Monday, July 02, 2012

Beyond words and what a child should know

The relics of the Curae d'Ars are arriving in England this week. I know many clergy were surprised by the huge turnout of people for the visit of St Therese. Catholics are indeed fascinated and attracted by "things" recently the "Holy Coat of Trier" brought thousands of pilgrims the shroud continues to fascinate and intrigue.  Of course we are equally fascinated by persons, the Papal visit really did exceed all expectations. Catholics who never come to Mass come to these events.

Last weeks talk here by Fr Sherbrooke (sorry there is no video) was interesting, he spoke about the "magnetic attraction" of the Blessed Sacrament, of how people from the Soho School of Evangelism would be sent our from St Patrick's simply to invite people to come and be in the presence of the Real Presence.

I think that this is an important religious phenomena, that is indeed a significant part of Catholicism, it is part of the idea of prayer as "he looks at me and I look at him" akin to the "mutter of the Mass"; it is beyond words and certainly beyond the idea of religion as moral improvement, and  not quite explainable to modern sensitivities. One "hyper-rationalist" bishop who, when offered St Theresa's relics for his diocese said that he couldn't see the value of such a visit and suggested we had moved on from that type of thing, later he was surprised, and possibly like Bishop Hollis of Portsmouth delighted by what he witnessed.

I suppose what talking about is religious experience. Since the Council of Trent we have tended to be a little suspicious of it, since Vatican II we have become more suspicious of it, regarding it as pietistic or even superstitious. Ladies who do courses on Liturgy and priests who re-order churches despise it! It is essentially about a "feeling" a "sense", New Agers might call it "energy" or find some other word to define such as "otherness", Catholics might describe it as "an encounter with the Holy". It is essentially about "experience" beyond words, beyond explanation. Indeed the there seems to be a diminishing of the "experience" if it is over explained or rationalised because it is essentially something that happens deep in the soul and is beyond words.

I am convinced that we need to find ways to allow people to "experience" God: teaching prayer, sharing ritual gestures, teaching reverence, teaching silence and sense of awe, all these help to give a "vocabulary" that enable people come to and share in this experience. It is unfortunate that so much has been done to undermine, negate and cheapen this experience in recent years.

I would go so far as to suggest the catastrophic failure in Catholic education has been that rather than teaching people to "know" in the sense of experiencing God we have given people knowledge about him. God desires to "be known" and after knowing him we then have a need to understand him. Having first received the experience of faith we then, and only then, want to understand it: faith seeks understanding. To understand without having the experience faith seems disastrous and probably leads to atheism.

I would suggest that teaching a child to say prayers, to genuflect, to kneel, to bow, to hold their hands together in prayer, to be silent and whisper in Church, how to reverently make the sign of the Cross, to light candles, to bring flowers to a statue, to wear a miraculous medal, to use a Rosary, to put a crucifix and holy pictures in his room, to use Holy Water, to make sacrifices and fulfil promises to God, to keep the Commandments as best  he can and later to receive Holy Communion with as much reverence as possible are all things that should precede the giving of religious knowledge in any academic sense because these things all provoke the question: "Why?". Doctrine and dogma are ways of understanding what we actually intuit which is the first of God's gifts. In the Gospels people wanted simply to see Jesus or be in his Presence before they came to know him and his teaching, the experience of Him led to the desire


Omphalomancer said...

While surprise can be an endearing experience for those receiving the surprise as well as those giving the surprise, the persistence of a state of being surprised in identical or even similar circumstances points towards either the synthetic surprise of over indulgent parent or the genuine surprise of the individual who will not learn from experience. Both categories are cause for concern: the former because it is a deceit that fails to respect the individual; the latter because it speaks of an impairment in the ability of the person being surprised to learn.
In my own lifetime, the hierarchy have been surprised at the response to the visit of John Paul II, surprised by the response to the visit of Benedictine XVI, surprised at the visit of the relics of St Theresa,, surprised at the numbers at opening of the Shrine Church of Ss Peter and Pail and Philomena, surprised at the numbers who travel annually to Lourdes.
There is a pattern here: events which link the faithful in clear and practical ways to the Church are events that sustain the faithful and attract the faith seeking; events that bridge the lacuna of fidelity associated with the ignorant and malicious interpretation of the Vatican Council speak to the hunger and thirst of those like myself that grew under the influence of that period of misguided cultural revolution. Events that endure and challenge the tyranny of novelty are supported precisely because the effect endures; the message is clear; the catechesis unambiguous.
The announcement of the website of the Bishops' Conference says it all. A grey haired senior citizen sitting below a sign pointing to relics against a background of darkening ivy. Ha ha ha silly old fashioned people, silly old fashioned practise, silly old fashioned church....we were surprised when people still kept coming, we were surprised when people still kept listening, we were surprised when people still kept believing...

Tom Piatak said...

This is exactly right. We need more Eucharistic adoration, more processions, more pilgrimages, and the like.

Pablo the Mexican said...

Popes, Bishops and Priests have, during the last fifty years, been teaching error.

Popes, Bishops and Priests have, during the last fifty years, have abandoned the Faith.

Popes, Bishops and Priests have, during the last fifty years, have abandoned their sheep to Protestantism, Buddhism, New Age Mysticism, and the like.

It should come as no surprises Catholics are no longer Catholic.


Natasa said...

Thank you for this post. I am a mother of two young children and am learning how to raise them Catholic. I was brought up without faith, and so have no experience on how to do this. I've come to a conclusion that they simply have to be immersed in it, to do things, to feel at home in a church, to be fed by our beautiful faith and its traditions.
My son is 2 years old and while he is too young to understand the meaning of prayers he understands that they are something special. He listens to me pray and says Amen when I finish. He loves to cuddle into me when I pray the Rosary. He always points to the crucufix in the room and says 'Jesus!' I'm teaching him to make the sign of the cross. Children understand more than we think, and they are so receptive of the sacred. I hope that my little ones will grow up loving their faith and understand it. But that understanding must be built on practice, and it is never to early to start.

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