Saturday 1 March 2014

Church rather poorly

Fr Gary Dickson at Collar and Tie has a thoughtful post on the Church being sick - and of, course, the remedy She must take to get better.

Some of his thoughts echo my own in my post from last Friday, such as this:
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.

Among other things, he focusses on the liturgy:
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.
Iv'e said before how we seem to have a collective blind spot about the condition of the Church. As Churches, seminaries, monasteries and convents close there is no sense of crisis about any of this. To use the sickness motif, it seems that we've accepted the Church is in terminal decline and can only now receive palliative care; make the patient comfortable and manage the decline.  

However, the Church cannot be a terminal case! She may be sick (and in various times and various parts has suffered and recovered from any number of serious maladies) but She remains sound at Her core. This is Our Lord's own promise. But then, part of the problem is that we have "educated" ourselves into not really believing that the Gospels contain any of the actual words of the historical Jesus (a strange phrase to coin for the purpose of generally undermining any actual historical validity, but that's an old trick of the Devil's). Along with this we've talked the miracles out of existence and teaching, dogma and liturgy have all undergone a similar relativistic dumbing down.  This leaves us with nothing substantial to offer, no unique selling point; a theology of nice that with all the staying power and charm of a gummy bear.

We are always told by the medical profession these days that a positive outlook is very important for the recovery of a sick patient. They must believe they can get better - and the evidence says that we don't believe that.  Part of the recovery must be the recovery of a sense of who we are and that what we have to offer is valuable - indeed necessary - to the world.  I have heard the Popes of my lifetime, each in their own way preach this wholesome remedy but while the person of the Pope has often been welcomed, his message has not been taken on board.  This goes for Pope Francis as much as for Pope Benedict and Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Let's give up the gummy bears for Lent (and forever) and start taking some real medicine.

Pope John Paul II:  

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

Pope Benedict:

“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”

Pope Francis:

In many places, the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideologies which has come about as a reaction to any-thing which might appear totalitarian. This not only harms the Church but the fabric of society as a whole. We should recognize how in a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions.


Dorothy B said...

Thank you for this, Father.

If grey areas exist, I think there are far fewer than we are sometimes led to believe. The picture you have chosen is a good example of varied shades of grey being achieved by a greater or lesser density of black hatching on white paper. Another way of producing this effect could be seen in old newspaper photographs, which were composed of black dots on a white ground. The more closely one examined it, the more one could distinguish between black and white.

I’d like to think that a way might be found through more than a few moral dilemmas, by looking at the situation in depth and in detail. Looked at more closely, there could be a way through; and at least it would become clearer whether there were any black lines or spots which could not be ignored or set aside.

GOR said...

Father the comment about the medical profession’s mantra of a ‘positive attitude’ being necessary for recovery hit home with me.

Many years ago my father was diagnosed with cancer and after a number of interventions was not expected to recover. I was here in the US at the time and came home quickly once informed. He was in the hospital at the time and after visiting him I found his doctor and asked how long he had. The doctor said “about three months”. I asked if he had told him that and he gave me a look of horror, saying: “No. If told, they sometimes go downhill quickly…”

I had a different perspective. The man needed to know and have an opportunity to prepare himself and take care of any outstanding matters in the interim. So I told him. I felt that if it were me, I would want my son to tell me also. We took him home and he spent his last three months at home, visited by his friends and former co-workers. Knowing the Irish penchant for downplaying things, I informed all of them that he knew his situation and not to raise false hopes, but just be supportive – and they were.

It would not be a bad ending for any of us.