I have already written about Msgr. Charles Pope (the “Monsignor with no uncertain trumpet” and the Monsignor dealing with “the lock and the key”). He has the rare gift of expressing himself in a highly imaginative and entertaining manner and is always a pleasure to read.
This time, Monsignor Pope (what a name, by the way…) deals with, so to speak, medical issues. In his experience (and in that of many of us, I am afraid), the spiritual development of many Catholics stops at age seven or eight and doesn’t progress much further as he goes through life; on the contrary, the risk of regression to first spiritual infancy and utter Catholic illiteracy is rather big and frequently observed.
Still, Monsignor Pope doesn’t fail to notice that whilst arrested development in every other aspect of life would not fail to greatly worry the parents, in the case of spiritual formation to remain at the level of a seven-year-old is considered nothing worrying at all. His example is in my eyes a bit extreme for a churchgoer, but it applies wonderfully to the army of lapsed Catholics out there whose theology is restricted to easy and convenient platitudes a’ la “God is Love” and “do not judge”; platitudes taken out of every context, uttered whenever convenient and generally very apt to persuade the spiritual child that there is no need to make any homework, let alone any penance, let alone any effort to be a better child.
I would give the main responsibility of this disastrous state of things to the Catholic clergy (yes, I do “judge” when I see a scandal, but he who criticises me is “judging” me too) who are, even more than the parents, those primarily in charge of the propagation of the Catholic message.
If here in the West we had courageous priests ready to risk their popularity instead of cuddling their audience with easy slogans and insipid common places, the message would get outside and reach, more or less indirectly, those who do not attend. You’d have an army of churchgoers properly instructed and ready to go out and spread the message with reasonable accuracy. Most of all, you’d have the end of the simplistic “celebration” mentality – utterly devoid of any obligation and only concerned with its own shallowness – now slowly infecting Catholic life. I was well in my Forties when I first heard people talking of “celebrating” instead of “mourning”, or before the astonishing meaning given to the words “do not judge” by the ignorants and the liberals became clear to me. I assure you these things didn’t happen in the Countries where I had been living up to then and I started to wonder what strange of Christianity this is, where people call themselves Christian but know more of Ghandi than Christ. Also here in Blighty was my first case of a person candidly reporting of being sure of being Christian, but not being sure of having ever been baptised. “I assume I was”, she said, “though my mother never mentioned it”. Church of England apparently, so a baptism should definitively have occurred. Words fail me.
Here in the West we have a massive epidemy of spiritual arrested developments and the problem continues to spread because many priests are (nothwithstanding the long years of theology studies, by which one wonders whether anything sensible has been learned at all) either astonishingly untrained or, more probably, predictably cowardly.
Proper Catholic instruction starts from the priest and the pulpit. If the priest does his job, more and more parents will send their children to be properly instructed; more and more adults will have intelligent answers to give to their friends; more and more of Catholic patrimony will start spreading around and become again, in time, part of the cultural patrimony of the country.
It must all start by the priest and the pulpit.