Sunday 27 July 2014

Christian Persecution in Mosul –and beyond

On this day when the Catholic Church in England & Wales is celebrating the Day for Life and preaching (I hope) against the culture of death (contraception, abortion, euthanasia and non-procreative sex acts between same-sex attracted persons) we have to widen our minds and hearts to think also of the crisis in Iraq. 

The situation in Mosul is a reminder to all of us who call ourselves Christian to pray fervently for the protection, strengthening, courage and peace of the persecuted, and for the opening of hearts and minds of the persecutors to true peace and human dignity. May God be with the persecuted and the persecutors, and with all those workers who are seeking to help the persecuted in their plight.

Rorate has posted the call of twenty French civic figures calling upon its government to act (here). These are to be applauded, and the speech by brave Congressman Frank Wolf (here). One wonders why Western Governments are not already active in protecting persecuted Christians in the very cradle of Christianity... One person has suggested to me that it is because Christians rank very low on the concern of today’s post-Christian societies who see Christians as bothersome folk who raise their voices in criticism of contemporary morality, but  I doubt that is the reason for the deafening silence of the West. It would make Western Governments complicit with what is increasingly becoming genocide in Iraq. It is more likely that they are afraid of radical Muslims and do not want to court another 9/11 or 7/7...or are simply afraid of getting back into a civil situation (possibly one created by their removal of Saddam Hussein from power which left a power vacuum). But they cannot correct one error (if that is how it is seen) with another. 

Those of us who can pray and who can raise our voice surely ought to do so -and we ought to give generously to the support of those aid workers who take their lives in their hands in order to provide relief for those who are persecuted.  Meanwhile, those in Government who can act, ought to do so.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Youth Ministry -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’.