Sunday, April 25, 2010

Excuse me!

Apology does have a place within our culture. In the common courtesies of day to day life there are phrases, that whilst practically inert, do indicate a degree of regret for having caused an inconvenience. Admittedly these are getting rarer but they are still here. In other parts of the world the 'culture of apology' is of much greater potency. In some Oriental cultures a formal apology, issued say by a multi national company, is the ultimate censure that could be inflicted. I understand that at least in one country apologies form part of the process terminating a legal dispute. An acceptance of the apology is required for the case to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

But what of the English speaking world? We are hearing a lot of apologies at the moment. Some of them pure lip service. Minor civil servants sending silly emails cause an uproar which immediately reults in a hastily prepared apology from some of the highest officials in the land. More considered apologies from ecclesiastics seem to be in abundance at the moment yet, in the secular world, there is something missing, something not quite right, in the whole process.

Whilst we seem to have got beyond the ersatz apology- one that accepts error but not real responsibility- we do seem to be slipping into a state where there is the danger that things may stop at the apology and get no further. I suspect that was in the mind of Pope Benedict as he has specified various ways of 'continuing' the apology issued. On the other hand you'll find plenty of instances of apologies being used as bandaids to handle a situation- to get it out of the press and public eye. Like the bandaid it's just a protecting cover up. The wound below is still fragile for a time and can cause trouble.

So what's missing? Well apology is not a one way affair - at least internally. For an apology to actually mean anything it needs to be accepted otherwise it's back to the drawing board. The proffered apology may serve to alleviate inconvenient pressure but be sure if it's not effective the problem will come back to bite you. It's here that Catholic tradition has much to teach us about real apologies.

In the confessional we confess our sins and then  make an act of contrition indicating our sorrow for what we have done but we also accept a penance, these days an internal sign of our contrition. It was not always this way and there have been times when public manifestations of penance have been exacted. One thinks of the penance shown by murderers of St Thomas Becket. Perhaps the time has come for some public manifestation of our penance for what has happened. The Bishops of England and Wales have proposed the Fridays of May as days of penance. For practicing Catholics this will not be taken lightly however what it will really mean for the vast majority of Britain is doubtful apart from the ritual humiliation of the perceived offenders which seems to be becoming yet another national past time.

What could be more obvious is a public manifestation of our penance in an ongoing gesture towards the society we live in. The stable funding of therapeutic centres for those who have suffered perhaps? More hostels for the homeless?  Direct funding of medical units, research and practical, who observe Catholic principles? The funding for more people to work in the already overstretched child protection units in each diocese? It's time for a 'grand' gesture. Suggestions on a post card to Ecclestone Square. No, wait, perhaps a Catholic Reparation Trust that could quietly get on with the job of funding more than just bandages.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Whines of Change

I came across a rather sad little web site recently. It shall remain nameless because it's an embarassment for the Catholic Church in general and for the website's cause in particular. Now what was the problem? Was it that decidedly 1970s feel that you got (both in authorship and design)? Was it that it was highly likely to attract spam pop ups from muesli and sandal companies plying their wares to a sympathetic demographic group? Was it that, one suspected, the highest accolade they ever really would want to achieve would be some sort of accreditation from Fairtrade? No actually the saddest thing was some rather shoddy logic. You would have thought that people of this generation would have had the remnants of an education that enabled them to sort the chaff from the wheat at a basic level. Thankfully their 'hit counter', which they seem to be quite proud of, seems to be stuck quite low. They might want to look into that.

Now I'm not the sharpest tool in the box but I did get some early instruction in what we called 'clear thinking' when I was about 10 or 11. It came from a rather radical young Marxist who had found his way into the education system. He was an atheist. I remember him with great affection becuase the logical principles he instilled have served me well over the years. It's given me a bit of a nose for smelling inconsistencies particularly arguments ex nihilo- that is trying to prove a point from the absence of evidence rather than its presence.

Now this web page does have a rather clever feature which is also its downfall. It provides a quick link to what it describes as seven 'indisputable facts' about the particular cause it's promoting. At a cursory view all seven arguments are flawed logically. The first relies on a bad syllogism.  The second relies on the absence of evidence: 'There's nothing to say we can't do what we want to'.  The third is an personal attack on the intellectual capabilities of the 'opposition'; 'There has been shoddy work done by one of their scholars therefore the rest of them can get lumped in the same bucket.' The fourth relies on contested historical evidence. The fifth relies on confused terminology and appeal to a 'latent' concept in the mind of man. The sixth relies on it being the popular world view therefore, by force of numbers, it must be right. The seventh relies on an emotive argument; 'We feel that it is right therefore it must be'.

There is a danger that those of us supporting the Church and it's teaching can fall into this same sort of intellectual laziness. With this comes the danger that we may, with all good intentions, use arguments and support conclusions that just do not stand up to scrutiny. We see quite a bit of this in debate over the problems in the Church at the moment. One set of uncited statistics are thrown as a counterbalance to another. The absence of action is seen as the deliberate intention to subvert. The value of feelings and emotions are given equal standing with hard cold facts. It's almost as if the intellectual treasures of mankind are being thrown to the wind in favour of a war of disinformation. It's not credible to either side.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Giants in the land

Are you sitting comfortably? Once upon a time... well it was once sort of true....most leadership in the Church came from the clergy and religious of both genders. It's the model that most traddies would have been comfortable with. There is no doubt that there is a bit of a shift in the tectonic plates of Church dynamics. Not the theology or dogma, mind you, but surely a paradigm shift in the way things are going to operate and, more importantly, where the impetus for reform in the Church is going to come from.

Where do we stand at the moment? Well, as of today, parts of the Roman Curia are looking a bit murky - those 'brown' envelopes say a lot about careerism in high places. Whole episcopal conferences are looking a bit dodgy as we wait for some inspired  maverick  to break ranks and bring the whole thing toppling down.  The clergy in the trenches have got far more pressing things to deal with. There's a bit of unreality going around. We know that things are seriously wrong amongst our leaders but exactly the best way of bleating about it escapes us- particularly if you've got seven plus Masses a week, a couple of funerals and whatever else comes to the door. Face it. The clergy, particularly those celebrating the traditional rites, must just get on with what they were ordained to do- hatch, match and dispatch.

Step up the laity! If the 'saving' of the Church is going to happen soon it's you that will have to take the upper hand now. We can assure you of our prayers, our spiritual guidance and whatever practical advice and help we can give but apart from that, at the moment, we are pretty well hamstrung. This is not to denigrate the seminal importance of a sea of wonderful weblogs but with the indolence of what is going on immediately above our heads you can be sure that these honest and valiant voices will be silenced if they rock the boat too much.

But why the laity? Well there at the moment I see the real spiritual riches of the Church. I think of 'X' an elderly man who quietly hears Mass in the Church each morning having already been praying for an hour and then goes off to clean another Church, voluntarily I might add, in a neighbouring suburb. I think of 'Y' who says the Stations each day, most of the year round, for the intentions of priests. I think of 'Z' and her husband who have not had an easy time of it but they are still there on there knees every morning well before the Iudica me starts. These are the spiritual giants.

I think also of 'A', one of the finest young philiosophical minds in Britain, who works tirelessly for the traditional rites providing a solid basis for the controversies swirling around our heads.  I think of 'B' a well known layman who is probably one of the best practical scripture teachers in the English speaking world. I think of 'C" one of the great webloggers who has managed to amass a lot of co workers, lay and clerical, into what is one of the most important sources of information for the traditional Catholic world. These are our intellectual giants. This small list could be expanded. They are not alone. The finest minds, at least in Britain, are largely amongst the laity. Most importantly these giants are not fettered by the inertia seemingly affecting the clergy. The reasons for this inertia are probably partially psychological but they are certainly fueled by the demonic.

At the moment the real power for reform would seem to lie with those laity undoubtedly in union with Pope Benedict. I know it's not easy to break the mold (or is it mould?) of centuries but I suspect it's time to stop being nice. Remember Our Lord cleansing the 'filth' from the temple? It certainly wasn't cucumber sandwiches with Aunt Agatha but then again it might be an alternative model that could be considered to have greater spiritual merit in comparison to the rather tired and impotent 1960s self love obsessed pseudo-gospel of passivity. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Breaking castes

The sight of 20 plus concelebrants processing to the altar at  this year's Easter Vigil set me to thinking again. All right, I admit it's an issue that's worried me  ever since I read Aidan Kavanagh's Elements of Rite a very long time ago. Apart from the practical aspect of whether they would have been better saying Masses for communities 'going without' this Easter there is an even more pastoral question of what message, even subliminal, is this putting across to all the faithful, especially the clergy themselves, at this time. Now the arguments for concelebration with the bishop are stronger. Those for purely priestly concelebration are problematic. There is also little doubt that it's a great and pastoral concession for those priests who could not say Mass in any other way. Yet it's general application amongst groups of priests is one of the loose ends that need to be tidied up.

The application of the norms is not consistent across the Catholic world. In some places it has been a mark of orthodoxy amongst the clergy, in others it has the been the sign of liberal solidarity. In some places it has been virtually required of clergy normally celebrating the Usus Antiquior (as a sign of general good will) in other places these clergy stay away from the Chrism Mass not even 'sitting in choir' to avoid offence on both sides of opinion. In some places it has been a convenient way of 'hiding' problem clergy whilst still collecting a stipend. I suspect an unhealthy hankering for 'respect' from all sides is creeping in. Christianity is not essentially  respectable.

But at the moment, and possibly for a longer time, there is an underlying problem which needs to be addressed. One suspects that, internally at least, the practice has solidified the notion of a priestly caste- apart from not within the whole of the Church- which must stand together, must protect itself from outward assault, or criticism, at whatever the cost. The rites of concelebration, and 'priestly solidarity' are often a convenient smoke screen to hide behind allowing abuses to go unchecked under the general cloak of fraternal charity.

Now the priests of the Church are a distinct group- their salvation is worked out in a somewhat different manner in their pastoral ministry. The non sacerdotal, who are equal members of Christ's faithful, 'work out' their salvation in the participation and support of the ministry of the Church. Surely at the moment it is time to consider whether we should be emphasising the unity of all believers rather than just one group, albeit it a special one, that make up the whole of the Body of Christ.

Of course the internal problem it not just the problem of those working largely within the revised rites. Whilst one of the greater criticisms of the traditionalist movement is it's rather heightened clericalism, certainly more than when the traditional rites were the norm, causing a distance in pastoral ministry which is very awkward. This is not purely the fault of the clergy but of an embattled laity with nostalgic ideas of what the 'good old days' were actually like even if they had not actually lived through the 'good old days' were like. I imagine the greater part of traditional clergy and laity never actually lived through the 'good old days'. The expectation that the clergy will, or should,  keep a lofty distance, does not tally with the traditional value of a pastor amongst his people consecrated to a special purpose amongst the faithful- not apart from them.

One small example. I find clerical dress a burden because of my own sinfulness and weakness. The snide remarks in the street and occasionally outright attacks are a fact of modern life in our 'nick of the woods'.  Yet the Church has repeatedly taught this to be a necessary sign and I observe the discipline. I draw the line when I am going to the gym. Call me old fashioned but a clerical collar doesn't seem to go well with my sweat gear and runners. Yet one of the 'neo-con'  faithful decided to take me to task over this foible of mine. 'How I can I respect you if your don't wear your collar' he opined. 'I don't need your respect' I snapped back rather petulantly. I then explained where I was off to. He hasn't spoken to me since. He may well have been right.

Is not at least part of the problem that the clergy have been placed on too high a collective pedastal and that ritual actions that seem to over emphasise a malaise within the Church at the moment- that is of a group that is above question and reproach, need to be seriously reconsidered?  My original selection of a photo for this entry, as a sort of homage to a noble Monsignor now deceased,  was of a rally in a certain Continental city, between 1933 and 1945. Considering the remarks of a Roman ecclesiastic during the week I thought it better to go for a more 'conservative' illustration. Oh I'm a dreadful coward!