On Tuesday this week I had a rare day out and joined a friend for a “Day of Faith” at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. Some might think it is a bit lame to spend a day away from my usual caring duties in a church but hey, it was full of good company, excellent food and stimulating discussions. There was also Mass, Exposition, Benediction and an opportunity for Confession; these should really come at the top of the list.
Organised by the new papal dame, Joanna Bogle, and arranged by the Faith group of priests, the Day was a call to arms: how to live the remainder of the current Year of Faith in an evangelical way. The organisers and speakers took it as read that the participants would be committed Catholics rather than cafeteria ones – but still the question remains: if we have a living faith (rather than the private practice of piety), how do we share it effectively – “evangelically” – with others? The question, as speakers and listeners in St Patrick’s noted, is rather acute in our times. Christianity is fast becoming a minority faith among other minority groups in this country and Christians are increasingly regarded as a quaint or nasty species. We feel aggrieved, marginalised, embattled, defensive – hardly the right frame of mind for apostolic or Pentecostal endeavours.
The first talk, by Canon Luiz Ruscillo, Director of Education in the Lancaster diocese, focused on teaching and celebrating the Faith. He spoke of the pre-Vatican II Church, not with nostalgia but with a recognition that we “have to start from here”. We have to convince others that science and faith are not incompatible and reject the relativism that would assign Christianity to a merely personal morality. Looking at the purpose of Catholic education, the Canon emphasised that schools shared in the mission of Christ. They were meant to support parents in raising children in the Faith and parents should expect the staffroom to be loyal to Church teachings.
On catechetics, he said that we need to go beyond the assertion and assumption of the concept of “God”. We have to make it clear that “reasonableness is written into creation”. A new form of apologetics is needed to counter the widespread ignorance among Catholics today. There are signs of hope: the new movements in the Church (including the Faith movement, which includes many priests); the emergence of young and highly committed Catholics, including seminarians; the new Catechism as a tool to teach the Faith; and the new translation of the liturgy.
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth followed Canon Ruscillo with a talk after lunch on the theme of “challenge and opportunity”. He spoke positively of the long-term fruits of the Second Vatican Council, saying that its key question, understood by Pope John XXIII who summoned it, was: what does it mean to be the Church of Christ in the modern world? Like the Canon, he was clear that the old, pre-Vatican II way of spreading the Faith by proclamation and catechesis was no longer effective in this secularist age in the Western world, where religious belief is seen as irrelevant. Catholics have to be “evangelical”, reaching out to others and showing them the personal love of Christ. Bishop Egan said he had met many good Catholics who had dutifully followed the norms of their Faith all their lives without ever coming to a personal relationship with Jesus. Without it, however, we can never hope to transform the world as the early Christians did.
The bishop told us that we have to shift from an “ecclesial” model of the Church to a more Christ-centred model. He said that Catholics who leave the Church to join evangelical Protestant churches do not feel that their spiritual needs are being met within the Church today. We have to put the Church’s resources at the service of helping people to learn to actually pray – as opposed to “saying prayers”. He suggested several ways this could be done: by Eucharistic adoration; by retreats and Bible study; by the Sacrament of Penance; by the study of our Faith in relation to the culture we are living in; and by practical ways of loving our neighbour. What we need, he joked, is SRT: spiritual radiation therapy.
US Catholic author George Weigel spoke later on the theme of his latest book title, “Evangelical Catholicism”. Unfortunately I could not stay for this talk but I did the next best thing and bought the book itself from the CTS book stall. Published by Basic Books, it is subtitled “Deep reform in the 21st-century Church”. I will blog about it as I read it. Stay tuned.