For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Patience and Purpose

Whatever people at the top might say or emphasise or try to commend, without the like will in the masses there is inertia. A lot of people were rightly excited, from 2005 onwards, about the hermeneutic of continuity, Summorum Pontificium, etc. The Rorate Caeli writers, to whom I have a permanent link on the right hand side in my "Sites to Follow" list, were never quite carried away, and one of them made a very astute remark recently. Papa Bergoglio is the first of the Popes to have received formation in the post-conciliar Church: John Paul II and Benedict XVI were formed and shaped before the Council. In other words, if conservatively-minded people think that the abuses and muddle associated with Vatican II have played themselves out because that generation are slowly being displaced, then this is not the case. Prelates now in their fifties and sixties, many of them not known to be "continuity" supporters, are going to be in charge for the next two decades, and in charge of a bunch the majority of whom aren't that bothered about theology and councils at all. Remember that the resistance to Vatican II as "rupture" didn't really get underway until the 90s, and then consider that the many of the fruits of that renewal will not begin to appear until a full generation later.

My point is this: that the current climate that the conservative folks are observing is not a blip. It is the forecast of the likely weather conditions for 20 years, I would imagine.

My thoughts on what would be good in the meantime. They aren't very original, nor are they easy, nor have I started very well on this recommended path. Some of this is a mental note to myself. Some of this, you will see - like house groups - is subversive in the sense that I think the kind of strategy associated with e.g. pentecostal Christianity should be put to use.

1) Cultivate a personal love for Jesus through daily prayer and lectio divina, and look to the mystics of the Church for what an authentic relationship with Him looks like. I think that if discernment is needed for the times ahead, if dogmatic theology doesn't give one an automatic cut-and-dried answer to every situation, then the authenticity of a life lived close to Christ's will shine through and give that discernment.

2) Get on with providing homes for pregnant mothers about to abort their children for want of concrete help; find out who is choosing between heating and food and give them a hand; don't leave the old and the poor to the impersonal bureaucracy of the welfare state. Give alms and aim for Benedictine simplicity as much as possible.

3) Catechise, and through every means possible, but especially stories - the Bible and the saints. There aren't good, affordable, beautiful books for children about the Life of Christ, or the stories of the Old Testament, or the lives of the saints. Teach the Psalms. And there is a wonderful thing called Sunday School - half an hour per week, for every child, every Sunday, not just coming up to the sacraments. Don't leave it up to someone who will talk about compassion and love etc. The child needs clear, bright, rapier sharp examples in its memory of what holy love and compassion look like. And if possible start schools, proper ones.

4) Make things: books, art, music, even if it isn't top class. Somebody will produce something that is real art, from an imagination formed by the above in (3). If possible, build.

5) Form house groups for the Daily Office and devotion. Not everyone can get to the parish church everyday, but if every Christian and their neighbours met regularly for prayer in their own homes it would fortify their faith and sanctify the home as a house of prayer.

6) Know history, know philosophy, and know the history of liturgy, of the Orthodox East, of the pre-conciliar rites, of the popular devotions now forgotten, of the Church Fathers and the Middle Ages, and the theology of the modern era from 1500 onwards. A lot of claims may be made: one needs to be saturated in the context of what has always been believed, and how it has always been believed. That will carry weight eventually, although probably not to people who are bent on fuzziness.

7) This needs clarification: avoid the clergy, and don't tell them what you are doing. What I mean is, that there is no point in waiting for, or asking, an overworked curate to give a hand with any of these projects. And if you do ask if you can use the parish hall for catechesis, and a reason is invented for why you shouldn't, then use your living room instead.

8) Stop talking and thinking (but not writing, and discussing in the right place) about sexuality, and whether people look gay or not, and resolutely cut out all speculating and gossiping. Put such thoughts and questions utterly away, and meet each person as they come in the spirit of St Patrick's Breastplate, as innocent as a four-year-old. People are desperately needed in the world, for whom all that does not matter - in the sense of it being a lens through which everyone is seen. It is no one's business but one's own how one feels, and a very, very few other people's, and part of the problem with the  need for an immediate "solution" to the problem in the Church is that we are all talking shamelessly, endlessly, without decorum, about things that should be worked through in discreet pastoral care on an individual basis. People, whether they realise or not, need space and privacy here, and not to parade around - willingly or unwillingly - on public display in a big cage marked "LGBT" or whatever the latest acronym is.

9) Wherever possible, make the liturgy a thing of beauty, but with simplicity. There is no reason why the thing can't be done well, but with graceful though simple and austere vestments and vessels, and lowliness of manner. Gorgeousness isn't needed.

10) Enjoy building a civic life out of Christian custom, enjoy the fish and the fasts and the ember days, enjoy the soul cakes and the things festival, as things which give relish and pull the life of God's creation into the yearly round of the liturgy.

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