When Cardinal Hume died, it was generally observed, in obituaries and other assessments of his achievements, that he had “normalised” Catholicism, removed the lingering hostility towards the Church still felt at the beginning of his time in Westminster. The Queen spoke of him approvingly as “my cardinal”. All seemed peaceful and unthreatening; we had finally settled in.
Some of us were not so sure; I, for one, felt that this “normalised” Catholicism had become acceptable because we were now thought to be harmless. I was not sure that this was such a good thing. It would be healthy, I thought, to have to face a little opposition: at least it would mean that we were taken seriously.
One should always, the old saw goes, be careful what one wishes for; for one’s wish might be granted. What we were experiencing was the lull before the storm. The present wave of hostility directed towards the Pope and the Church may be utterly unreasonable; but its basis is a rejection of everything we stand for: and it is a rejection from which our culture had never really withdrawn.
It may all be unpleasant, even distressing; but difficult though it may be to realise it now, this present hostility is to be welcomed: it means that we are beginning once more to count for something.
The atheists’ utter loathing, all the same, is at times a little frightening in its sheer vicious irrationality. These people are in the grip of a barely restrained hysteria. Take the current issue of the New Humanist, subtitle: “Ideas for godless people”; this issue gives a good idea of what it must be like being godless, and at least it makes you grateful not to be godless yourself. “If you were invited to address Benedict XVI during his UK visit,” the New Humanist introduces its special issue, “what would you say to him? Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, Claire Rayner, Ben Goldacre and many more take part in our Pope quiz.”
Claire Rayner’s offering gives a good idea of the tone and the rational level at which these contributions are conducted: “I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.” (What that means is not explained).
This is all horrible for anyone who regards Pope Benedict with the admiration and love most Catholics feel for him; and I find myself almost wishing that the decision had been taken to beatify Cardinal Newman in St Peter’s Square and not a muddy field, and for the Pope to be spared this dreadful business of a state visit.
But things are as they should be. As I remarked in my last post, nobody said that being a Catholic was easy. And when the Church is being faithful to her mission, this is how the world will regard her. Oh, and this has nothing whatever to do with child abuse; our enemies know that the evidence is that we are no worse than representative of society as a whole (shameful enough though that is) – see my previous post.
When things get rough, as they will, first say a quick prayer for the Holy Father, then say to yourself the magic words “Luke 6: 22”; or, if you have time, the whole verse: “Blessed are you, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.” You might add (verse 26): “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
That’s the deal. Get used to it.