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.