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!


Anonymous said...

You seem to be under the weather, so I have reproduced this article on my blog -

We all need each others' prayers.

Fr Anthony

Warwickensis said...

Very kind of you, Father.

Yes, times are hard for all of us. I merely mention my plight because I believe it to be typical of many English Catholics, some of whom have no voice to be heard above the hurly-burly of noise.

I see many more folk just becoming solitary in the future and losing heart. It's for them that prayers are most required.

At least we can pray together!