Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers

I am reading a life of JRR Tolkien at the moment - Joseph Pearce's "Tolkien: Man and Myth". I came  across an excerpt from a letter written to his son Michael (who later became a poet and academic and who died in 1984) on 1st November 1963. It struck me as sensible and holy advice for our times as well.

You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however, that is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat... The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.
If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalized heirs not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.
It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him – so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am’ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: ‘He that he eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least a right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

1 comment:

Gregory Murphy said...


Unfortunately, I’ve had occasion to have this type of conversation far too many times of late. Exercising charity, certainly in the first instance, anyway, I’ve found a pretty effective way of quieting the din is to inform the would-be lapser that “it’s actually not about you, it’s about Christ.” Said forcefully but gently enough, it buys time to at least get a few words in (whilst their head is spinning) but you’ve to be quick with the follow-up. “Christ is scrambling on the floor, amidst the dirt and His own blood under the sheer weight of all these clerical sins – and ours – as He approaches Calvary and needs our support to help Him with the Cross that He’s prepared to bear on our behalf. So what are you gonna do? Keep your foot on His prone head? Or flee the scene? Or help Him up? Are you surprised that Christ gets betrayed by priestly weakness? It’s been the case since almost the moment that He handed the Keys to St Peter – and then branded him Satan in pretty much the next breath.”

I’ve yet to encounter any contra-response to that beyond a grunt. If met with a grunt, then a second counter is just as effective. “What would you do if someone was disrespecting or scandalising your own mother? Would you come to her aid or depart the scene like a coward? If you would defend your own mother then why wouldn’t you do the same for Holy Mother Church and at least stick around to pray for priests in combat against Satan?” Thereafter, I leave them to it. Very little time for them, frankly.

I’ll admit to probably having less patience than I should. Also to being selective, whether I’m dealing with a woman or a man. If the former, then I still hold to quaint notions of the fairer sex and all that; also an appreciation, especially if they’re elderly females, that they surely feel the scandal more deeply and maternally than any male would or should (but I’m not getting into that one here) and so persist with a degree more charity than for a man. But, frankly, I’ve had it up to here with grown “Catholic” blokes whingeing about the abuse crisis and then using it as an excuse to quit the Church (probably the same tambourine-shaking petals that support a woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage; the whole plastic menu of false compassion and they can’t even begin to see the irony of their own untenable position). No, it’s men with a bit of stomach that the Church needs as we continue through this mess. Any flakey fellas frankly need to take a long, hard look at a Crucifix the next time they see one (hint, it won’t be on a Novus Ordo altar) and wonder just why they ever imagined this Catholic thing would be easy.

Thanks for this, Father.