Thursday 28 April 2011

On actually being a Catholic

One of the things my parishioners will tell you I'm always going on about is that we have the Faith, we attend Mass but our commitment, our vigour, our joy seems lacking. We live in the household but we are not doing much to contribute to it. Free-loaders in the Faith, if you like.

Perhaps particularly where the focus of the Mass is on keeping the children entertained or making sure everyone has had a good socially interactive experience, we might get a full church but very little prayer, personal communication with the Lord, gets done. In other words, it is possible for people to come to Mass, go through the motions and leave without actually praying at all. When friends tell me of people talking all the way through Mass (including during the consecration) to one another and to their children I think this is possible. Of course, this could happen at any Mass anywhere at any time in history but I think the atmosphere in many of our churches actually fosters this. What a triumph for Satan (an A* for Wormwood from Screwtape) to get people into the church building, thinking they are people of Faith but for no actual communication with the Lord to take place.

The Lord is present but we don't actually acknowledge Him. How often do people come away from Mass aware that it has spoken, proclaimed and presented the person of Jesus Christ, salvific, awesome - an invitation to eternal life or eternal death? That it is a serious undertaking and not just a party.

Sadly, I think this applies to many of our Catholic schools as well. "Catholic" is written up on the outside but the vast majority of those within, children, their parents and teachers are not Catholic in any meaningful sense. Academic results are good, manners are polite but there's no discernible difference between a Catholic school and any other decent school. The radical difference that is the Faith is not present.

Incidentally, I think that this having some outward trappings of the Faith but no prayer going on is also a danger in the vast outdoor Masses sometimes seen in Rome and other places, where a picnic atmosphere prevails and it seems impossible for the Blessed Sacrament to be received with reverence. Perhaps if we insist on having such Masses, Holy Communion should not be distributed so widely and indiscriminately.

I was reminded of all this by some of the Holy Father's words during Holy Week.

At the Chrism Mass:

Let us allow these holy oils, which are consecrated at this time, to remind us of the task that is implicit in the word “Christian”, let us pray that, increasingly, we may not only be called Christian but may actually be such.

If our relationship with God is disturbed, if the fundamental orientation of our being is awry, we cannot truly be healed in body and soul.

Have not we – the people of God – become to a large extent a people of unbelief and distance from God? Is it perhaps the case that the West, the heartlands of Christianity, are tired of their faith, bored by their history and culture, and no longer wish to know faith in Jesus Christ? We have reason to cry out at this time to God: “Do not allow us to become a ‘non-people’! Make us recognize you again! Truly, you have anointed us with your love, you have poured out your Holy Spirit upon us. Grant that the power of your Spirit may become newly effective in us, so that we may bear joyful witness to your message!

I turn finally to you, dear brothers in the priestly ministry. Holy Thursday is in a special way our day. At the hour of the last Supper, the Lord instituted the new Testament priesthood. “Sanctify them in the truth” (Jn 17:17), he prayed to the Father, for the Apostles and for priests of all times.

At Mass of the Lords Supper:

Jesus desires us, he awaits us. But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy about other things? From Jesus’ banquet parables we realize that he knows all about empty places at table, invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness. For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment – they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere. In one of his homilies Saint Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith which opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love.

Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out.

Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead.

Today we are once more painfully aware that Satan has been permitted to sift the disciples before the whole world. And we know that Jesus prays for the faith of Peter and his successors. We know that Peter, who walks towards the Lord upon the stormy waters of history and is in danger of sinking, is sustained ever anew by the Lord’s hand and guided over the waves.
Holy Week Wednesday Audience:
Jesus said to his followers: stay here and keep watch; and this appeal for vigilance concerns precisely this moment of anguish, of threats, in which the traitor was to arrive, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for every era because the disciples’ drowsiness was not just a problem at that moment but is a problem for the whole of history.

The question is: in what does this apathy consist? What would the watchfulness to which the Lord invites us consist of? I would say that the disciples’ somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitiveness of the soul with regard to the power of evil, an insensibility to all the evil in the world. We do not wish to be unduly disturbed by these things, we prefer to forget them. We think that perhaps, after all, it will not be so serious and we forget.

Moreover, it is not only insensibility to evil, when we should be watchful in order to do good, to fight for the force of goodness. Rather it is an insensibility to God: this is our true sleepiness, this insensibility to God’s presence that also makes us insensible to evil. We are not aware of God — he would disturb us — hence we are naturally not aware of the force of evil and continue on the path of our own convenience.

Nocturnal adoration of Holy Thursday, watching with the Lord, must be the very moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of the defenders of Jesus, of the Apostles, of us who do not see, who do not wish to see the whole force of evil nor do we wish to enter his passion for goodness, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of our neighbour and of God.

Michael Voris has also picked up on this theme and speaks about it here.


Richard Collins said...

Great post father. Thank you.

GOR said...

The lack of appreciation for the Real Presence comes, I believe, from a general lack of reliance upon, or acknowledgement of, God’s presence in our lives. We have become so self sufficient in much of our lives that we don’t see the need for God or even His relevance. Especially here in the US we feel that we can do anything – anything is possible if we just had a little more financial investment to bring it about.

There is little talk about God having any part in this. It is OUR doing – human ingenuity at its best. We can’t abide failure. There must have been a reason for it. Someone didn’t do his job or use the right process and we will get our pound of flesh out of him in the courts.

Then we have a tornado, a Katrina, a Tsunami, a Chernobyl or a Fukushima and all of a sudden we realize that we can’t allow for everything. But still we don’t get the message. Immediately we look for someone to blame. What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Who can we sue?

Growing up in Ireland 50+ years ago it wasn’t that way. We didn’t have much and we didn’t take anything for granted. Events in the future were prefaced by: “God willing”. Misfortunes were accepted with: “God’s will be done”. Deaths, whether sudden or expected, were answered with a murmur of: “Lord have mercy on him/her”.

In the movie “Dirty Harry” Clint Eastwood famously said: “A man’s got to know his limitations”. We have forgotten our limitations and need to be reminded of them again. Or, as Our Lord put it: “Without Me you can do nothing”.

Jacobi said...

Fr, your comment on receiving the Blessed Sacrament with reverence strikes a note. With many congregations, particularly close knit parishes, the Mass as a re-enactment of the Sacrifice of Calvary is now lost. It has been replaced by an obsession not only to attend Communion, but, more importantly, to be seen to be attending.
And that includes those who have not seen the inside of a confessional in ages or, even reject the Sacrament of Confession. Pius X must be turning in his grave.

I sometimes feel tempted to cut back my own reception to say once a month. That would cause not only much speculation, but also obstruction and I suppose I would then be guilty of public exihibionism and maybe have to go to Confession?

The answer lies with you priests. Two or even three generations of Catholics are no longer capable of educting children in the Faith, and the schools still do not do it.

It is high time priests started once again to teach clearly and openly Catholic Faith and doctrine from the pulpit or lectern or whatever.

You may have a few who will get up and walk out but then you are going to lose them anyway.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading The Holy Father's words. They give me strength to carry on. Thanks for putting this together, Father.