As I sit down at the computer to write, I am actually on retreat for a week of prayer and meditation and it could be debated whether one should do such a thing whilst on a retreat for prayer. However, it is through my prayer that I felt compelled to sit and write. I am sitting in absolute silence. The monks at the Abbey had a prearranged day out and it is so silent that you can hear that high pitched buzz in your ear when you find yourself in such a deep place of silence. You can feel your pulse in each part of the body as well and you begin to even hear the voice of your own thoughts racing around your brain. It’s silent! However, the voice of prayerful concern is ever present with me. It has been six years since I’ve written a blog post like the one I am about to write and some of you may remember when I wrote for the blog De Cura Animarum. Well, I write this post in that same spirit. The big difference is that now I write as a Catholic priest who has recently been placed in his first parish as a Catholic parish priest. Therefore, my writing now remains even more concerned about the Cure of Souls. Many of you also know that I am a convert from the Church of England and the surreal experience now is that I am writing at this very moment in the room where Mgr Ronald Knox was received into the Catholic Church at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough UK. Lying on my bed and reading further and further into Ratzinger’s book, the compelling feeling to write grew stronger by the second. So, kettle on, coffee made and here I sit in silent prayerfulness to write.
It is no secret or a revelation that we are living in challenging times in the Church. Let’s be honest, it is not easy to hand on the Faith in our present culture. We are facing many voices from the culture of death that look to drown out any voice of trust and hope. These are two virtues I am turning over in my heart this week in prayer. In the present state of things, it is easy when looking to our own selves for strength, to feel a sense of loss in the virtues of trust and hope. But that is exactly what we need if we are going to hand on this beautiful gift of Faith that has been given to us through the mercy of our Lord Jesus. This morning I reflected on the very true statement made by Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief. That statement read, “Only someone who is himself a believer can lead others to the faith. Someone who cannot or can no longer believe must in all honesty relinquish this duty.” Conviction of belief is the primary ingredient in handing on the faith. However, as I read the news both outside and inside the Church, I cannot help but sometimes feel so many have lost this fundamental ingredient and as a result the good people of God in some ways are feeling the loss of trust and hope. Let’s face it, this is the reality we hear very often amongst God’s faithful and also in the clergy. This begs a question: How did we get here?
Harold Joseph Laski had a concept of pluralism that implied that the Church, like the State, is merely one association among many, which may not demand more loyalty than any other association within the pluralistic society where we live. This was stated by him in 1915. One only need to connect this with the history of the day to find the philosophical ideology that shaped this worldview that has now given birth to a nihilism and cultural narcissism beyond the pale. Here is my thought about this. This view has infiltrated the Church and is heard in so many voices that bombard us today and undermine the trust and the hope from the Church we should hold closely to us. The Church is a communio of faith. We must reject Laski’s proposition as something untrue. What I am sensing is a dissolving of this beautiful bond. Ratzinger wisely reminds us in his book that,
If this bond is dissolved, then other bonds step in to replace it — bonds that no longer arise from a common preexisting datum (the Bible as lived and interpreted in the Church), but rather are based on the arbitrary will of the group. When that happens, other factors, for example, political or social decisions, become imperative, but these clearly can only be “particular” and thus have as their consequence the disintegration of the universal Church community.
The result is a clear lessening of the binding character of the Magisterium of the Church. There are even voices that almost echo the congregationalism that built the ecclesial culture of North America. The result of this is being heard in messages today that should cause our ecclesial ears to stand up and listen very carefully. Ratzinger warns of the dangers behind this thinking saying
the Magisterium now appears–in contrast to theology that is understood in purely academic terms–as a power that is foreign to science, with which an institution is trying to interfere with the progress of science in a methodologically incorrect way. Neo-Marxist interpretations of what is going on are then within easy reach.
The end result is an ecclesiology from below that is simply defined and viewed as an institution that while necessary, is organised by men alone. The result is that the faith and trust that we are seeking to hold on to is only within the contents of the Christian message and can and will evaporate becoming arbitrary to the group amongst many other groups if this is not understood. This present reality of thinking ought to be one of our greatest concerns for prayer right now if we are going to pass on a Christian consciousness that comes “from above” rather than “from below”. This erroneous position will and is now presently being heard amongst some that builds a chasm between the boundaries of theology and faith which are being blurred. As a result, Church teaching potentially can disappear and other pluralistic groups will step in to ‘re-interpret’ the Christian message in contrast to something it is not nor has ever been. Therefore, if we are going to hand on this treasure we call faith and hope it must be ecclesially remembered in the forefront of our minds and hearts the role of the ‘primacy of catholicity’ and all that term means. What it fundamentally means, according to Ratzinger is,
no bishop’s conference stands alone or subsists in and of itself; it is woven into the great fabric of Catholic life. As long as it remains within this framework , it will not make any decisions of ultimate importance without that unity, and certainly not contrary to it. It seems to me that the great significance of the Petrine office becomes visible here.
Be of hope and trust that as we view the Church throughout her history, the powers of her regenerative message of Christ Jesus will perpetually rise from any dust and the Church will always proclaim the saving mercy of God in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us all pray for the gift of faith so that we can trust and have hope that never fails. Now, back to prayer.