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The Holy Father calls for a faith stripped of worldly habits

Much of the 1950s, Home Counties Church that I grew up in had become a matter of mere convention

By on Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the meeting with representatives of Catholic associations in Freiburg (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI arrives at the meeting with representatives of Catholic associations in Freiburg (Photo: CNS)

It’s hard to keep up with all the inspiring speeches of the Holy Father – but one, during his recent trip to Germany, stood out for me: it was delivered to the representatives of Catholic associations in Freiburg at 5pm on Sunday September 25, and was later given the title “It is time for the Church to set aside her worldliness” by the Vatican Information Service, where I came across it.

The Pope began by saying: “For some decades now we have been experiencing a decline in religious practice and we have been seeing substantial numbers of the baptised drifting away from Church life.” Emphasising that “we are all the Church”, the Holy Father went on to say that “every Christian and the community of the faithful are constantly called to change”. Reminding his audience that the “basic motive for change” must be “the apostolic mission of the disciples and the Church herself”, the Holy Father pointed to three aspects of this “mission”: bearing witness, making disciples and proclaiming the Gospel.
He also reminded his listeners that the Church must be detached from worldly considerations in order to be more truly Christian: living the faith fully means “stripping away from it anything that may seem to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit”.

It’s well worth reading the whole rather than this short digest. I draw attention to it because it ties in with my last blog on the subject of “Evangelical Catholicism”. The word “Evangelical” seems to have caused all sorts of bother, judging from the posts I received in response to that blog. Let me say that by “Evangelical” I simply translated John Allen’s analysis as meaning zeal for the Faith lived out in one’s life, and a longing to share it with others. I didn’t mean a creeping “Protestantising” of the faith – though Protestants can often teach us Catholics something about a personal relationship with Christ; nor did I mean the destruction of the old parish model in favour of a “Futurechurch”, or wish to promote an “elitist few in the Westminster circle of interns, faux-journalists and the quangocrat hangers-on” as one (longish) post suggested. Gosh; what a hornet’s nest.

The point I was trying to make (rather badly, it seems; one post rated me “D minus”) was what the Holy Father was saying eloquently in the speech referred to above: much of the pre-Vatican II Church that I grew up in (Home Counties: 1950s) had become a matter of mere convention or habit; it was also a worldly Church in that it sat comfortably with the surrounding society; this indeed led to a sharp decline in practice following Vatican II and the increasing hedonism/worldliness of the same secular society; this in turn has led to a longing (especially among serious young Catholics) for a true Catholic identity.

Sometimes this longing – I speak as I have seen among younger friends – has taken the form of Catholic home-schooling; sometimes a return to the old Latin Mass; the rediscovery of Church teaching on natural family planning – and thus a larger than average family; the joyful recognition of fellow committed Catholics at World Youth Days; membership of Opus Dei or the Faith group; vocations to the priesthood and religious life and so on.

One might say these are drops in the ocean of decline in the Church at large in this country. But, as Mother Teresa used to point out, each drop is important to the ocean. And they can point to a “leaven” (which is different from “elitism”) which the Church is always in desperate need of, especially in times of crisis, upheaval and renewal.

Still, I would like to thank all who responded to the debate I engendered in my last blog. A Catholic blog should be a forum for debate and discussion, especially on the urgent question that concerns us all: how do we help to bring about the renewal that Pope Benedict has called for in the Church that we love? Everyone has different views on this, but they are never helped by scorn or sarcasm. If there is criticism, let it be courteous: what happened to the tag, “Look at those Christians; see how they love one another”?
In the current issue of Catholic World Report, a priest reminiscences about his dealings with Mother Teresa: “In the seven years [I knew her], I never heard her say even one single negative word about someone… She used to call negative language ‘talking darkness’ and she saw it as her duty to reignite the light of hope right away by referring to some positive aspect.” OK, she was a saint – but aren’t we all called to be saints?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Francis for drawing my attention to this statement by Pope Benedict. For him to say that “living the faith fully means stripping away from it anything that may seem to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit” is most encouraging.

    I wonder what the Pope has in mind as being “mere convention and habit”. I can think of many features of the Church that are superfluous relics of a bygone age which, despite being highly valued by some people who already belong to the faith, stand as obstacles in the Church’s evangelical mission.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Francis for drawing my attention to this statement by Pope Benedict. For him to say that “living the faith fully means stripping away from it anything that may seem to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit” is most encouraging.

    I wonder what the Pope has in mind as being “mere convention and habit”. I can think of many features of the Church that are superfluous relics of a bygone age which, despite being highly valued by some people who already belong to the faith, stand as obstacles in the Church’s evangelical mission.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Francis for drawing my attention to this statement by Pope Benedict. For him to say that “living the faith fully means stripping away from it anything that may seem to belong to faith, but in truth is mere convention or habit” is most encouraging.

    I wonder what the Pope has in mind as being “mere convention and habit”. I can think of many features of the Church that are superfluous relics of a bygone age which, despite being highly valued by some people who already belong to the faith, stand as obstacles in the Church’s evangelical mission.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps the stripping away has to happen in one’s own life first, rather than being something which ‘they’ have to do. So easy to point the finger at others.

  • Parasum

    Splendid. I wonder whether  it’s occurred to the HF that, for this to happen, reforms may need to occur that he does not want to occur  – that he thinks would be a bad idea ? It’s hard to believe the thought won’t have crossed his mind. 

    “If there is criticism, let it be courteous: what happened to the tag, “Look at those Christians; see how they love one another”?”

    Gone, is what has happened to it. The Church has a long & rich tradition of eloquent and vicious invective – some Saints with a talent for it (such as that dreadful man Jerome) would almost certainly not be canonised today. He was a very talented inventer of cruel barbs; not a gift that St. Paul has much to say about. Cyril of Alexandria & John Chrysostom also teach Catholics how to vilify others. There are atheists with more kindness and graciousness than some of the people the Church calls “Saint”. 

    When challenged, a lot of Catholics point to the example of Jesus.  If any of us nobodies spoke to others as He is represented speaking to (or of – Matthew 23 seems to be apostrophising them)  the Pharisees, we would definitely have to go to Confession. Calling people a “brood of vipers”, or “hypocrites”, as He did them, is not exactly evidence of supernatural charity. If there is a problem of inter-Catholic viciousness, the “credit” is mostly His. Some of the other NT writings are almost as bad. “Examples are available on request”.

    Why is there this problem ? Human ghastliness, partly; and also, perhaps, a tendency to see others not as human beings, to be treated as one would wish them to treat one, but instead as “the enemy”, who must be pulverised, degraded, squashed, cast out, eliminated, declared unpersons, at any cost. ISTM this is the result of  setting doctrinal orthodoxy above engaging with persons as persons; this in turn may be a result of the vicious intolerance of Second Temple Judaism, which was quite prepared to massacre the Samaritans (129 BCE) or to put other Jews to death (such as the anti-Sadducean “purge” about 50 years later). And maybe the loathing of “the other” is a left-over from the origins of Christianity in Jewish apocalypticism. The ultimate Enemy of God (known to Christians as Antichrist) might not have shown up, but pious hatred of him could always be transferred to anyone who seemed to be doing his job. 

    STM that the vicious hatred that haunts Christianity has always been there, and needs only to be given an outlet.

  • Parasum

    I wonder what the Pope has in mind as being “mere convention and habit”.

    ## Clarification of that would have helped. Does the wearing of the *cappa magna* count ?

  • Anonymous

    Parasum I am not sure how the example you give of Jesus condemning the practices of the Pharisees contradicts the idea that Christians be known by how they love one another.

    When we are guilty of the sin of offensively insulting our brothers and sisters in Christ by using scorn and sarcasm (and as you suggest it is not a new phenomenon) we would add to the offence if we were to make the excuse that we are only following the example of Our Lord.

  • Anonymous

    Francis, I think quite a few people actually understood what you were
    talking about, but it got hi-jacked by the anti-future church argument.
    They are quite right in speaking up about it. However, it was still a shame
    that your point was ‘lost in translation’.

    Many blogs have been refering to what you write about as ‘radical evangelical Catholicism’. This has been particularly championed, as you know, by Michael Vorris (and let’s not forget Benedict who has also been using the phrase ‘living Catholic faith radically’ for quite a while now). This has nothing to do with future
    church.

    It is sad that we now have to use the word radical to infer that we should now strive for the very minimum that God and his Church expects. However, this is the mess the church (clergy & laity) has got itself in
    to. I cannot think of any one better to use as an example of some one who lived the faith radically than Mother Theresa.

    The interesting thing about the ‘radical evangelical Catholicism’ movement is that it is forward looking but,still embraces ALL catholic traditions (not just Latin). However, it is not overly concerned with a return to a time before Vatican II, that is history for them. It is radical in that it embraces a vigorous defence of pro-life issues, families, and the Faith. Hunger for a Catholic identity and living the faith radically, in line with Church teaching, is at its very core.

    However, I am not sure whether Fr. Stephen Wang’s or John Allen’s opinions have quite caught up 100% with Mr. Vorris or the Pope for that matter. There is more to this than just the ‘New Evangelisation’.

  • Anonymous

    Ok – Let me go through this once again….

    a] This ‘New Evangelisation’ of His Holiness [expounded wonderfully by Bishop Sample as Saving the Liturgy, Saving the Sacraments, Saving the Priesthood, Saving Souls] has one major consequence – the Saving of the Parish. http://caritasveritas.blogspot.com/2011/10/bishop-sample-shares-his-vision-and.html

    b] This Evangelisation is above all CATHOLIC – it’s a duty and responsibility to all – a call to all. [Just READ what His Holiness says above]

    c] The ‘New Spirit’ of the Benedictine Revolution has indeed wrought wonders – manifestations of Tradition, Orthodoxy, Catholic Cultural Identity and Historical Awareness, Defence of Authentically Catholic Moral Principles etc.

    d] BUT – The Church in this country is, in the main, a desolate wilderness and the desertification is rapidly increasing. Thousands of square miles of perfidious Albion where there are barely any priests [and where there are most are in charge of 2+ parishes] and the Catholic population has been for all intents and purposes : WIPED OUT!

    e] There are many ways in which to save a parish but the crucial criteria remains the presence of a Priest and the catechesis of future generations of Catholics .

          [i] When there is an excess of Priests in Poland, Nigeria and India [in India the newly ordained have to wait years before they can even become a curate!] there is absolutely no excuse for Bishops to not reach out to these priests and call them to minister in their dioceses. Admittedly some have done so, but can anyone recall the way they were treated at Ushaw by the future Bishop Drainey at their ‘inculturation’ training day? Ordered to be ‘culturally sensitive’ i.e. water down their Catholicism to be more conducive to our secularised cafeteria faithful.  Most dioceses have not lifted a finger in seeking out priests from abroad or religious orders to fill the disembowelling void.

          [ii] Vocations – By now everyone should be aware that the majority of dioceses who have adopted ‘vocations scrutiny committees’ turn away more potential candidates for the Priesthood than permit any to proceed with testing their vocation; and the vast array of reasons for these proscriptions invariably include many which are distinctly anti-Catholic on ecclesiatical and moral grounds. Any candidate who was against changing the teaching of humanae vitae or the ordination of women or an acceptance of remarriage of divorcees or homosexual unions or a more ‘presbyteral’ role for the laity – was blocked!  When one looks at Bishops Conference statements and initiatives it becomes blatantly apparent that there were a significant amount within the organisation who DID NOT WANT MORE PRIESTS – but rather wished to promote a widespread profusion of professional laity performing pseudo-priestly duties as parish administrators.

          [iii] I reiterate that the main motive for this was the intention of initiating a Futurechurch paradigm where the ordinary Catholic Parish would be eliminated and thousands of Catholic communities would become disenfranchised, aliented, dispossessed and abandoned – the New Mega-Church centralised hubs would have become elitist bastions for the enthusiastic ideologically-sympathetic professional middle classes.

          [iv] Our Catholic schools are derisory, debased, deplorable. 94% Lapsation is indicative that any of their CESEW-led religious enculturation and catechesis is fundamentally flawed, counterproductive and alienating – it’s actually destroying the beliefs of our young and driving them away from their faith! A Massive overhaul is crucial, imperative – critically absolutely necessary – NOW – lest within a generation there will be no Catholicism in the land about which to bewail.

           [v] I repeat that it is blatantly obvious that both the CESEW and the dioceses have conspired in a campaign which will ultimately lead to the systemic dismantling of the Catholic schools system in this country – The dioceses don’t want to pay for them and would much prefer a boost to their waning finances by the sale of school land ; the CESEW is more directed towards secularising Faith schools to make their reabsorption into the State system more easy. They believe it’s only a matter of time before the Secularist/humanist political activism against Faith schools succeeds in destroying them – therefore the CESEW seems to have directed its attention to its future more lucrative agenda of building and co-ordinating religious/pastoral education/resource centres which would be adjoined to the new Futurechurch superchurches.

    f] Anyone who sees the real issues at hand will recognise that Bishops Conference and its associated quangocracies is directed to a more secularised, elitist, professional laity enmeshed in a more ‘civilised’ and culturally-sensitive socially acceptable ‘new humanism’ [as proposed by Austen Ivereigh [wonder how long this will last before it's moderated out?]] directed towards a big society and the common good [Note this new humanism has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the New Humanism to which His Holiness appeals and promotes; the Common Good having nothing to do with the Thomistic definition] . This is a desacralised, desacramentalised, de-spiritualised, de-graced ‘Pelagian’ form of NuChurch.

    g] Now Mrs Phillips you refer to the ‘fruits’ of the ‘New Evangelisation’ – the Benedictine revolution – more appreciation [especially among the young] in a resurgence of the Extraordinary Form and the Latin mass, pro-Life activism, an enthusiasm towards discussing certain traditional and orthodox Catholic issues in groups and online; new social events [especially amongst our 'Youthe' [as opposed to yoof]]  of a more distinctively ‘traditional/conservative’ flavour [rosary crusades, pilgrimages etc] . Homeschooling, Promotion of NFP etc. That there’s an avid interest amongst the young movers and shakers in the Westminster circles and a movement away from leftist political posturing when it comes to Social issues, Politics, Charity work etc…

    Now I’m sorry but you really should be paying attention to what you write – especially in regard to that which His Holiness says :

    His Holiness is calling for a New Evangelisation which is Catholic…A call to personal wholeness and holiness in a communal sphere. All-embracing, reaching out , community building and enhancing

    In other words something readily available for ALL Catholics – Something which will promote a Catholic resurgence EVERYWHERE.

    Regrettably a lot of this purported ‘new evangelism’ phenomena is NOT Catholic – IT’S DONATIST!

    Rather than being evangelical in nature it’s actually the opposite – it’s elitist, snobbish, cliqueish, isolating, pharisaical, gnostic, mystagogic and inadvertently un-Catholic.

    I will not deny that there are wonderful oases of the New Evangelisation reflecting an holistic truly Catholic emulation of the Holy Father’s message….[Can anyone help but mention Fr Tim Finigan's parish [and its overflowing blogosphere]  and the Forty days for Life initiative etc].

    BUT – There are so many contaminants in this ‘Bridesheadian’ resurgence  which are driven towards giving up on the established Conference-driven Church and seeking out an alternate more orthodox, traditional, pious and exclusive sub-Church.

    Now few can blame them – but rather than being the salt of the earth or leaven in the dough – they’ve decided to exit the kitchen , return to their castles and pull up the drawbridges.

    Rather than being crucial diamonds in the ash , inspiring. educating, counselling, consoling and guiding fellow Catholics in the community – so many have decided to go off to their caves and form communes of the like-minded. Rather than being candles in the darkness , guiding lights in communities they’ve decided instead to go off and join the same exclusivist candelabra!

    Then we have the Wang/Jamison ‘brand’ of New Evangelisation which is no such thing – the same old grotty patronising  yoof-hip-happening exercises in vanity and self-adulation where only the peripherals and terminology have changed – the platitudes and patronising remains – the ontological worth and purpose is just as futile and narcissistic – It’s 1973 Blue Nun wine just repackaged as ‘Chateau de soeur bleue 2011′  or ‘Cobalt Holy Dudette isotonic high-energy drink [guaranteed free from unsaturated proselytes] ”

    There are at least half a dozen parables dealing with this issue – But these Orthodox Radical Catholics enmeshed in the Papal ‘New Evangelisation’ are falling into the oh-so-tempting trap of Donatism and Isolationism.

    I’ve given up on our local Church and instead travel 50 miles to a divine little Church in the sticks where they sing the EF High Mass.

    I’ve given up on our local Cathoic school and instead decided to home-school.

    I’ve given up on our Local bible-study/faith-sharing/RCIA/whatever groups and instead travel to X,Y & Z to meet the like-minded where we can discuss, Pugin, Newman, Qua Primas etc etc etc

    Oh I’ve given up on our local parish events – I instead attend more convivial, conducive and worthwhile events with  people of my own ilk and sentiments…

    See from where I’m coming now. Mrs Phillips?

    Instead of being a vociferous loyal opposition defending the Faith and the future of Our Lady’s Dowry…

    The New crowd are inadvertently accelerating the decline and fall of the Catholic Church in the land
    by removing themselves from the battleground…

    …and if you listen to some of them you get a chilling, terrifying response.

    For some of them truly want the ‘established’ hierarchical Catholic Church in England & Wales to collapse and decay and the decaying dust blown away by the four winds…

    So it can all start again…

    It’s bitterly ironic to hear the devout orthodox more conservative Catholics saying:
     
    Catholic education – just home school and return to family and parish catechesis  – close down all the Catholic schools as they are failing and counterproductive.

    In other words give up on hundreds of thousands of potential future Catholics!

    Listen to them on corrupt quango-immersed trendily zeitgeist diocesan structures and failing parishes

    Close them all down and concentrate on the places where we can consolidate and intensify the orthodox, tradionalist, ‘Benedictine’ zeal where authentic doctrine and moral teaching and liturgical practice/praxis can be promoted.

    Do you see what’s happening Mrs Phillips ?

    Both sides declining to be authentically evangelically Catholic [Omnes gentes] and  instead becoming more Pelagian or more Donatist…

    …with both sides abandoning the majority of the faithful and opting for their own versions of a Futurechurch paradigm. One travelling to a Professional laity group-hug at a superchurch - 

    ….meanwhile the millions of disenfranchised, uneducated, neglected, dispossessed and alienated Catholics across the majority of the country?

    …are wantonly abandoned!