Thursday 29 August 2013

Non-Judgemental Catholicism

It’s a sad thing that so many people hold the impression that Catholics judge the folk of the world. That is not the remit of the Church or any of her members. Judgement of persons belongs to God alone. The remit of the Church is to point out to folk those ways of life we know to be damaging to their eternal salvation. It is my role as a priest, just as it is the role of Bishops and of parents, to do as I did in my healthcare days: to gently but clearly point out to souls the harmful nature of the activities they engage in; activities which are at least seriously damaging, if not mortally fatal, and then advise them to change. Not to speak to them in this way is a dereliction of duty to Christ and to their souls. 

Being a convert to the Faith, my own family do not live the Catholic way of life. Imagine how hard that is for me then, seeing my family living in ways which may/will result in their loss of heaven (though only God can decide that). Family are of massive importance to us all, and while I cannot point to any guarantee that I will make it to heaven myself, I still desire that my family do –and all those souls I see wandering the world in the darkness of the devil’s deceptions about what is and is not OK. Truly, from my experience of having watched family and friends over the years, I know that people simply do the best they can to find happiness. Sadly they look for happiness in this world alone because they have no consciousness of a life after death where there is reward and reproof. Some awareness of life after death remains, but the concept of a God with whom we must make our character compatible in this life so as to live with Him in the next, is absent.

As a result, folk seek happiness in a fractured world by living their own fractured lives: Joe leaves Jill and his son James to live with Margaret and her son Malcolm, while Malcolm’s dad Michael is off to live with Sheila, her son Stephen and her daughter Danielle, who she had to Daniel. Stephen’s dad (Stan) is simply “giving it away” whenever he wills, while Dan is off to live with Pauline (or maybe with Andrew, who he finds more fun anyway). This destabilising of family life as a result of sexual freedoms cannot lead to anything but the wounding of persons as their lives fracture again and again, destabilising both them and the society in which they live. We simply cannot expect our relationships to be solid and stable if we are free and easy with sex; it leads to an easy abandonment of our co-parents when someone more exciting (but not necessarily better) comes along. Only chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage can give us stability of life.*

Still, we Catholics do not judge folk; they are trying to avoid fracturing their inner peace within this fractured society. But we can advise them to see sex more profoundly so that society moves from a fractured state to a stable state. Children who grow up in stable homes in a stable society are much more likely to be stable and confident within themselves, and from that secure environment have the firm foundation needed to grow and explore their gifts and talents, contributing to society in healthy, safe and productive living.

*A word. We do not preclude Divorce if it is necessary to protect persons; we only reject marriage after divorce and we do so because we see marriage as a life-long sacrament: we cannot be married to two people at the same time.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Fire Insurance Catholics -The Narrow Door

This is from Father's homily notes which, as always, I have permission to reproduce.

Today’s first reading and Gospel seem to contradict each other, the reading telling us we are called from all the nations to enter heaven; the Gospel telling us the door is narrow and there are many who have said “Lord” that will not get in; that the Lord will not know them and will send them away. Then we have the second reading telling us that although we are sons, God corrects and punishes us. What is going on? Well, all are indeed called to heaven; but not all will get there. I often wonder if we have lost our faith and replaced it with superstition: “if I pray, do good and go to Mass (like fire insurance) I’ll be OK; anyway, God loves us all and we’ll all go to heaven”.

As a result of such superstition we think if we come to Mass and do good then we won’t get ill and nothing bad will happen; when it does, we say “that’s it”, and give up the Faith. But that’s a wrong idea: God has to train, correct and even “punish” us by allowing suffering, because it keep us on the right road. 

We can thank God that we are called and are children of God, but children do need correction. I know sometimes people say they think they get “told off” every week by priests, but that’s only if the topic hits home: if we hear about the necessity of praying and we aren’t praying then yes, we’ll get disturbed. I like to hear other priests preach for that reason; I can be challenged as I’m preparing the homily and when I preach it, but when another priest preaches and it’s a new voice with a new idea I get corrected and challenged -and we all need that to stay on the right road. We too often think of ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ and forget His ‘brood of vipers’ type comments; we simply don’t want to hear about the narrow door or the narrow path...we want to stay with the idea that “we’ll all go to heaven”.

So yes, like the whole world, we are called to Heaven; God wants and calls all of His children to heaven and no one is excluded from that call, but yes, we have to work at it. I know it’s hard to be counter cultural and challenge the world around us –family, friends and others; but if we just come to Mass and are living no different to the non-believer, if our life is no different to the man along the street, then our Mass attendance is like superstitious fire insurance and something is wrong there: we might be the ones turned outside who said “Lord, Lord”.  So do stay faithful; we all need the sacraments –Mass to strengthen us and Confession to keep us clean- we all need to pray, because by prayer we tap into the power of God and without it we’re powerless. And we all need to do what is good and avoid what is wrong. If we do these few things, hard though simple as they are, we will stay children of God in this world and in heaven

Monday 19 August 2013

The Passage About the Ten Lepers...

In yesterday’s Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass we heard the Gospel of the Ten Lepers in which only one of the ten who had been healed returned to thank the Lord. I was preparing to preach simply on my usual themes of seeing sin as a sickness as well as an offence, and of being thankful to God for all the good which He bestows upon us, when I found myself noticing two additional things.

The first thing I noticed was that it was not at the time of their encounter with the Lord that the lepers were healed, but while they were on their way to the priests. This called to mind the importance of the priestly role in the healing of souls, yet today many people simply ignore Confession. Surely if we are serious about our faith we will be at Confession at least once a month; priests as well as people? We can’t be serious about our faith if we aren’t serious about Confession, because without Confession we live in the stench of sin. Yes venial sins can be forgiven by such as reciting the Our Father at Mass, but a certain stench of sin can remain, residing in the attitude of “I don’t need Confession”  -and the soul who thinks in that manner needs Confession more than they realise.

The second thing I noticed was that while all were declared healed, only one was declared saved. This seems to underline the fact that while all of us have been redeemed, we are not all necessarily saved (the difference between for all and for many).

We need to be like the leper who gave thanks to the Lord; we need to thank God for His love, mercy and healing, and we need to thank Him by more than simply coming to Mass, because if we come to Mass without seeking to make our lives different to the man next door, then we are coming as a kind of Fire Insurance: we are simply trying to stave off the fires of hell. That really isn’t good enough. A life of prayer, reception of the Sacraments, and of humble charity wherein we seek to avoid evil and do good, is also needed.

Remember, no one wants us to reach heaven more than Our Lord; He wants us in heaven so badly He died on the Cross to open it up to us. Surely then, since He died for us, we ought to be able to live for Him. To return to my usual theme on this Gospel: if we see can sin as a sickness as well as an offence, and come to the Confessional for healing as well as absolution, and we can develop an understanding of the Sacrament as meeting with the Divine Physician as well as the Just Judge, and be less afraid to approach... 

Sunday 11 August 2013

The Ogre Of The Parish

We all know that none of us can please everyone –even Our Blessed Lord did not please everyone. But I have to say that, though I am naturally attracted to family life and the intimacy of husband and wife (which is where I believe my call to be -or at least hope it is!) after having worked in the parish office I feel positively put-off the priesthood. Not only because our priests are wrongly maltreated by the public for the failures of the few; not only because during vocation discernment evenings we had the Host exposed on a small coffee table with tea-lights in the middle of a living room; nor because during a discernment weekend at the seminary we sat around as strangers for group work where we shared details of our ‘former’ lives and mistakes. No; it is that I have realised that while most Catholics are very patient, accommodating and supportive of their priests, some can be merciless if upset, which can happen if there is a mistyped name in the Mass list or a delay in offering a Mass (which is usual, because almost everyone requests the weekend with fewer people attending weekday Masses). As with retailers, so with the Church: we are much more likely to profess a complaint than an affirmation. Yes there are things our priests do that cause us to make complaints to or about them. This is true of Father Dickson too. What are the terrible errors of which Father is guilty? 

Unbelievably, this ogre has the nerve:

to use sung Latin chants for the ordinary of the Novus Ordo, as directed by Vatican II;

to remind us that frequent reception of Holy Communion and frequent Confession go together, as explained by Redemptionis sacramentum (32);
to offer Mass ad orientem as found in the rubrics of the ‘new’ Mass;
to remind us that the norm for Holy Communion is still on the tongue and that reception on the hand is only by way of special permission to a country from Rome;
to require those seeking to receive Baptism, Confirmation or First Holy Communion to attend Mass at least during the Instruction period, and be instructed in the norm for receiving Holy Communion;
to carry out the purifications himself as determined by the General Instruction (163) and Redemptionis Sacramentum (119);
to use both forms of the Mass on Sundays in accord with Summorum Pontificum
to preach that Missing Sunday Mass, cohabiting, using contraception, or supporting/engaging in abortion, euthanasia or homosexual activity is gravely sinful and requires Confession before we next receive Holy Communion;
to preach on the necessity of doing good and avoiding evil; the necessity of personal prayer, reception of the Sacraments, the possibility of hell, and the glory of Heaven.

Of course I am jesting that Father “has the nerve” to do all this, but in fact it does take nerve because I have seen how it irritates some people, including other priests who, in my experience, are not following the documents, perhaps from a well-founded fear of offending the people of today by explaining that God has given us an objective moral truth to live by.

Father Dickson is, I think, appreciated for organising summer garden parties, setting up our coffee mornings for our three regular charities (SPUC, WaterAid and Aid to the Church in Need) for regularly consulting via preference slips in the Newsletter and especially for always responding to crisis calls, and he won’t give a man of the road a sandwich and cup of tea without sitting with them. He often says he needs to be more patient, more prayerful, more generous with his time and talents, and that may be true -who am I to say? But he always apologises if he has been sharp with anyone, and is troubled when health issues stop him visiting the school and the housebound. In my opinion the vast majority of parishioners, while they may be irritated by our liturgy and doctrine, are appreciative, kind and generous with Father and their priests. Perhaps what is sad to note is that supportive comments come in less often than criticisms, though this is probably part of fallen human nature: as I said, we are much more ready to return to a retail outlet to complain than we are to affirm them. Oh that our Bishops would realise this! After all, complainants are not always valid; sometimes they are exaggerated because of a dislike for correctly-done liturgy or sound teaching, and complainants don’t, in my experience, always act from good motive. Yes indeed complaints must be heard, but so too must the priest. I wonder if this aspect of justice is truly followed today, or if we have become just a little too ready to presume the priests are at fault...

Sunday 4 August 2013

Dear Anonymous - A Reply

Dear Anonymous
Thanks for your comment. I hope you don’t mind if, with Father’s permission and having discussed your comment with him, I post it as an article. I think it has made points relevant to the original post and requires further explanation from me.

Hello Andrew,
After reading your article I felt concerned at some of the points you have suggested, and feel that I should respectfully give my opinion.
You suggest that people should be encouraged to move from emotion to intellect. Intellect is only one way in which we come to know God, the others being through scripture, tradition and experience. Therefore, all of these ways are valid ways in which a person came come to know God in their life within the context of a community of faith, for us Catholics this is obviously the Church.
I agree that knowledge comes through experience; my concern is that emotional knowledge is subjective knowledge and can lead us away from Divine Revelation. While emotions are a valuable part of our life experience, they are unreliable by the very fact that they are variable; which is why we can fall in love and out of love –and at the drop of a hat, sometimes.

As a woman I find some of your comments very difficult to accept, especially that women have been told that they should be offended by patriarchy by a group of 'secular feminists'.
I am genuinely sorry if you are offended; that was not my intention. I was pointing out that only when (strident) secular feminists felt offended by patriarchal language did Catholic women express any offence. We might say they were enlightened by sexual feminism, but might we not also say they were socially engineered by them?

Just because someone identifies themselves as having a feminist ideology does not mean that they should be automatically rejected.
I agree. I don’t reject Catholic feminists at all –a number my friends identify as Catholic feminists who seek the equality of women and their inclusion in the life of the world and the Church; but I think such women engage in a Catholic manner: one which does not denigrate their life in the home or their proficiency in nurturing of children. In that women are much better at relationship skills than men they are surely more suited to the nurturing of children than their husbands.

People can validly choose to hold a worldview which encompasses a range of complimentary ideologies and still hold firm to a tradition. I consider myself to be feminist and a Catholic. I am a feminist because I believe in the dignity of women and men which is not always respected in cultures and institutions, especially those who have been embedded in patriarchy. Patriarchy has had some positive impacts in society, but it has also had some damaging and violent consequences which are still being experienced by women today.
I too would hold to the equal dignity of women and men, and I abhor any kind of violence against women. But that should not mean a loss of the distinction between women and men. I am aware that some women feel damaged by patriarchy, but I have to say that the feminisation of the Church, as seen in ‘emotive’ liturgy with emotive songs and wistful dancing, is damaging to men. I and my pals were not invigorated by the liturgies we attended in schools or parishes; indeed we often found them amusing, and forced into a feminine spirituality. As a result, out of a dozen of us, only I continue to practice and I have to say, I was ‘saved’ by my discovery of the Extraordinary Form and the Catechism as taught by faithful priests.

The term, as I'm sure you will be aware means 'rule by the Father', a term which does not lend itself to inclusivity and mutual responsibility, values which are held strongly by many 'feminists'.
I’m not sure I can agree here: there can be no mutuality and equality if there is no male and female, yet there is a real and mutual yet distinct responsibility between men and women as fathers and mothers.

As Catholics, and followers of Jesus Christ, we are obviously concerned by oppression of any person or group who feel marginalised. Listening to their opinions is an important way of acknowledging who they are people, as children of God. If there is a way in language to express ourselves in a way which is more inclusive, this has to be more dignified and Christian, than holding fast to archaic understandings of the world and expressing them exclusively through language. After all, what is supremely important is what leads us to God, to love and to service.
We should all be concerned with any person or group being marginalised; but that would not mean equating sinful behaviours (such as homosexual acts) with graced behaviours (marriage between man and woman). We have to seek to include without approving of acts or attitudes. As for inclusive language, I have to say that of itself it does not necessarily imply equal dignity; equality and dignity might be better experienced in recognising our mutual interdependence, which arises from what is distinctive. For me, that distinction is lost in inclusive language.
I can’t help but add that as a group, we ‘Traditional’ Catholics are often actively oppressed and maligned by our fellow Catholics including, at times, by our Bishops, so we know what it is to be marginalised and oppressed. The rejection of ‘Traditional’ Catholics by those who claim to be interested in the liberation of the marginalised can then seem very false and duplicitous.

I have to admit, that personally, the views expressed in this blog, and from certain quarters of the Church make me not want to engage rather than drawing me in to a community of faith and love in Jesus. Jesus treated all people in an inclusive way and chose to surround himself with the marginalised, giving them dignity and respect which wasn't becoming of the culture of the time.
I’m so sorry to hear that you feel tempted to disengage. I find it hard to see why Traditional Catholic views as Father and I hold and as were held by the great women saints of the Church, should make anyone, man or woman, want to disengage from the Church.  If I may be brief and bold, I think we Catholics simply want to see the woman as nurturer and homemaker without necessarily excluding a career or their place on parish groups; I cannot be anything but unhappy when life in the family home is presented -as it seems to be by strident feminists- as a prison or oppressive.

Sometimes it is too easy to see the world from our own fears and opinions, and it can be hard to move to the place of a marginalised 'other' but this is the way of Jesus, the way for us all to imitate.
I agree that it is easy to see the world through our own eyes and not the eyes of the’ other. Our Lord’s example of inclusivity is, I think, a mark of the Church throughout the centuries in that the Church led the way for women to enter teaching, nursing, social work etc., and even undertake reform in the Church (St Teresa of Avila) or bring the Popes back to their rightful home (St Catherine of Sienna).

 It is very easy to say what you have when you belong to a powerful group or position, it is very hard to stand in the place of the prophet and call for conversion and renewal.
I agree; being in the ‘powerful’ group can make it easy to simply defend; conversion and renewal are needed for us all, but we have to be careful that what we call renewal and conversion are not reformation and  alteration; renewal and conversion are about a return to God and His original plan, not innovation. I think we have to be careful that we do not see change as automatically good: as Father often says, change can be malignant: we call it cancer.

It is also much easier to judge others because of their seemingly 'lesser' viewpoint when you belong to a tradition deeply embedded in an ideology of patriarchy.
I think we need to be careful here: we need to distinguish between received revelation as expressed in Tradition and ideology; those without faith may simply see traditional positions as an ideology, but that is not the Catholic understanding of Tradition as a vehicle of Revelation.

I think many feminists who call for inclusive language are not being difficult but simply saying, 'there is a way which we can express ourselves and God in a way which is inclusive'. It doesn't take anything away from what we believe in the Creed. St. Paul himself said that there is no male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.
I don’t think Catholic feminists are trying to be difficult at all; I think they are genuinely feeling hurt but as I tried to say, I think that feeling is manufactured by secular feminism telling them they should feel hurt. Yes, we are all one, but Paul is, I think, speaking of secular ‘class’ distinction, such as slave and free; he is not eradicating gender in Galatians 3 or he could not have spoken out so forcefully against homosexuality in Romans and 1st Corinthians.

Finally, it is important to note that the Y chromosome is what determines the male of the species not the X. If we are going to encourage a movement from the emotion to the intellect, then we must ensure our basic facts are accurate.
Oops! I don’t know how I managed to get those the wrong way around-my typing skills are usually better than that! And I have just finished a further professional Diploma in Anatomy & Physiology too! I have corrected the erroneous text now, thank you!

I do hope you don’t mind me responding to your comment which, can I say, is beautifully and charitably written. I only wished to give your comment a better profile so that I could clarify, where necessary, what I was saying in the original post. Thanks very much for your comment. As Father Dickson would say, God Bless you and yours.