Tuesday 26 July 2016

Spiritual Battle Fatigue

Few are likely to deny that getting doctrine and liturgy right is of vital importance; there can be no good pastoral care if souls are not directed in the Truth (Christ) and worship Him appropriately. But fighting doctrinal error and liturgical anarchy can cause us to lose our inner peace -and risk us losing our faith when we are presented with erroneous teaching and illicit liturgies from pillar to post. We begin not only to wonder if God cares, but if He is there at all.

This risk of losing one’s faith in those who fight for correct Doctrine and authentic liturgy is what the young people I mentioned in a previous post were expressing: they asked how they can trust a Church that does not stay faithful to Divine Revelation or believe in a God who cannot protect what He has revealed. Those young people -and many other folk- are suffering from battle-fatigue. The danger for those of us engaged in the battle for orthodox teaching and authentic liturgy is not simply this fatigue, but that of our energy being directed at ecclesial problems rather than our relationship with Christ.

To be sure, those who applaud fluidity of doctrine and liturgical innovation have their own danger to avoid: they are wandering from the Truth which is Christ and from worship appropriate to His Divine Revelation; their personal relationship with Christ who is Truth is being damaged and hindered by their loss of True doctrine.

There is a need for all of us to seek what Josemaria Escriva and Vatican II promoted: the universal call to holiness. If we can focus on developing our own personal holiness through grace, the world will see a different Church; not one torn apart by doctrinal difficulties or lacking a stable universal worship. The sign of a holy Church will be attractive. Certainly the holiness of the Church comes from its indwelling by the Holy Spirit, but that holiness cannot be displayed unless we seek to cooperate with His grace for holiness of life. 

Does that mean we ignore doctrinal and liturgical irregularities? I do not think so; I think it means we find a peaceful way to deal with them, and not let them dominate our spiritual lives. We can, for example, still peaceably challenge to those who teach error and engage in liturgical anarchy: we state the Truth, knowing that God is in charge, not us. Saint Padre Pio said we ‘You must hate your defects but with a quiet hate, not troublesome and restless’; that we are not to ‘worry over things that generate preoccupation, derangement and anxiety. One thing only is necessary: to lift up your spirit and love God’. Perhaps we can restate this in a way appropriate to our ecclesial struggles: ‘We must hate the defects but with a quiet hate, not troublesome and restless’; ‘only one thing is necessary: to lift up our heart and love God’. So let us seek holiness of life by prayer and charity, and retain our peace in a quiet heart by gentle, Truth-filled challenge of things and folk which have gone awry.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Schonborn for the CDF?

It is being suggested that Cardinal Schonborn is to take over the CDF (see here). I cannot feel comfortable with that, for although Cardinal Schonborn took part in the drawing up of the Catechism, he appears to display more of a loyalty to the person of the Pope rather than the Papacy itself (and its duty to defend Doctrine). I say this because Cardinal Schonborn was loyal to the Catechism when St. John-Paul II and Benedict XVI occupied the See of Peter, but appears to have become pro-homosexual under Pope Francis. We do not want someone who blows with the wind of whoever occupies the See of Peter, but someone who recognises that the role of the CDF -and of the Pope- is to protect the Deposit of Faith committed to the Church by Our Lord, not alter it, and that Deposit is under threat from many today.

We need only look to see that even some of our Bishops and priests have supported the (actually impossible) civil ‘union’ of homosexual persons in recent years to detect the threats to the Faith. I do not so much fear the Popes, Bishops and priests who abandon their role of defending The Faith; rather, I fear for the souls of such Popes, Bishops and priests -and the souls of their sheep. The Church is being persecuted by secular society for holding to her Doctrinal Deposit (it is now very difficult to wear a crucifix at work without risking dismissal; difficult to refuse to register a civil union etc), and we need solid shepherds to guide us. Sadly, the Church is not replete with such shepherds.

Sadly, for many of today’s shepherds, pastoral care means ignoring the Truth and refusing to apply the Truth so that offence is not given and emotions are not hurt. In the process, however, they are not simply hurting souls, but killing souls -and if they cannot see that then they have lost the faith, swapping it for belief in a Triune God to whom Truth means nothing, and who came to earth to conquer social sin while ignoring personal (individual sin). In this they can be seen to have lost all belief in a personal God (who is not interested in individual persons but societies) and as such, they cannot lead the people into a personal relationship with God. 

We need to pray for our shepherds; we need to pray that they will love Truth and have the courage to proclaim it in the face of a hostile world (Jn.15v18; 17v14). It is not enough that their hearts are good and in the right place; they also have to love and promote Truth -Who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13v8).

Saturday 16 July 2016

A Week of Priesthood

During the past week I had the privilege of being at the Solemn High Mass of a newly ordained priest, Fr James Mawdsley. Speaking to him after Mass I advised him,

 “You were not led blindfolded and handcuffed to the sanctuary as into a Burmese prison*, rather your hands have been tied together in prayer and in Christ. Never get used to being a priest; we can get so caught up with the busyness of parish life, and we celebrate Mass so frequently (daily) that it can become routine: never lose the wonder that fills the soul on the day of ordination and the celebration of your first Mass”. I hope Father never gets used to being a priest. I hope that what happens when we celebrate our First Mass is repeated at every Mass we celebrate: that we (hopefully) catch ourselves thinking, “This is God in my hands…who am I that the Lord should descend from heaven at my word to offer Himself to the Father on my/our behalf?”

It was a glorious evening, and Father preached a superb homily. I hope I am faithful to the content and thrust of Father’s sermon when I say that he reminded us that the Church is currently embattled by storms from within and without; that we should never forget the Pope is Successor to Saint Peter, but that even Peter can lose faith and sink into the water rather than walk upon it. He reminded us that we must pray very much for the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and for the Church, amid the storms of today. He reminded us that secular forces are lined-up against the Church and the Gospel, and that these forces must be fought. He reminded us that Islam, which describes itself as a religion of peace, harbours fundamentalism which engages in terrorism, and that such forces must also be resisted. All of this is done only in the faith of Christ (who alone is the Way, the Truth, the Life -and our lasting peace, one might add). After Mass I observed a discussion between a lady and a young layman; they were debating Father having singled out the Muslim Faith for comment. Had the young man not been doing so well I might have interjected that there is a single religion wherein fundamentalists are beheading Christians on beaches, putting bombs on undergrounds and flying planes into buildings; the Muslim Faith, so it was right to single it out. It would have been unjust for Father to add Buddhists, Jews, Hindu's or any other faith to the list of forces to be resisted.

Today I attended Mass in thanksgiving for a priest’s 60 years of priesthood; this is the priest who instructed me in The Faith and handed on a great love for the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy sacrifice of the Mass (though he did not at all approve of the Traditional Rite); this is the priest who vested me at my ordination, and whom I thus regard as my father in the faith. He is poorly these days, but his love for the Lord, the Eucharist and the people of God still shines out of him. I remember spending six months with him while completing a course of study, and going into a dark Church one winter morning at 5am to discover he was already there, prostrate before the tabernacle. He once told me he offered his recitation of the Divine Office every day for priests who do not pray.

I have no doubt that all our priests are sincere men with the good of the people at heart, but I do wonder if they have lost the sense of the priesthood: the Novus Ordo is so often offered in a perfunctory manner as though it were nothing more than a celebration and affirmation of the community (hence the recent anger at the suggestion we face the apse for the celebration of Mass, since it is not people-focused). Meanwhile, Confession has become counselling, while preaching has become an exhortation to social work. All of this makes today’s Catholics feel good about themselves in that [1] the Mass is now about affirming them, rather than a propitiation for their sins; [2] their rightful feelings of guilt are removed by their reconciliation therapy rather than the real guilt of sin removed by Confession with repentance and absolution; [3] they can forget about personal sin and focus instead upon social sin (social injustice). How far we have gone in the last 60 years from the worship of God and the salvation of souls.

Until we regain the wonder of the priesthood that I advised Father Mawdsley not to lose; until we again put God at the centre of the Mass, and until we once again guide people to personal holiness by confession, repentance, absolution and amendment of life, we will not save many souls. It all hangs on whether or not the priest comprehends the sacrality of his office and the beauty of the ministry he performs in the Person of Christ. This week’s celebrations have reminded me yet again of the wonder of the ministry to which God called me, and which is nicely captured in the following famous poem by an unknown author:

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life's early morning,
we need them again at its close;
we feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
we seek them when tasting life's woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
and the hands of a king on his throne
are not equal to them in their greatness:
their dignity stands all alone.
And when we are tempted and wander
to pathways of shame and of sin,
it's the hand of a priest will absolve us
--not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life's partner,
other hands may prepare us a feast,
but the hand that will bless and unite us
is the beautiful hand of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy
for the Host which their fingers caress;
what can a poor sinner do better
than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us
may our courage and strength be increased
by seeing raised o’er us in pardon
 the beautiful hands of a priest!

*Read Father's story in his Book, "The Heart must break".

Monday 4 July 2016

A Bull In A China Shop

I have always felt rather unwelcome by the liberal elite in the parishes, and irritating to the many of the clergy: I was a maverick simply by being loyal to the Catechism, the Code and liturgical rubrics (it is not so much strange but disturbing that by conforming one becomes a non-conformist). I did perhaps go about my ministry like the proverbial ‘Bull in a China Shop’ in that I simply discussed the norms at the RCIA, preached on the use of Latin, ad-orientem, etc., at Mass, placed notices in the Bulletin giving references for such things, and dates when such things would become part of our liturgy. In my naivety I presumed such education would disable prejudice against such things, but it did not: it created hostility in a few parishioners because “no one else is doing this –why should we? You’re taking us backwards.” I went ahead anyway, and in that sense was like the proverbial 'Bull in a China Shop': I perhaps dragged the few hostiles along rather than took them along, yet I was simply trying to ensure liturgy was solemn and reverent so as to inspire the folk with a reverence for God; to ensure the Catechism was preached in line with Tradition so the folk would know The Truth and thereby avoid capture by the Father of Lies, and ensure I was always available to folk in crisis situations.

We had a chance to get the whole Church back on track doctrinally and liturgically in 2013 when Francis was elected, since John-Paul II had clarified Doctrine by promulgating the post-Vatican II Catechism (after world-wide consultation of the Bishops) and set stabilisers for the liturgy via the CDF/CDW in Redemptionis Sacramentum. Francis, sadly, is undermining all of this. He too has become a ‘bull in a china shop’.

Sadly, two young people spoke to me recently about very nearly giving up The Faith: “How can I believe in a Church that undermines its doctrine at the very highest levels and takes no care to offer a liturgy that evokes adoration of God?” I could only tell them that we have a Pope and with a good heart but perhaps an imprudent way of speaking off-the-cuff. I also reminded them that he has not officially imposed any new teaching that would make him heretical (an Apostolic Exhortation such as Amoris Laetitia is not a teaching document), nor has he damaged liturgy in any way that would render it invalid. I added that perhaps the problem is the secular mainstream media, which has no idea that the Pope is not a CEO who can change doctrine or impose incongruent practices at will, but simply a caretaker with the job of defending the Deposit of Faith. The MSM take and run with his off-the-cuff remarks as though they were now the direction of the Church. Sadly, the problem this creates is compounded by uninformed and by liberal Catholics (lay and ordained) also seeing Francis’s remarks as a new direction for the Church. They aren’t, and cannot be: he is simply the supreme Defender of the Deposit of Faith.

Finally, I suggested to the two young people that we are simply in a period of instability comparable to the Arian Crisis, and the best thing we can do is to stay in the Barque of Peter to help stabilise her, not jump overboard where we can do nothing to prevent her sinking. Times like today really test our faith at a human level, but our Faith must be deeper than that; we must hang on even when all seems lost: today is not the end of the Church; crucifixion is not the end of the story. Resurrection to new life is just down the road…perhaps we should all hang on to the reality of the Resurrection.