Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Working For The Good Of The Youth: Catechesis and Liturgy

Engaging the youth with the Faith is a genuine concern for all of us, and we have the best of resources available to achieve it: committed youth workers and teachers. These folk embody our common concern for the youth and expend a huge amount of energy in trying to achieve the goal. Unfortunately, while our Youth Leaders are hampered by reliance upon today’s accepted formulae for youth programmes (emotive events such as ‘pop’ worship, reflection sessions etc) our teachers are hampered by curricula which utilise a ‘dialogue’ methodology: ‘the Church says...what do you think?’. Unfortunately our leaders and teachers are also hampered by their own formation: having been formed by the same 1960’s methodology they are all-but locked into the mid-set of these programmes and curricula.

I recently attended a meeting to plan a week-long ‘Youth Mission’ in a Catholic High School, and made the suggestion of including talks on Catholic teaching. The response was that ‘This is unnecessary since the faith is covered in Religious Education lessons’. But to quote two twenty-something men* who spoke to me after the meeting (and who attended two different Catholic High Schools): ‘but the constant repetition in RE of “what does that mean to you...what do you think?” just gave us permission to make up our own God and our own rules –and that’s hard to let go of when confronted with the Catechism. If you’re going to reject anything after that kind of formation it isn’t going to be your own opinion!’

This ‘what do you think?’ approach is positively counter-productive: it denies the Revealed nature of The Faith, intrinsically promotes moral relativism and inverts ‘forming our young people by the faith’ into ‘forming the faith by our young people’.  It is an own goal. When work with the youth omits clear, convicted instruction in favour of dialogue it omits presenting Christ as Truth Itself.

As Andrew McDowell and I noted after the meeting, ‘constantly asking “Do you agree?” wouldn’t be tolerated in English with its rules of grammar, or in Physics with its scientific method. In these days of aggressive atheism when reason is presented as triumphing over Faith we have to show the unity between faith and reason; demonstrate the rationality of Catholic doctrine, and confront head-on the errors of atheism. We need evangelisation, not subjectivism’. This problem of ‘formation by dialogue’ needs to be tackled by Bishops Conferences and by Catholic Education Services but I doubt any Conference or CES would be willing to make the necessary changes. And why would they? It’s because Islam asks its young people what they think about Mohamed’s words that Islam is so strong and advancing so rapidly...isn’t it?

Demonstrating to our young people the rationality of The Faith takes faithful, convicted catechesis rather than dialogue. Youth Workers should consider making Catholic teaching part of every youth event, as it is in Juventutem’s World Youth Day programmes since “Faith comes through hearing” (Romans 10v17), and the youth must hear the Faith –and hear it correctly, assertively and with conviction- before they can value it, celebrate it and “have a reason for the hope that is within” (1.Pet.3v1). I’m not suggesting that catechesis should be the focus or role of youth events -such a task clearly resides with the whole Catholic community- but imparting Catholic teaching cannot be excluded by those who seek to form the youth.

It was also stated at the meeting that ‘the aim of the Mission is not to get the kids to come to Mass but to stir their spirit; to deepen their relationship with God’. This is a very odd statement when 95% of our target group have no contact with the Holy Eucharist, from Whom the life of grace springs. In fact, the statement is very worrying: Vatican II reminded us that the Holy Eucharist is not only the summit of the spiritual life but its very source, and if we aren’t plugging the youth into the very source of the spiritual life, we are plugging them into....what, exactly?

Seeking a subjective ‘stirring of the spirit’ as the aim of a Mission is just too nebulous -and ultimately self-serving: by seeking a subjective response that cannot be objectively measured, failure cannot be ascertained or success measured.

‘Pop’ style events and paraliturgies are important and can productively make use of drama, mimes etc., but Holy Mass should be part of any youth event –and must be celebrated with solemnity, dignity and reverence since it is the ‘Actio Christi’ (the act/work of Christ). Further, it should be celebrated in accord with the universal norms rather than the options, which means using Latin chant, the altar-facing orientation and Communion on the tongue. Such solemnity and God-centeredness will contrast sharply with the paraliturgies and serve to highlight both the unique nature and central importance of the Eucharist.

The emotive youth ministry and dialogue methodology in RE have failed. They have dominated for the last fifty years -and spectacularly failed even to halt youth lapsation, never mind reverse it, yet we blithely continue on with them.

The problem we face in youth work is at least four-fold: the attractiveness of the world’s pleasures distracting the youth from God; today’s militant atheism warring against religion; the loss of faith in families as a lived value and the ‘dialogue’ method of delivering the Faith which promotes relativism. We have an up-hill task; the answer to rejuvenating the youth in the Faith is far deeper than can be addressed by relative methodology in the classroom and emotive youth Missions/Retreats, which should be highlights in the life of faith. But the answer must include instruction rather than ‘formation’, and the Eucharist rather than emotion.

*One of these young men stayed in the Faith when after leaving school he discovered the Catechism and the Extraordinary Form; the other returned to the Faith when he had a child of his own and recalled the example of his debilitated grandfather shuffling to Mass in all weathers.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Imprecise Teaching in the Church ~The Fudging of Issues

While I sometimes feel Michael Voris could be more charitable and can sometimes make too generalised a statement, one of his latest videos is worth watching (as indeed I think all of them are). Michael says in one of his latest videos (here) about confusion in the Church:

“...the Vatican has to continually issue corrections and clarifications about what is reported that the Pope reportedly said.
American Bishops .. like Cardinal Timothy Dolan .. has his press office people issue statements saying he was quoted out of context.
We have just now the case of the new archbishop of Cologne Germany saying things in such a manner that sound like he is approving of same sex relationships in some fashion or another.
And then, on the heels of those statements, comes the clarification. But all these clarifications and follow-up statements often come too little too late. Once the secular media has gotten their hands on these original reports and spun them into sensational headlines – it’s all she wrote.
... This has gone on for SO long now, that when someone does occasionally say something very clearly – like contraception is sinful, he is shouted down as being uncharitable.
Imprecise language and lack of precision has been an issue for decades in the Church as numerous interpretations of the Vatican II documents themselves have produced.

Michael makes a good point about imprecision, but another good question is left unasked. That question is not “how does this imprecision and confusion exist in the Church?” (the texts of Vatican II now admitted to as having some ambiguity allows many to blame the Council itself); but “why does imprecision and confusion exist in the Church?”

In that anyone convinced of the truth of the Church’s teaching would, in order to avoid confusion and save souls by the Truth, be as precise as the Church has always been, the answer can only be that many of today’s official teachers lack in faith. Anyone convinced that truth leads to salvation would want to be as precise as possible in order not to adulterate the Truth and to safely instruct; they would not be happy to propagate a grey mist in which souls lose their way. Nor would they engage in sophistry and fudge issues in order to be ‘pastoral’ and compassionate. Indeed, those who constantly seek to adapt the Church’s teaching to the ways of the world are not being compassionate but cowardly; all they are doing is losing souls to the devil through the grey of subjectivism and relativism.

Sadly, we were told in seminary seeing the grey is the sign of those with a mature faith, and that only narrow, insecure people think there is such a thing as black and white. One must then assume then, that many holy Popes, all the saints -and the Lord Himself (who said the Truth sets us free and commanded us to observe all that He commanded) -were insecure and narrow-minded. I cannot make such an assumption. I believe we must have clarity and faithfulness in our teaching because one cannot lead where all is grey and foggy. When one is in grey, misty and fog one can only tentatively suggest directions. For this reason, grey is the devil’s favourite colour.

I wonder how many of our official teachers (bishops, priests, deacons, those teaching in our schools and colleges) have lost faith in the Church while retaining some vague conviction that God exists and community is a good thing; I wonder how many would answer ‘yes’ to the following.

Do you believe...

That there is only one true Church of Christ and that it is the Catholic Church?
That the Church (and Popes) are bound by the Church’s previous Magisterial teaching?
That members of Non-catholic and non-Christian communities are saved through the Catholic Church and not through these other communities?
That The Holy Eucharist, without diminishing the fact that it contains the resurrected Lord and the banquet of Heaven, is principally the making present of the Sacrifice of the Cross?
That the sacraments are the supernatural means needed to reach our supernatural end?
That the priesthood cannot be validly conferred on women?
That marriage is only marriage between a man and a woman?
That sex outside of marriage is gravely sinful?
That artificial Contraception is gravely sinful?
That abortion is gravely sinful?
That euthanasia is gravely sinful?
That homosexual acts are gravely sinful?
That grave sins preclude our reception of Holy Communion until Confessed and Absolved?

I can hear already the cries ‘but Father, life isn’t black and white...God loves us as we are...God is merciful...Who am I or you to judge?’

But truth is black and white; Truth is always Truth and error is always error. The Lord admits of no grey fog in His word: “The word of the Lord is a word without alloy, silver from the furnace, seven times refined” (Ps.12v6).

And God loves us as we are, but He calls us on from there; He loves us too much to leave us where we are. Metanoia is on on-going reality for us -or should be.

As for, “Who am I or you to judge? Well, we don’t judge people, but neither does a physician who judges that smoking needs to cease because his patient is developing COPD. If we will not judge what damages a person’s soul then we leave the person in a damaged state, which lacks all charity on our behalf.

I have often seen the tattoo slogan “God alone can judge me”. What that leaves out is that God has revealed the criteria by which He will judge: have you kept holy the Sabbath; respected the Divine Name and avoided fornication, killing (abortion / euthanasia) falsehood, theft and covetousness for the things of this world?  Have you clothed the naked, fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, visited the sick and imprisoned? Those who wear this tattoo really ought to have the whole truth, and we who teach ought to supply the Truth, not fudge it. The world may think well of us by fudging issues, but we will be those “with a travesty of the truth” on our lips (Acts 20v30-32).

It is time all official teachers gave up trying to fit the Faith to the contemporary culture and returned to teaching the Truth clearly and assertively. The Truth alone will bring the world back to its senses; seeking to accommodate its errors will not.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The ‘Blessing’ of a Marriage

I had a discussion this week with a young man who wants to marry his fiancé in a quiet ceremony attended only by family and friends. To facilitate this he has chosen to have a civil ceremony at a local hotel, but asks if I will bless his marriage the next day before Mass so as to keep God involved from the beginning of the honeymoon.

The desire to keep God involved is praiseworthy but as I pointed out, there is no such thing as the ‘blessing’ a civil marriage; what the Church provides is the Sacrament of Matrimony over and above the civil marriage. I also pointed out that matrimony, being a holy gift from God and belonging to Him, should really be celebrated in God’s house and not a hotel, garden or Register Office. I then had the delicate task (the task of finding prudential but clear words) to say that until the civil marriage is raised to the dignity of the Sacrament by the Church, engaging in the ‘benefits’ of marriage (copulation) is gravely sinful and puts the soul in jeopardy. Having noted that a Church ceremony need not be any more complicated or guest-laden that a civil ceremony, I added that he and his fiancé would still have undergo the usual pre-nuptial formation and enquiry before proceeding to the Sacrament, and affirm that they understand matrimony to be a life-long, exclusive union open to life.

Having given the young man this information and asked him to reconsider, I found myself wondering if his idea of a civil ceremony followed by a Church ceremony might not be a good way forward for the Church in today’s secular world. If we left the State to provide civil marriage with the Church supplying the Sacrament of Matrimony to practicing Catholics after their civil ceremony, we could avoid conflict with the State over the issue of homosexual pairings and serial spouses (those who enter a second, third or more civil marriages after divorce).

Delineating the Sacrament of Matrimony from Statutory Marriage in this way may mean –sadly- that some couples decide not seek out the sacrament at all, “just in case the marriage doesn’t work out and we need to divorce”. This would leave the couple in the sad position of being unable to receive Holy Communion. However, those for whom the sacramental life is important would still be likely to seek out the Sacrament after their civil ceremony. Should a civil marriage indeed break down, the absence of the sacrament would make pastoral care much easier when one or other seeks out that sacrament after divorce, and would take a lot of work off our marriage tribunals.

Would requiring a civil ceremony before a Sacramental celebration (which is already the case in Germany) not be something the German Church should propose to the October Synod as a useful way forward for the Church universal? It could be something the Synod might usefully consider, rather than simply admit all and sundry to Holy Communion for ‘pastoral reasons’. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Death By Killing –The Assisted Dying Bill

Archbishop Peter Smith has asked us to place a notice in our Bulletins this weekend encouraging us to write to the House of Lords and express our views on the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill. Having sat for a month by the bedside of my mother following a subarachnoid bleed, and observing the care given and the rationale behind the medical and nursing interventions, I shall be saying that the dying person does not require killing (or assistance to take their own life) but complete and dedicated care. We should not measure our care of the terminally ill by how easy it is to bring about their death, but against the criteria of “is this going to delay natural death (in which case it is wrong) or sustain comfort while moving towards a natural death?” 

In the UK, Pathways for the dying routinely remove food and fluids while increasing drugs which sedate the patient, achieving a calmness in the patient that may prevent the dying person from being unaware they are thirsty, with the family thinking their loved one’s death is simply ‘peaceful’ rather than procured. In the situation with my mother, the physician said they were going to remove mums subcutaneous infusion (500mls N/S per 24hrs) as it was life-extending. I had to challenge this to have it noted as -at most- life-sustaining, and certainly not life-extending. In that we all lose around 450mls per day just by breathing, never mind the insensible loss (loss of which we are generally unaware, as in sweating) and the sensible (obvious) loss in passing urine, there seems no good reason for removing all fluids. Even in congestive heart failure, removing the infusion may do little to relieve the pulmonary congestion since circulating fluid ‘seeps’ into the lungs whether fluids are given or not -and it is, after all, simply replacing only one daily ‘insensible loss’. This is not to say there are no occasions in which infusions can be removed in the last few hours of life, but whether infusions are present or not, frequent mouth care by nurses and relatives must be a priority intervention for reasons of comfort.

Many anxieties arise in those who are dying, mainly concerning pain and dignity during the dying process. It is this pain and distress that needs to be ended, not the patient, while their dignity and enjoyments are to be retained. If the dying person can retain their dignity (by respectful cleansing after passing urine or stools etc); have their anxieties relieved (by adequate but not excessive use of anxiolytics), their pain relieved (by such as morphine); any muscle spasm relieved (by such as Baclofen or Clonazepam); and if their enjoyments (TV programmes, reading or music etc) can be provided along with comforting, human-touch therapies (such as massage and aromatherapy), many who think they should end their life might be happy to have more time with their loved ones. This kind of care requires more and better funded hospices. We must strive to provide such care because the human person alone walks the earth with a dignity that does not have a sliding scale based upon whether one is rich or poor, black or white, male or female, sick or well. We are not mere animals; we have a mind which produces concepts; a mind which brings us to understand and master the world in ways that animals with their basic instincts cannot. We may euthanize the arthritic dog, but people require other than killing –they require compassionate caring and respect.

It is said that the Assisted Dying Bill will result in fewer dying adults facing unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives and bring clarity to the law, thus providing safety and security for the terminally ill and for medical professionals. This is a poor argument, since suffering can be relieved by medications and having pleasures retained as I outlined above. Nor do we need a clarity in the law that brings physicians, nurses and loved ones to become killers rather than carers; the clarity we need is on the protection of human life and the provision of proper care.

It is said the Bill will not legalise voluntary euthanasia, or act as a slippery slope to do so, only give dying adults peace of mind that the choice of assisted dying is available if their suffering becomes too great for them to handle. That the Bill would not legalise euthanasia is nonsense; the procuring of death in the dying person is exactly that: euthanasia.

It is said that the Assisted Dying Bill would only apply to adults with ‘mental capacity’ both at the time of their request and at the time of their death. This does not lessen the reality that this Bill is seeking to procure death before one’s natural time. Further, the issue of consent is very problematic: when given a long time in advance it cannot be relied upon since it is given when the person cannot actually know how well they would cope if complete and expert care were given. If consent is given in the immediate situation it is hampered by fears, and if anxiolytics are given to relieve that fear then the consent is given while under the influence of drugs. The Bill would certainly NOT protect against unscrupulous relatives or physicians from pressurising the dying person into requesting euthanasia by engendering feelings of guilt, fear etc. 

To conclude: what is required is not procured death by killing but dedicated, complete care of the person’s physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, which can be achieved through more and well funded, fully staffed hospices. The dignity of the human person demands this; the capacity for compassion for one’s fellow man delivers it, since compassion naturally inspires devoted care, not killing. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Sadness & Joy in Baptism Preparations

So many of those who seek Baptism for their child leave me feeling both sadness and joy: joy that the parents want their child to have the Faith, but sadness that it is likely to be easily lost because the parents themselves have little understanding of the Faith. What they (and their parents, the grandparents of today) received from pulpits and schools over the last few decades has left them with an understanding of the Faith that has no depth; it is simply too shallow to stand up to the trials of life such as the death of a loved one, and too shallow to stand up to the challenges of the relativist culture of our time.

It is always important to me to explain to couples who are not practicing or actually cohabiting that their understanding of the Faith is shallow but this is no fault of their own; it is similarly important to me to explain that in order to support their child in the Faith, growth in their own understanding of the Faith and its practice has to be sought now, as adults and especially as parents who have been entrusted by God with the forming of a soul for heaven.

Many of those who present their children for Baptism are cohabiting, and it becomes necessary to explain to such couples that not only are they placing their own souls in jeopardy by living in a way that is inconsistent with revealed Truth, but that by establishing their child in a sacramental system they themselves have abandoned brings about a disparity of life between child and parents which is unhelpful to all. It is important to tell the parents that this is not about them being ‘hypocrites’ but simply lacking in the necessary Faith formation.

What is true of such young parents is also true of so many Catholics leaving school today and of the older generation too: they simply don’t know what the Church teaches and when they do, they have little or no idea why she teaches it. In that they do not know because they have not been taught it, hypocrisy is not the problem. Rather, it is the inability to pass on and model the Catholic Faith and lifestyle to their child, who in time may confront their parents with the standard line, “why should I do A, B or C when you don’t?”. We need to help parents avoid this possible conflict with their children by helping them to rediscover their own Faith and providing them with an authentic worship experience. In my opinion we have let parents down from the days they themselves were children by providing superficial catechesis based on dialogue rather than instruction, and by providing very poor liturgy which, rather than aiming at providing an experience of the transcendent, merely aped the pop and performing arts culture of the secular world –and rather badly at that: much better music and performances are to be had in the local Club.

I think we have to revert a.s.a.p. to teaching the Catechism as we did before so that Catholics grow up with a question-and-answer foundation upon which to build ever-deepening responses to questions of Faith. We also have to recover a liturgy that is God-focused; one that is obviously ‘other’ than what can be seen and heard in the world; a liturgy where the Lord in His tabernacle is at the apex of the Sanctuary, and the celebration clearly God-centred rather than man-focused. The ad-orientem position (never abandoned by the Church even in the Reformed Missal of Pope Paul VI) and the use of specifically ecclesial music (chant and scared polyphony) are essential in the recovery. Anything else just will not do. Dialogue as catechesis and a performing-arts style of liturgy have done us no good in the last fifty years. Indeed they have accompanied the year by year increase in lapsation. They can only bring us great harm if we continue to peddle them today. And we will, unless we have the humility to admit we made mistakes in both catechesis and worship.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Catholic Dating Guidance

I very occasionally get asked, “How far can we go?” which indicates a couple have already set their minds on a trajectory toward acts the Church teaches are gravely wrong. The guidance I give is not geared towards limiting freedom, but to providing safety boundaries for the soul (and for life in this world too -sexually active folk are at risk of STD’s, and of feeling invaluable as a persons since they are easily abandoned when something more attractive comes along).

Dating for Catholics is difficult today because what were once seen as good boundaries by everyone 50 years ago are now seen as oppressive. This is a result of the the sexual revolution, which threw all boundaries out of the window and portrayed sexual freedom in movies, on TV and in books as freedom from oppression and a facilitating of the fullness of humanity. It is under these pretexts that it is now invading the classrooms even of primary school children. Catholic Schools should remain true to the Church’s teaching on sexuality and certainly keep it out of their classrooms so that children are allowed to be children and not sexualised before their time -this can only lead to active sexual dating contrary to the Gospel.

When Catholics do begin dating, what are some of the things they can do to ensure their dating goes well in the sight of God and which keeps them safe in this world too?

Visit one another’s family homes so you discover family situations and build family connections. Go out as a family group too, since this provides the in-built protection of having people around you. Time alone in bedrooms (or in the living room when the family are out) opens the door to unhelpful talk and embraces that may be too intense. (Dating is for the seeking out a life-time’s spouse, not a sexually compatible ‘partner’).

Pray together. Attend Mass together and go regularly to Confession. Join in one another’s family prayer time and thus build up good habits for the future. All this will help retain the Christian focus of the relationship.

Date those who share your views on morality, since a clash on values on as central as marriage, sexuality and child-rearing will only provide for conflict in the relationship and may well diminish the capacity of the devout Catholic to ‘hold back’.

Don’t dress in such a way as to make yourself look sexually attractive but in order to look personally attractive. Clothes that express femininity or masculinity without exposing the flesh inappropriately; clothes that do not ‘cling’ in such a way that they focus the eye on physical contours, are best. Clothes which expose the flesh or cling to bodily contours put the stress on the body, the physical, rather than the personality.

Go to places that you both enjoy so you can build up a life of shared activity, and be supportive of your friend in his/her individual hobbies (if the hobby is morally good, of course...)

Date in places that are public so that you don’t compromise your self-control.

Be careful about sitting talking in cars after a night out; inevitably the lighting and mood are subdued and passions run high, making such situations something that are best avoided.

Avoid that which procures arousal, such as ‘adult’ bars, movie theatres. Similarly, avoid arousing materials on TV, in books etc.

Kisses should be tender and devoid of passion-arousing elements such as ‘French kissing’.

Be careful of erogenous zones: women need to remember that men get aroused very quickly; what seems harmless to the lady may be very arousing to the male. Repeated, gentle stroking of the hair, the arms, the abdomen or upper thigh can be very arousing for either sex. If you wonder how far you can go in subtle touching you are already contemplating steps that diminish purity: heavy-petting is definitely out since its purpose is to procure full sexual acts.

I know it is difficult these days to see rules and guidelines such as these as useful or healthy, since society is awash with sexuality and actively promotes sexual freedom. But rules are not mere limitations; they are boundaries for safety. This being so, it is important that when dating you are sure in your own mind of the value of the celibate relationship outside of marriage, and of chastity within marriage. 

In a word then, pray together; build family ties; dress smart; date in public and avoid that which arouses. Additionally, be on time, be respectful, and be true to yourself and your Faith. God bless all those who are attempting to date in an integrated Catholic way. 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Sign of Peace is not peaceful

Fr Blake has an article on the Sign of peace (here), and the FIUV have published a Position Pater (see here). What follows are my own thoughts.

For me the Sign of Peace is one of the most irritating aspects of the Novus Ordo in its concrete celebrations. Having just prayed for peace among us, peace immediately disappears as the folk shake hands with one another, and some celebrants (illicitly) leave the sanctuary in order to join in as though the peace he has just offered from the sanctuary is worthless. Thus the meditative peace built during the Canon immediately disappears from the celebration under a cacophony of noise and activity.

Secondly, the Sign of Peace is all too often used an exchange of well-wishing between family and friends, reminiscent of greetings at a local hop. This often becomes divisive: I had the experience just prior to ordination of being moved to the side by the woman in the bench front of me who wanted to shake hands with her friend in the bench behind me. I have also had a parishioner tell me that, having remained kneeling so as to pray over a distressing family problem, she was shaken on the shoulder with a rather curt, “Peace be with you”.

Third, the Novus Ordo form of the Pax can be decidedly lacking in pastoral sensitivity: those who are less clean in appearance are rarely approached, while survivors of abuse have told me they occasionally find it threatening.

Hygiene needs to come into the equation too. As one of my congregation pointed out, some folk have a habit of blowing and scratching their nose during Mass, then attempting to shake hands.

I know the sign of peace is loved by many because it is affirming, ‘warm’ and welcoming, but even a warm welcome can be marred by the runny noses, dirty hands and noisy activity which frequently surround this ritual.  If we are to have it, let the Bishops make it a real liturgical sign (the amplexus noted by Fr Ray) by removing the secular gesture (the handshake), and let the people contain themselves to their immediate left and right without the backwards and forwards commotion. It is, after all, a ritual sign, not a social exchange.