It has long been my practice on Ash Wednesday to preach about making Lent a time of real change. For too many of us Catholics Lent has become what is has for secular folk: giving something up for Lent only to take it up again afterwards. It’s like bracing ourselves for six weeks than letting go. The aim of spiritual renewal has gone for too many Catholics. Have we not all heard folk say “I’m trying to be good for Lent”? That is not a bad aim, but it is woefully inadequate and a wrong use of the sacred season. I have preached that when we get to the end of Lent we should have new habits: more patience, more prayer, more charity; less gossip, less greed, less selfishness. We should be changed people at the end of Lent, and that change should be a lasting change, otherwise we have had a bad Lent. Sadly, that change rarely comes about. I have never hidden the fact that I aim to get to the end of Lent more patient, more generous, more humble, more prayerful, more affirming of folk and more careful with my tongue: it is all too easy to sit with a group of people -even fellow priests- and complain about one’s Bishop, or the Pope, or the belligerent parishioner. We call it “sounding off in a safe place”, but that is nothing more than a justification of and a re-labelling of the sin of detraction. Since this is a sin into which I have fallen, I have had to find ways to avoid it and correct myself. Thus I give penitents the advice that if they are in a conversation where detraction is taking place to simply say “Well I can’t say anything because I have my own faults”, which might prick the conscience of those in conversation with us. And when we have had the misfortune to fall into detraction with the crowd we should quickly find something for which we can affirm the person whose reputation we have just damaged, so that some kind of reparation can be made.
Priests can often become victims of calumny and detraction from their parishioners (and sometimes brother priests) whose theological positions they do not share. Meanwhile the bishops and the Pope can be victims of calumny and detraction from the priests (and some laity). Today I am not only thinking about encouraging the laity to grow in virtue, but about the kind of Lent we need from our Pope and Bishops who all too easily harm the reputation of Traditional priests whose theological positions they are irritated by. So it seems to me the kind of Lent we need from the Bishops comes down to one thing: a return to upholding the doctrine of The Faith rather than espousing the ‘values’ of the world, and the celebration of liturgy that puts God at the centre rather than the affirming and the uplifting of the people.
I have watched some videos on YouTube recently that show how very disturbed many Catholics are and what little hope many have of the Church getting out of her current crisis of faith. Why? Because they see Pope Francis as a abandoning Tradition with Amoris Laetitia, abandoning the Divine Command to teach and baptise all nations and as having stacked the College of Cardinal-Electors with men of his own ilk; men who are
willing to support Holy Communion for those in the adulterous situation of civil ‘remarriage’ after divorce;
willing to allow the recent summit on sex abuse to be used only as a (necessary) means of tackling the failures of presbyter-priests when in fact it was homosexual predation of seminarians and young priests by an Episcopal-priest (a cardinal) that brought abuse back into the headlines;
willing to say that all religions are willed by God and that anyone can be saved as long as they are following their paganism sincerely;
willing to promote liturgy that affirms the folk and seeks to give them emotional uplift rather than give praise, adoration and propitiation (appeasement) for sin to Almighty God).
It occurred to me that a number of cardinals and Bishops created by Francis may now be questioning their own Catholicism; that they may well be asking themselves: “Am I only a Bishop/Cardinal because I have been judged far enough away from the Deposit of Faith to carry on the legacy of discontinuity with our sacred history? Do I really want to meet God as a man removed from the Gospel of Christ and distanced from the Apostolic Deposit of Faith God called me to defend and promote?” Similarly, priests might be asking if they were advanced to ordination by their Bishop because they were seen as men sufficiently distanced from the Deposit of Faith. If cardinals, Bishops and priests are asking such questions, then Lent is a great opportunity for change and re-conversion.
These are not easy days for anyone in the Church. All of us need to be changed people at the end of it. Whether Pope, bishop, priest or layman, we all need to grow in virtue by trying during this Lent to eradicate our faults and build their opposite virtues.
We also need to recommit ourselves to the Deposit of The Faith as defined by the Council of Trent. Why Trent? Because Trent defined The Faith without ambiguity when it was under attack at the Protestant Revolt, and therefore the Council in light of which we must read the decrees of Vatican II so as to discern the continuity and discontinuity with The Faith contained therein, so as to abide by the continuity and discard the discontinuity. If today’s crisis has any cause -other than the wickedness of the devil which is at the core of all sin and division- it is that for the past 50 years the Church has read and implemented Vatican II the wrong way round: promoting the discontinuity and abandoning the continuity contained therein so as to garner favour from the contemporary age.
Lord, help us all, especially those who govern and who are people of influence, to desire Truth; seek Truth, love Truth and live Truth -so that virtue may grow and charity abound. Per Christum Dominum Nostrum. Amen.