conquest of self-love in its many forms led to a greater capacity for loving God and loving each other “for we are members one of another”, as he used frequently to mention.
Both Head and Heart
A final mistake that was often made about him is that somehow Slim’s approach was too intellectual and highbrow for the ordinary clergy, who do not go in for much book reading.
Admittedly his spiritual direction often included numerous theological references and his constant catch phrase: “I can’t go into all that just now”, but there was also the constant referral to the living presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and recourse to Our Lady.
It was not an either/or but a both/and, and he was completely forthright about that also: “You will, in the trial before you, find much help and much more quiet joy of spirit before the Blessed Sacrament and in prayer to Our Lady than in my letters.”
People who never knew him - and that includes many of his contemporaries - do not know what a great man, and a great priest they missed.