Saturday, 4 July 2009

Traditional Catechesis ?

Us people like our security. Security in relationships, job security, financial security and even racial security. On the whole we don’t like change such as new ways of working, changes in relationship or changes to our village or City. Change brings a certain amount of anxiety by destabilising us in our present security. This need for security also extends to religious security.

We like things done the way they always have been done. We begin to ‘twitch’ at the ebb and flow of liberal and conservative approaches to Catholicism, particularly at the present time. Many like to be people who are ‘certain’ of their present position, be it political, moral or religious.

Many think the abandonment of the things thought of as ‘certainties’ or ‘absolutes’ could be at the root of religious decline, particularly of Catholicism. In the good old days you knew where you were. Fish on Friday, Mary in May, Sacred Heart in June, Novenas, Mass on Sunday or else you commit a mortal sin, confession and you can start again, Rosary, Benediction, Plenary indulgences, the Leonine prayers, avoid Protestants at all cost, priests know all the answers. All the answers were in the security of the Catechism.

Some cite the strength of Catholicism in the former Eastern block Countries as a success story for certainty. I see the success of the church there as it’s being the main vehicle for ‘opposition’ toward a common ‘enemy’ - atheistic communism. Allegiance to the Church was active witness against the regime. Obviously this is a very simplistic viewpoint, but so too is the argument of those who would seek to attribute the strength of their Catholicism to adherence of catholic ‘traditional’ catechesis.

‘They’ think if only we would follow their lead we could ‘fix’ our perceived troubles and return the catholic Church in England and Wales to the ‘Golden Age’ of Catholicism that existed before the church’s decline since II Vatican Council.

Personally I would say the Golden Age never really existed. The Catholic Church in England was a poor Church on the whole. As a poor community the certainties of Catholicism offered everyone hope. Just as Catholics looked toward the church in communist countries, so too did the poor and working class look toward the church as a sign and symbol of hope, finding fulfilment and meaning to their lives. I’m not criticizing this because on the whole we all still do this. In the Church we find hope and meaning to our lives.

I think it is an unbalanced view to think that because there were huge priest numbers in the past and full churches, this should be our aspiration today and in some way the church is not what it should be. Yes there were huge numbers of Catholics attending Mass, abundant priests and religious. Think of all the happy memories many older people have of their catholic education. Teachers checking everyone had gone to Mass asking what colour vestments the priest wore. The harsh discipline metered out in schools, not to mention the scandal of child abuse by paedophile priests. Is this the fruit of a strong and vibrant church?

At the Heart of their faith was certainty and identity. Without this identity and certainty what was left ?

Fear of losing this identity and certainty leads us to insecurity and fear. Fear and insecurity leads us to seek certainty and identity. Is this what is happening spiritually today. It is interesting to note that the main growth Churches are the evangelical, fundamental churches, not to forget Islam, where ‘certainty’ and identity can be found in abundance.

Many people seeking ‘religious’ experience feel alienated by many mainstream churches especially Catholicism.

In Catholicism a shortlist of the alienated would include;
# those whose marriages have broken down possibly through no fault of their own, the divorced, separated and remarried,
# those who find the Church’s teaching on sexuality difficult, especially Humane Vitae and the teaching on birth control.
# People who are Gay, Lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.
# Those who think the church should ordain married men and/or women
# those who feel the church has nothing relevant to say to them

Many people reading this (if anyone does!) would conclude that all the people mentioned above should just get their act together, repent of their sin and go to confession, otherwise why don’t they just leave the church if they are not prepared to ‘conform’ so the church can get on with the business of being Catholic !

How violent a reaction is that? No wonder many people turn away from Catholicism.
. . . . to be continued


Anonymous said...

There is a contradiction though. The churches growing as you say are the ones that provide the certainties such as Evangelicals and indeed other religions like Islam. You then say the reason the catholic church is empty is because it is unwilling to be more inclusive? Maybe its in decline because its lost the pearls of identity and certainty since Vat II? If it wants to fill the pews it had better get more focused rather than be the very thing you seem to think will fill it up. Christian life is not easy but moving the markers to justify peoples lifes and choices rather than encourage ongoing conversion defeats the object of Christian life and practice.

Contemplative Catholic said...

wow . . thanks for the comment. I'm not sure I really wanted to imply that those who feel marginalised by the church are beating at the doors to fill it up. I don't think the decline in numbers attending = a decline in the church. I would also say that any rise in numbers attending because of this fad or that fad (whether it be charismatic renewal or traditionalist groups)does not = a success story.

Daniel said...

What about priests who feel that they cannot defend the Catholic Church anymore ? (

Contemplative Catholic said...

Thanks for the link Daniel. It takes brave people like that to be a prophetic voice 'in' the church, to show just how the church, the people of God, can celebrate their faith.