Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Poorer Church, a non-Pelagian Church, a re-Orientated Church
The Pope talks about a poorer Church, so did his predecessor. It is very simplistic and I am of that generation that would see a poorer Church in terms of "The Shoes of the Fisherman" but that is a bit superficial, probably adolescent and actually in terms of the Roman Church would merely mean the Pope transferring a mass of 'treasures' and buildings from its care to the care of the Italian State, according to the Lateran treaty most of what the Church cares for actually belongs to "humanity".
A poorer Church could mean bishops and other clergy driving older cars, going to a cheaper tailor, drinking beer rather than wine, having a more working class rather than middle class lifestyle. I can't imagine that will convince anyone. Although I must say I am shocked to hear bishops talking about trips to Sandringham for the weekend or about dinner parties with the great and the good, the powerful and the political, I am not sure whether that in itself constitutes a 'rich' Church. I suppose actually it shows an orientation towards wealth and power rather than a healthy disdain for such things. I was certainly shocked by the appearance that the Catholic Education Service under Oona Stannard seemed to be enthral to the Labour Government and various other Catholic organisations involvement with government departments. Some of the discomfort I feel comes from my own inverted snobbery but more it comes from a sense that there is something wrong with the Church so orientated.
Rather than discreet chats in the corridors of power with Minister and Civil Servants I would be much happier if our Bishops looked more to the struggling Catholic masses and St Laurence-like called them to demonstrate in the courtyards of the powerful, whilst at the same seeing a responsibility to teach those masses clearly the Catholic faith, but maybe their Lordships understand that the Church orientated to towards such masses is likely to prove disappointing. There is nothing worst than marching towards the barricades and finding no-one is following.
Father Simon Henry has an interesting post in which he points out, as we of a particular stripe tend to point out, the wholesale failure of much that has taken place over the the last few decades of motivating 'the once Catholic masses'. He is right, everything seems to be going down the pan. I was talking to school governor who just appointed a new head teacher, of the five applicants, they appointed the only one who was practising and they were not entirely happy with her but the panel thought that if they re-advertised they might get no practising Catholic applicants. We are getting to a stage where we will soon have to admit that we do not simply have a vocations crisis with priestly vocations, but with every other area of Catholic life has a shortage of vocations. An impoverished Church, rather than a poorer one is actually what we are going to get, like it or not, but perhaps a poorer Church though is actually about our acknowledgement of our poverty and weakness and that left to ourselves, without God, we are doomed!
Reading through Fr Simon's catalogue it seems as if what he is suggesting is that a great deal of what is wrong stems from an almost Pelagian attitude that has been part of our catechesis and our celebration of the sacraments for the last fifty years. In brief, our catechesis, like our sacramental celebrations have been person centred rather than God centred. We have emphasised human skill, human ingenuity, the human nature of worship, the human-centredness of catechesis and avoiding anything to do with God. Ratzinger spoke of the 'closed circle' not just of contemporary worship but of contemporary Church life, similarly of "the community celebrating itself", of "self reverentialisam". We can see much of that in modern funeral liturgies, 'A Mass to celebrate the Life of ...." "A Memorial Mass for ...." and indeed the life of an individual is celebrated and the 'Eternal Memorial established by Christ for the Redemption of the Living and the Dead' is merely architectural background, with or without Christ, the dead will attain his or her reward, there is nothing more Pelagian than that. Ratzinger's answer was 're-orientation'. It is the dependency on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ which is lacking.
When Ratzinger spoke of 're-orientation' it was certainly about liturgical re-orientation but that was only a symbol. From the late 1950s he had spoken about a 'smaller, poorer Church', for him a poor Church was one which placed God at the centre, that hungered for and begged from God. When we speak about 'poverty' in the Church what we are actually speaking about is a Church that recognises its poverty and powerlessness but more importantly its absolute dependence upon God. It knows that without God it is merely a gang of thieves and brigands destined for damnation.
The problems with the Vatican Bank, the 'Gay Lobby', the 'Masonic Lobby' isn't merely deviant naughtiness on the part of a few sinful individuals but a metaphysical dysfunction that can only be remedied by a radical metanoia, a re-orientation of the Church as whole, a literal turning towards Christ in every aspect of its life. With a 'closed circle' or a "the community celebrating itself" a move as Pope Francis says 'to the peripheries' is a movement outside of that circle or that community to that which is beyond, in such circles or communities it is God himself who is at 'the peripheries'.
A poorer Church therefore is one that recognises its need for re-orientation because centred on itself it is heading to ruin. For Benedict the symbolic re-orientation of worship was of absolute significance because it was about the Church looking beyond itself towards God as true believers rather than looking inwards to itself as a congregation of self sufficient Pelagians.
Yes, I am saying the post-Concilliar Church is essentially Pelagian.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake