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
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