Monday, February 21, 2011

Faith, fear and fury

The Internet is a remarkable thing because it can actually hide people from people under a welter of words. Writing on the Internet, or even via email, puts up this rather protective screen which allows us to in some way be separated from its intended recipient. There's a big danger to this. Just today I read this on Facebook:
"Your brain is a field of demonic weeds, and your words are like poison. God bless you."

Well, isn't this a happy little statement? The worst thing is that this statement was not - repeat not - spoken in jest, but came from the lips of what appears to be a Benedictine brother of what appears to be a very Traditional Catholic persuasion. Indeed the thread whence I have plucked this edifying soundbite contains some rather remarkable damnations from this over-excited Religious person. I wonder what St Benedict would have made of his rantings. Of course, I could not enter this fray with any words, nor really should I. What makes me mildly amused is St James' teaching on the tongue being demonstrated with curses and blessings in almost the same breath.

First, anything I would say would automatically be disregarded as the ravings of a Protestant Heretic who makes a mockery of the Catholic Church by feigning allegiance to the Pope, yet has not had the guts to Convert to the One True Faith. Second, there is nothing I would want to say because such individuals have made up their minds.

Also today, a good friend of mine gently chided me by wondering whether I regarded "liberal" as being synonymous with "bad and wrong". Of course, I replied that I didn't regard "liberal" as being synonymous with "bad and wrong" since there are "bad and wrong" things which aren't liberal. I wasn't being entirely serious, of course.

The issue in hand is Mankind's search for certainty. We need to be certain of something in our apparently brief sojourn through this weird little experience called Reality. The more everything warps and changes around us, the more we long for finding some stability, and the more we cling to the little pockets of comfort that float by us as we take our short-lived spin in this temporal Maelstrom. The more we think about our situation, the more we realise that all the things we hold onto are uncertain. This results in crises of faith and belief. There isn't a Christian out there who hasn't felt the sudden panic about the possibility that God might not actually exist. If there is, then I doubt that he has thought sufficiently about what he believes.

St Thomas Aquinas maintains that the existence of God is not self-evident, and I am inclined to believe him.
No one can mentally admit the opposite of what is self-evident; as the
Philosopher (Metaph. iv, lect. vi) states concerning the first principles of demonstration. But the opposite of the proposition "God is" can be mentally admitted: "The fool said in his heart, There is no God" (Ps. 52:1). Therefore, that God exists is not self-evident. (Book 1, Question 1, Article 1)

Whatever God is, His existence is unique. Analogies must fail, logic must break down, pictures, patterns, proofs, parables and propositions must be inadequate to describe how God can possibly exist. It is a question of faith, a faith that requires positive action in order to open one up to the indescribable existence of God.

When our faith is tested then it's very easy to give in to fear. I speak from experience here. We can and should cling to what we hold to be true. The entirety of the Christian Faith is a search for the Truth, a Truth that promises to be found by whoever seeks it, but not necessarily in the way the seeker expects. Yes, when we are afraid then we should cling onto our Faith. GOD is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble. If, amid the storm, we can cling onto nothing else but the flimsiest thread, this is usually sufficient to bring us through. Even so, some of us lose that thread. This is a tragedy, but I am convinced that this is not the end of the story.

However, if we cast a eye over our charitable Benedictine brother above, we see something very different from taking refuge in God. Here we see a man whose understanding of Holy Church has been challenged and he seeks to defend it with all his might as a good Christian should. However, when he is out-gunned and out-manoeuvred, as we all at some point in intellectual debate, he resorts to making his understanding absolute and demonises his opponent for speaking heresy and vile blasphemy when there has been nothing of the sort. A pharisaic device, wouldn't you say?

In his first letter to the Church in Corinth (v.5), St Paul does issue the instruction "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus". The "one" in this case is a man who has committed fornication with his own step-mother. Elsewhere, St Paul does mention to St Timothy handing Hymnaeus and Alexander over to Satan to learn that blasphemy is wrong. I get the sense that St Paul is letting these folks lie in the beds of their own making apart from the Christian brotherhood in order that they may learn the way back. This is surely the basis of Benedictine excommunication. Whatever one's interpretation of these verses from St Paul, we can be certain of what they are not. They are not condemnations to Hell.

Christians should be very wary of those who condemn others to Hell. As far as I am aware of Christian doctrine, Holy Church has no power to condemn anyone to Hell, nor does she have the power to raise anyone up to Heaven. Saints are declared to be so: the Church is able to make an official recognition through God's revelation that a person has attained the heights of Heaven. This is not the same as the Church creating her own saints, nor does she create her own sinners.

I will willingly confess to the reader that I am a sinner and have frequently, if not daily, fallen short of God's glory, but, unless you tell me, I cannot possibly say that you are a sinner. I may see you commit an act which the Church recognises to be sinful, but without knowing your mind, I have no business to say that you are a sinner. This is something that exists between yourself and God. Holy Church cannot declare someone to be a sinner.

However, there is something quite wonderful here: the Church has been given authority to forgive sins and to proclaim God's forgiveness. So here we have a God who would rather his Church proclaimed Forgiveness rather than Judgment. That's the reality of it, and it makes more sense than trying to second-guess the mind of an utterly unique being. We Christians are often chided by atheists for believing in a God who is arbitrary in His condemnation. They fail to see that this "wrathful and vengeful God" is trying very hard to convince a group of people to whom He has bestowed the capacity for free choice to choose Him freely. We will have to take the consequences of our sins, but we are being given the opportunity not to take them with us when we die. They also fail to see a God who knows that the situation is minutely complicated by the actions of myriads of myriads of free wills all possessing a fallen nature. The trouble is that it isn't just the atheists who fail to see this - sometimes it's us Christians.

But then, what do I know? I'm only a Protestant Heretic who makes a mockery of the Catholic Church by feigning allegiance to the Pope, yet has not had the guts to Convert to the One True Faith.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Diaspora and Catholic Tortoise Disease

For some time, the readers of this blog will note that I bewail the solitude of my condition. I am not aware of any Forward-in-Faith Anglo-Catholics within 10-15 miles of my front door. It's thus not particularly easy for me to hear Mass with like-minded folk unless I hop on two buses, hope the trains are working and that my legs haven't parted company during the week's labour. One might argue that my legs are used to parting company due to all my sitting on the fence.

I mention my plight not for everyone to go "Ah poor soul" and emit waves of sympathy, but to waken good Catholics in the CofE to something that may well befall them in the near future.

You see, the problem is that Liberalism is the easy option. It doesn't matter who you are, the parish will change its form and liturgy to entice you through the door so that you can join a little gang of people with whom you can sit down, have a nice cup of coffee, pat each other on the back, say "Oh that's nice" and "Oh what a shame!" a lot without transforming your life in any substantial way whatsoever. It isn't terribly wrong to be a nice person, but if there's no depth to one's belief, how can one be sure that one is really a Christian and not just a terribly nice Pantheist. Of course, to some Liberals, that doesn't really matter at all, but didn't Christ say that He would be ashamed of anyone who would be ashamed of Him?

I really do wonder what makes Liberal parishes any different from a Rotary club with ritual. However, the point that I'm trying to make is that Liberalism is the easy option because it does not require transformation and sacrifice which are at the heart of the Saviour's ministry. What's the point of "Back to Church" Sunday if we invite everyone to church to see how nice we all are only for them to say how nice the church is and never darken the doorstep until the next "Back to Church" Sunday?

This means that the Catholic parish is likely to be the only parish in a deanery, separated from the next by a dozen Liberal parishes. Thus the isolation of the Catholic begins - the Anglican Diaspora!

The Catholic parish is in a bit of a quandary. Suppose the vicar were to leave. God does call vicars away, so we can't blame them for going. If you've got Resolutions A, B and C in place you're basically saying that you hold some firm belief about the nature of the Church. Many priests will think, "looks like hard work" or "Hmmm. They're all misogynists so they aren't nice" and will not give the parish a second thought. Then the Rural/Area Dean/ Archdeacon/ other church official (delete whichever is inapplicable) will come along and say, "if you've got the resolutions in place then you're ruling out the possibility of getting a good priest who might not agree with you." It doesn't matter that the priests who won't touch a resolution ABC parish are clearly unsuitable for upholding the belief of the Church, the need for parish leadership and sacramental provision of any form are made to look more pressing. Lo and behold, pressure is being put on you to relinquish those resolutions in order to get a priest who in fact will want to make you all nice. This is what is happening in Deaneries all around the country. The Resolution parishes are parochiae non gratae.

Your parish might capitulate. Where does that leave you? Either with Mrs. "priest" or with a priest who is going to work to make you a nice, welcoming "inclusive" parish because you are obviously so unfriendly for believing what you do. Slowly but surely, the parish Catholics will age and die off or move away, leaving you with a rapidly shrinking group. You may even end up on your own - the last Catholic in the parish.

What do you do then?

Just as there is a temptation to lapse into Liberalism because its the easy option, there's another temptation - to wall oneself in away from others amid an appeal to forms of the Doctrine of Taint. This, I believe, is a form of acedia, a monastic vice which takes the form of dissatisfaction and withdrawal and leads to depression, sadness and spiritual lethargy - at least that's what has happened to me. This is Catholic Tortoise Disease (CTD), and I bet Fr. Hunwicke would come up with a splendid graeco-latin classification for that.

For many, this is no fault of their own but a state of existence to which they have been driven. How many isolated Catholics are there in the Church of England, trying to find a Mass on a Sunday Morning where they can be certain that the Eucharistic Mystery is celebrated according to the ancient formula without cheers, applause, hugs'n'kisses in the Peace and 52 verses of "Clap hands, here comes Jesus" and other genuinely offensive facile, banal, insubstantial bunkum. Another dangerous symptom of CTD is the level of distrust of any church official. In many cases, this is well deserved owing to the proliferation of people who say, "believe what you like" or the politically ambitious who say "believe what I believe" and then depart from the Catholic Faith. However, this suspicion and growing cynicism has the danger of further separating the individual from a worshipping congregation. They get so used to being on their own, that another person can cause difficulties. The danger is that isolated Catholics become sufferers of CTD and, with the disease (in its literal meaning: dis-ease) becoming progressively worse, disappear forever.

It is important, then, for Catholics to keep in touch with others as far as possible. If anyone does find a solitary individual, then it's going to be a major lift if they tell them that they are not alone and can put them in touch with others. The Internet is good for this. I set up the Anglican Diaspora web-forum for the very purpose of bringing Anglo-Catholics together. While there are spats and arguments, there is some confraternity there and people do get put in touch with others who can help them. You may see this as shameless self-publicising. It isn't. Catholics of any Anglican sort should be together, talking and praying and, when possible, celebrating the Mass together. I am thankful that I have been put onto some very good friends (albeit thousands of miles away), inspirational people (like Bishop Robert Mercer), holy places (like St Agatha's Landport) and magnificently supportive organisations (like the College of Readers).

The College has already provided me with much support as I wrangle with the implications of being a FiF Reader in an interregnum under a female "Rural Dean".

Truth be told, I am still lonely. Being very poor sighted makes it difficult to travel anywhere. However, I do hope to get out and about to some of the functions and meet new people. I like to think that there are actually many good Catholics still left in the CofE. Some will go to the Ordinariate. Well, they go with my applause and prayers. I can't take that step yet, perhaps I never will, but they have shown the willingness to be transformed and sacrifice what they hold dear for the sake of the Faith. CTD prevents transformation, and we have to battle it together.

But how do we find the solitary Catholic and the CTD sufferer? Over to you!