Daily Archives: June 14, 2010
In the past weeks confused but altogether not reassuring news about the planned Papal visit to the UK have started to circulate. Explosions of costs were mentioned, uncertainties about the venues and contrasts between the local bishops and the Vatican about where to celebrate the Beatification Mass of Cardinal Newman.
It is sad that such an important occasion (important because of the powerful symbolic value of a visit in a highly secularised country as the United Kingdom) should be clouded by issues like organisational failures and lack (or better: waste) of faithful’s money. Still, some broader issues arise from this situation.
The first is the character of the Beatification Mass. I can’t see how a mass celebrated in an airport can be as solemn and edifying as a Mass celebrated in a Cathedral or other church building. In an airport, the main aspect of the Mass (the sacrificial one) is clouded by the “gathering” aspect of the event. This is in my eyes better left to the Protestants. There is a reason why buildings have been erected for the purpose of celebrating Mass rather than looking for the next available open space, and it is because they are a more fitting place.
The second issue is the necessity of such megalomaniacal planning. I do not agree that when a Pope comes to visit a huge effort should be made to allow as many people as possible to see him. The Pope is the Head of the Universal Church and his visit has a high symbolic meaning irrespective of how many people are there to see him. It is not a contest to see who can mobilise the greatest masses.
The third issue is one of pure ability and competence. If there was the capacity of organising such huge events at a reasonable cost, without squandering money and remaining within budget, then such gigantic efforts might, hypothetically, start to make some sense. But this ability is obviously not there.
The fourth issue is how the faithful’s money is spent. From the relevant internet page we are informed that £350,000 are going to be spent for “evangelisation material” and £650,000 for “communication work” of various sort. For one event. This looks like “jobs for the boys” to me. Also notice the £200,000 on “fundraising costs” in a country where the Catholic Church is represented everywhere and most wealthy donors are just a phone call away. All this, whilst churches are closed for alleged lack of funds.
It is illusory to think that one can forward the Catholic cause in the United Kingdom by organising mass gatherings. Catholicism is promoted by being Catholic, saying it out loud and demanding to be heard in every matter touching the Catholic faith. The bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are evidently deficient in this and the “missionary zeal” that the Holy Father has demanded from them is clearly not there.
A couple of televised events will not make up for the lack of this missionary zeal. Particularly if they are mismanaged.
The Psalmist’s rod and staff are traditionally used images to convey the fact that the faithful will invariably need unpleasant correction. As the shepherd uses the rod and the staff in a way which is not pleasant to the sheep but keeps them away from harm or sudden death, the spiritual shepherd must at times use his spiritual rod and staff to make clear to his sheep that they are headed in the wrong direction and a correction of course is needed. This kind of correction is unpleasant – more so in modern times, where more and more people think that they are the creators of their own moral coördinates – but is nevertheless necessary and salutary.
For too long, we have been led to believe that the good shepherd is the one who is popular among the sheep; the one whom the sheep consider a frightfully nice chap, a smiling tolerant inclusive fellow and, in short, a pleasant bloke all around. For too long, our spiritual shepherds have tried to be our friends rather than our guides, have thought that we would naturally grow out of all our shortcomings instead of charitably but clearly pointing out to them and have in general tried to avoid every occasion of making themselves, well, less popular. The first result of such a shepherd’s behaviour is that many of his sheep start to die; the second, that more and more sheep start to question whether they need a shepherd at all; the third, that an increasing number of sheep lose the sense of why the shepherd was there in the first place other than to entertain them with platitudes abundantly available everywhere.
Thankfully, all this slowly begins to change. As the post-Vatican II (and post Sixty-Eight) generation of priests slowly retires and a new generation of more orthodox priests begins to fill the pulpits, a clear tendency to a more assertive style of spiritual guidance is frequently noticed. The rod and the staff are coming back. You can see here that the Holy Father himself insists on the point.
The Holy Father’s words are particularly important, because they come at a time when the push toward tolerance at all costs is particularly strong within the secularised West; strong, in fact, to the point that such an “inclusiveness” seems to have become the new religion, the moral absolute and the ethical compass of a growing number of secular – or simply not properly instructed – individuals.
We need more of these assertive shepherds. We need more Fulton Sheens and less Roger Mahonys. We want our shepherd to use his rod and his staff to help us to grow instead spoiling us rotten so that he may be popular and have an easy life.