Friday, 10 May 2013
Too Proud, Too Afraid or Too Person-focused to admit we went wrong...?
It used to be said when I was in seminary and newly ordained (1993) that we should not worry too much about baptising the children of lapsed Catholics since they would generally return to the Church at the time of their child’s First Holy Communion. While I have seen a few come back at First Communion, but not all of them continued to come, while the vast majority of parents never bothered at all. Am I alone in finding it disturbing that when children are presented for the Sacraments the parents have no intention of having their child continue in the Faith? On enquiry it is easy to discover that many are not even ‘culturally catholic’: they don’t have religious pictures or statues in the home; they don’t practice family prayer, they say no grace before meals etc. The Church simply plays no role in their life other than providing a local school with a good Ofsted report.
One of the reasons for the lapsation of the parents (and now, the grandparents) was the undeniably bad catechesis given over the last forty years, with its hidden implication that God is subject to change: “Who is Jesus Christ for you?”. Without meaning to, we were/are telling people it is OK to create God in their own image, so that now we come up against such statements as “my understanding of God is that He doesn’t hold A, B or C against us; we can still get to heaven if we are a good person”. We place souls in grave spiritual danger when we allow them to formulate God according to their own design.
The errors of past formation wreaked havoc in the Church, and still have their influence today. How can they not? It was the foundation we gave to those under 60; to those educated with deficient school texts and in progressive seminaries from the 1960’s onward. Thus we still hear people say Confession is only for mortal sins and “rarely needed”, and the Eucharist “was given to be received, not worshipped”. There are still those whose ecclesiology sees the Catholic Church and the ecclesial communities of Protestantism as being essentially the same, and those whose moral theology is tainted by the mistaken theory of the Fundamental Option. Sadly, much on-going formation is just more of the same, which is perhaps why some priests take responsibility for their own on-going formation by having recourse to orthodox conferences and reading materials.
I truly believe that unless we return to the very basics in our preaching, in our school texts and in our public statements, and unless we return to a liturgy that is God-focused rather than people-centred, we will continue to see the Church dwindle by lapsation and lose influence in society. We need to be formed again, theologically and catachetically. in key issues: the Primacy of the Pope in Doctrine and Discipline; the unique nature of the Catholic Church as the One True Church from which all salvation flows; the necessity of regular Confession for regular Communion; the Mass as the Sacrifice of Calvary and not simply a fraternal banquet; the inherent evil of contraception; of fornication, abortion and euthanasia. We also need to rediscover the essential vocation and responsibility of the laity as the salt of the earth wherein they set out to evangelisation of the world in its media, health care, politics, education etc. We in the clergy need to remember that we serve by taking responsibility (not power) before God for the teaching, sanctifying and governing of the Church. Collaboration does not mean shirking this responsibility.
Finally, helping the youth to re-engage with the Church is a priority if we are to gain good, Catholic families in the future. It is not that our teachers and youth workers are not genuinely concerned for the youth; it is not as though they are not generous with their time and fervent in their efforts, but no matter how many youth events they have put on over the years and no matter how many youth retreats they have led, the thousands of youth that have passed through their hands are not coming to Mass and receiving the Sacraments. Having attended these events they simply go back to their everyday lives. In that it is the Truth which sets us free, I believe we have to return –and return soon- to forming them in doctrinal accuracy and in the understanding that Holy Mass is the worship of God in adoration, propitiation and supplication, rather than a community jamboree, which it becomes when we seek jolly songs and use skits and dramas.