Friday 28 February 2014

The Sin of God

In a dissertation during my time in seminary I noticed that, my typing never being good, I had frequently typed the phrase ‘Son of God’ with a lower-case ‘s’. I had a function on my then-computer of ‘replace all’, so I retyped the phrase and pressed ‘replace all’. On getting the paper back after marking I was horrified to see that although I had corrected the lower case ‘s’, I had replaced the ‘o’ in ‘son’ with an ‘i’; consequently, the dissertation was replete with the phrase “The Sin of God”. While I can look back on it now with some humour, there are situations in which the ‘sin’ of God is far from humorous. Read on...

Last weekend I said in my homily that sin is not a natural part of humanity; that it is the result of the fall and that in fact, sin makes us less than human. Our Lord and Our Lady were perfectly human and perfectly sinless. After Mass Andrew was asked by one of the youngsters (about 11 years old), “Didn’t Jesus sin only once, when he cleared the temple and turned their tables over?”  Andrew said no; that this was not a sin; Our Lord was acting in rightful anger; doing a good act by putting sin out of the temple. The boy responded, “But our teachers told us Jesus sinned when he got angry and tipped the tables over”. Andrew asked the boy to speak to me, and the whole conversation took place again, this time between me and the youngster. I asked which teachers had told him this and he gave me two names, saying that he’d heard all the teachers’ say it at some time or other. Sadly, this youngster is in a Catholic school...

I have two ladies in my parish, both in their 50’s, who claim to have been given house-points at school for saying that the only sin Jesus committed was turning over the tables. I thought such nonsense had stopped. It obviously has not. Any priest would feel the need to address this with the school, but might be undercut by someone quoting Pope Francis who reportedly said that:

“When we go to confession, for example, it isn’t that we say our sin and God forgives us. No, not that! We look for Jesus Christ and say: 'This is your sin, and I will sin again'. And Jesus likes that, because it was his mission: to become the sinner for us, to liberate us.” (Vatican News, homily at Mass at the Casa Santa Martha).

I think I can see what Francis is saying: that Jesus has been made sin for us in the sense of 2 Cor.5v21, and that we are likely to sin again, as in Rom.7v15. But his words are not clear; they will confuse many of the faithful, I think, and be misread by those who actively seek to undo the Faith. I can only hope that our Catholic teachers are not following Francis on the web (what a sad thing to say) since he is not always easy to read in an orthodox way. Indeed, the selected quote even implies that we need no firm purpose of amendment: “I will sin again”. We have seen how he was misinterpreted by the world when he said in response to a question on homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?”, for although he was rightly saying he cannot judge individual souls he cannot have been undoing 2000 years of Church teaching by saying he cannot judge homosexual acts. The world, however, claimed he was changing Doctrine and refusing to condemn homosexuality per se. Francis words carry much weight as Pope; I hope and pray that insight by Rome as to how the world is abusing Francis’ words will bring about a change.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

The Church has been very sick; She is not yet healed

The Church has been very ill in the last few decades. We expected growth after Vatican II, but honesty compels us to admit that we have experienced a veritable atrophy. The evidence is all around us: a fall in the number of those attending Mass; a fall in the number of vocations to priesthood and religious life; a fall in the number of Baptisms and a fall in the number of Marriages. It is nonsense to claim that all this shrinkage; all this atrophy, is healthy. It is true that there has been growth, but it is growth in doctrinal dissent and liturgical frivolities, with atrophy of the Church by massive lapsation and loss of faith the result.

What is the underlying cause of this atrophy? Concupiscence; the orientation toward sin (the turning from God to self). Isn’t this orientation toward self what we see in the reformed liturgy, which uses worship as a way to affirm the people? Isn’t it the same orientation toward self that we see in pastoral care by our use of person-centred psychology with its attendant relativism, from which springs toleration of all kinds of sexual proclivities and an acquiescence to the impermanence of marriage?

In regard to liturgy, we thought great things were being achieved by increasing the amount of scripture read at Mass; by bringing the laity into ecclesial ministries, and by giving way to cultural adaptation. Each of these has proved damaging. Bringing in more scripture only swamped us with it, so that many folk leaving Mass cannot tell you what the readings were about; increasing lay ecclesial ministries only brought about a loss of focus on the authentic vocation of the laity as the leaven in the world, while cultural adaptation only engendered a liturgy attuned to man and his changing way of life. Frivolities such as dancing, mimes, the wearing of clown hats and skits of all kinds (which have their place in non-liturgical youth ministry) unquestionably turned the focus of the liturgy from God to man by celebrants and communities designing worship to affirm the folk and grab their attention (isn’t “making the liturgy relevant to the people” the aim of many a celebrant?)  Nowhere is this mind-set more evident than in youth ministry; schools and youth teams having had thousands of youngsters pass through their hands who yet remain disengaged from the Eucharist and the active Catholic life. Sadly, it seems the Novus Ordo necessitates additions and deletions in its concrete forms in that it has been stripped of so much ritual and theology that it is only a shell of the majestic and ancient liturgy which the Church guarded as her greatest treasure for over a millennium.

As for doctrinal orthodoxy, this disintegrated under the influence of person-centred ‘pastoral care’ which sought (seeks) the accommodation of worldly, personal life-style choices (contraception, cohabitation, serial marriage, homosexual activities etc). It is also a pastoral care that has abused the word ‘love’, allowing Christian agape to be jettisoned in favour of storge (familial affection) and philia (affectionate friendship) which open the door to eros (erotic acts being seen as acceptable if there is philia and/or storge between the engaging parties). Unfortunately ‘pastoral care’ as we have had it for the past fifty years is nothing less than an accommodation of the world, which inherently contains an abandonment of the Gospel and a corresponding loss in sanctifying grace.

Authentic, Christ-centred pastoral care is to hold fast to agape; it is “to do the truth with charity” (Eph.4v15). We urgently need to learn how to present the truth in ways which demonstrate understanding of why a person has made the choices they have made while we proclaim the Truth in tones and attitudes that are inoffensive yet clear and certain. Sadly, during my time in seminary the great “discovery” in pastoral care was “grey areas”. To paraphrase what we were told: “Yes the Church teaches this or that, but it cannot be applied in all situations” -which means that in some situations God’s truth has to be adapted (or give way altogether) so that we may give non-judgmental, unconditional positive-regard to the person, their needs, and their ability to respond to the Truth.  

If the sickness of the Church is to be overcome we need to take the medicine; we need to [a] teach without compromise according to the Catechism; [b] encourage trust in God in those who try to live according to the Catechism yet fail, while directing them toward the good, and [c] ensure that liturgy is God-focused, removing frivolities such as dancing, skits, ad-libs and innovations. Will we see this medicine being taken? An increasing number of Bishops and priests around the world appear to be convinced of its necessity; too many others seem afraid of offending the world or of wounding those Catholics who have been misled into following the world. Others may simply lack the humility needed to admit the errors of the past. All of them, being men of sincere heart, need our prayers: the sound shepherds and the misled men. These prayers and sacrifices are going to be essential to ensure the success of the Synod on the Family.

Thursday 6 February 2014

The Devil, the “World”, the UN and Holy Church

We can certainly agree that moving priests suspected of child abuse from parish to parish was wrong and call to account those who authorised such moves. But the UN and mainstream media fail to report child abuse by clergy in the context of three important things: the naivety of the Bishops as mirroring the naivety of society as a whole which did not think such heinous crimes were really being committed; noting that Safeguarding Procedures in the Catholic Church today are (possible) among the best in the world, and the reality that abuse is extensive in society as a whole with no secular entity –be it schools, the health service or the BBC –being free from such crimes; crimes which (according to research) occur less frequently in the Catholic Church than anywhere else. Why the failure to put clerical abuse into such a context? Perhaps because it does not fit with the secular desire to sweep away the Church with its stand against society’s elimination of sexual boundaries, which sweep gives free reign to ones animal instincts to have sex whenever, however and with whoever one wants.

Yesterday, 5/2/2014, in addressing child abuse by clergy, the UN unwittingly made a public display of the war between the forces of darkness and the forces of light; it did this by wandering off-topic to call on the Church to change her teaching on homosexuality, contraception, abortion and pre-marital sex. In doing so the UN asked Christ’s Church to abandon Gospel morality, and implicitly acknowledged that a war exists between the secular world and the Church. That said, while it seems this war is consciously and specifically aimed at the Catholic Church (the UN did not call for Islam or Judaism to change their teaching on sexuality) it is in fact an attack upon religious consciences per se.

Exactly what is the UN Committee is asking for? It seems to me it is asking for nothing less than sex without responsibility: contraception approved for all sexual experience between a man and a woman (and even between immature, adolescent children) with access to abortion when contraception fails, as well as the right to act upon homosexual urges which run contrary to the biological (procreative) nature of sex. The clamour for such things can only have arisen in the human heart by influence of the devil, the father of lies and author of death, since it is a devilish lie that portrays sexual irresponsibility as “freedom”; the thwarting of life in procreation as “good”, and the killing of children as “reproductive health”. The prevention of life and promotion of death does not equate with health.

Such darkness is presented as “rights”, but the “right” to kill one’s children is surely far darker than abuse, no matter who the perpetrator: entertainer, politician, nurse, teacher, priest or prison warder (surely the supporters of abortion who [rightly] condemn the sexual abuse of women and children are not going to say that the sexual abuse of women and children is worse than the murder of women and children? (Actually, they do: they promote killing of the child in the womb while decrying sex abuse).

Make no mistake about it: the Church is despised. At the moment we are only fired as nurses, airline staff etc when we wear a crucifix at work, but can we not say the time will come when we will be imprisoned for such things? We have already had Christian owners of a B&B in Court for refusing to let a room to a homosexual pair. What has happened in the last fifty years to allow the world to abandon common sense positions on sexuality and family life?

What happened was the Bishops of the 1960’s abandoned their post. From the day they turned a blind eye to the rejection of Humanae Vitae they allowed Catholics to join the bandwagon of “sexual freedom”. Those Bishops yielded to the world and many of their successors continue to do so to this day. We now have three generations of Catholics who do not know, accept or live by the morality of the Gospel, and they are the ones who, as God’s “salt of the earth” and “leaven of the world”, should be writing in their millions to the UN and their own governments to decry this oppression of the Gospel. They will not do so, however, because they have lived by secular môres for so long they have come to believe in them. They were not corrected clearly, firmly and authoritatively from Humane Vitae onwards and for this, our ecclesiastical teachers carry the blame. Sadly, they seem to have tried to make the Church look “enlightened”, “intellectual” and “socially aware” to a world that has no place for Christ and His Church.

Can we really dismiss those who say it was not a window we opened at Vatican II but floodgates? The Church of Christ -the Barque of Peter- does seem to be on the verge of sinking in the west. Let us remember here that Our Lord did not say the gates of hell would not prevail in the UK, USA, France, Italy or Spain et al; He gave no geographical guarantees. We can only hope that the UN declaration wakes up the episcopate worldwide to the danger in which Peter’s Barque sails, so that the Bishops [1] set about educating children and adults in the ‘what and the why’ of the Faith and thereby prepare them to tackle governments and leaders who seek to override the Gospel, and [2] insist on a liturgical celebration that focuses on the adoration, thanksgiving, propitiating and petitioning of Almighty God, rather than on a feel-good factor for the people.

Note: That excellent team at the Friday Fax have begun a global Declaration in support of the Vatican having a seat at the UN table. Do go there and sign this important Declaration, and pray for the awakening of the Church and the enlightening of secular minds and hearts. Remember we are supporting every religious conscience and to some degree freedom of speech, so folk of every persuasion can sign this Declaration, be they Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Humanist etc. Go to: to sign this important Declaration. 

Tuesday 4 February 2014

The Fruits of Vatican II: We Cannot Go On As We Are

The universal call to holiness was Vatican II’s primary call; the Council’s aim being to increase holiness in the Church Militant and help all mankind to embrace the Gospel. To achieve these aims it sought to re-invigorate the liturgy and inspire the laity to mission. Let us look at these for a moment.

Sadly, it is possible to say that the liturgy has become a ground-bed of dissent in that norms are frequently disregarded, which demonstrates an alienation from the mind of the Church. Now if we can disregard norms coming to us from the mind of the Church designed to protect the celebration of “the source and summit of the entire Christian life”, then we can disregard anything. When we see the Communion plate omitted; when laity purify chalices; when celebrants leave the sanctuary to offer the Pax, we see the beginnings of dissent. Worse still is seeing dances and mimes not envisaged by the Missal used to “get the message across”. This is doubly problematic. In the first place it misunderstands the core purpose of the Eucharist, which is to give praise, thanksgiving, adoration, propitiation and supplication to Almighty God. It is also a damning indictment of the Missal itself, since if the Missal needs (or has to allow for) additions to get a message across, it is an inadequate, failing Missal.

Disregard for the norms of worship sets a precedent for (and all but allows for) disregard of Magisterial teaching. Thus the term ‘sensus fidelium’ is misused as a synonym for the heresy of receptionism, that heresy which says that if a teaching is not accepted (received) by the people it is wrong and the Magisterium must abandon it. The true ‘sense of the faithful’ refers to the understanding of the Faith by Catholics of all times in all places; if Catholics of any one time or place reject what has been held by the previous generations they are undoubtedly in error. Such folk are not expressing the ‘sense of the faith’ but advancing the ideology of their time.

Such a misuse of the sensus fidelium has brought many pastoral problems: Catholic couples contracepting vocations and the Church out of existence; others engaging in same-sex activity or pre-marital sex (not all the single parents out there are non-Catholic). God is waiting to pour out His mercy and strength on such souls as He is upon us; He calls to souls at every moment in order to heal and restore. We must do the same before the Gospel disappears from this land.

As for collaboration and the Apostolate of the Laity, these too have their problems: all-but morphing from ‘lay mission’ to the world into ‘lay ministry’ in the Sanctuary and office. When laity are predominantly formed (as they are today) to take up places on committees and in the sanctuary rather than for mission to the world, permeation of the local and wider society by the Gospel in evangelical outreach is not as it should be; it is not as it was when the Legion of Mary was in every parish knocking on doors and visiting the sick; not as it was when the SVP was in every parish supplying furniture and finances to those in need; not as it was when the Catholic Evidence Guild taught on our street corners.

When folk declare that good fruits have followed the Vatican II I think they are really saying, “I like the Church better with the changes”, since they are not saying and cannot say that the Church is growing as a result of the changes; cannot say that Christ is being brought to more souls. Indeed the opposite is true: souls are not finding Him (we have fewer conversions) and many are walking away from Him (we have massive lapsation). We hide the reality from ourselves by playing the same game as pro-abortionists -which is the game of re-clothing hard facts in inoffensive terminology: pro-aborts speak of “the products of conception” rather than babies; clergy speak of “resting Catholics” rather than “the lapsed”. Yet we fail God and souls by ignoring the reality of our situation.

Ecumenism too has produced its problems. Rather than seeking to be “peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd” (Lumen gentium 15), religious indifferentism has arisen: “We’re all the same now Father”. Well, all people are the same, but their religious systems are not. As Lumen gentium 8 says, “many elements of sanctification can be found outside the Catholic Church...these are gifts properly belonging to the Catholic Church and possess an inner dynamism toward Catholic unity.” Many no longer seek such Catholic unity.

Even the ‘preferential option for the poor’ cannot be claimed as a fruit of the Council, since the Church has always undertaken and promoted social justice. Haven’t the missions been feeding and educating the poorest of the poor for hundreds of years? Where did social services, hospitals and schools originate if not in Catholic monasteries? Indeed, Rerum Novarum is over 100 years old; Aid to the Church in Need began in the 1940’s and HCPT (The Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust as was) had its greatest growth period in the 1960’s (when the ‘bad old’ Traditional Mass was celebrated, for heaven’s sake!). No, the ‘preferential option for the poor’ and social justice are not new; they are not fruits of the Council.

Even our schools have developed problems. By taking in more and more non-Catholics so as to remain open, and by blindly following Government guidelines for sex education, our schools are all-but State schools today. The adage that “we get converts and parents returning to practice” is not strictly true either: we certainly get some conversions and returns, but they are few. Children still lapse at a rate of about 90%.

With this lapsation comes the lamentable reality that many young men have been lost from altar serving. They have been lost not only because they don’t like working alongside girls (which they don’t) or because they aren’t attracted to a role deemed suitable for girls (which they aren’t) but because they go to our senior schools and are mocked there even for coming to Mass. With such mockery in our Catholic schools, what hope is there for the Church’s future?

Collaboration of priests and people properly done is invaluable. The dedicated assistance of laity in visiting the increasing number of the elderly-housebound, and their like-to-like witness in catechising for Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage, is invaluable and often impressive -as is their assistance in day to day administration and their advising on financial dealings of the parish. But we are in danger of going off-track into a ‘power-sharing’ that runs contrary to the Divinely instituted hierarchical nature of the Church, especially when we talk of lay-led communities: there can be no authentic expression of the Body of Christ without its head. There is a need to recognise that difference of role does not mean inequality of persons or disempowerment of one group; it means persons of equal dignity undertaking equally important yet different responsibilities in the Lord’s vineyard.

The Council has the potential to be a great grace for the Church if it is implemented in a hermeneutic of continuity: we can have reverent liturgy; we can have good relations with those of other faiths; clergy and laity can collaborate more effectively. We cannot go on as we are; which is implementing Vatican II in a hermeneutic of discontinuity; we cannot go on erroneously and sometimes maliciously denouncing what went before so as to make today look good. With around 80% of Catholics lapsed today we should be desperately reviewing our strategies and bringing back what always worked: a way of worship that focuses on God; sound doctrinal and moral teaching in pulpits and schools, and promotion of the lay apostolate in society. If we don’t recover these now, the much-lamented closure of parishes will only accelerate as the elderly -who currently make up the majority of our congregations- leave the pews to enter eternity.

I join many who express sadness and concern at the lapsing, contracepting, dissenting Church of today. Pockets of devout liturgy, orthodox teaching and loyal obedience do exist; no Diocese is without its orthodox parishes or persons. But it is like examining the spark plugs of a car up close: they may be clean and intact, but when one steps back to see the whole car one sees the engine is mangled and the suspension gone. Repair –or Restoration Work- is surely needed.