And so your truly was at Mass in a London “NuChurch”-church (pure logistics) which shall remain unnamed.
The homily was, surprisingly, not bad at all in principle, and all centred on our hope to be, one day, in the presence of God.
All fine then, you will Say?
There was an elephant in the church, most notable for his absence: hell.
Hell was not mentioned once; not directly, not indirectly, not as a rather remote possibility; not even, in fact, as something we are – in NuChurch parlance – pretty sure to avoid unless we are Pol Pot’s evil twin.
Hell was, simply, nowhere.
This made, after a while, the entire exercise rather strange, as it was not explained what happens if one’s hopes do not become reality. Leaving for a moment the elephant metaphor aside, I had in front of my eyes the image of a huge and exquisite buffet to which I am invited, without anyone telling me what happens if I do not want to get to the place, refuse the invitation, or get kicked out because of my obnoxious behaviour; and without anyone telling me that all three are, in fact, very realistic possibilities.
I am afraid this is a perhaps succulent, but not really realistic description of the buffet the celebrant had in mind; a buffet, by the way, whose invitation is in actual reality the result of constant application – or at least ardent desire in extremis to be invited – instead of something falling on us because we are always the soul of the party and pride ourselves of our “tolerance”, and everyone thinks we are so swell…
I waited and waited for the elephant to make his voluminous, embarrassing, but memorable appearance, giving sense to the entire exercise; but the church remained conveniently elephant-free.
We were, therefore, left with something similar to an unresolved equation, with a vital element of the entire proposition simply unexplained; nay, actually not even mentioned.
I do not know how you would have reacted, but I felt as if the homily had not given me or others any great help at all: if I will be invited – as it is clearly implied – to the buffet with a probability approaching certainty, where is my incentive to actually merit the invitation? If I am not told that instead of salmon and caviar the buffet might give me the choice between several types of human and animal excrements for all eternity, has the buffet thing been described to me with a sufficient degree of honesty?
A pity, because the salmon & caviar part was actually rather well made; but without the elephant, I don’t think it was worth much in the end.
Reading around on the Internet, one stumbles upon some debates that to this cradle Catholic – who grew up in a country and in a time where Catholicism was still taken seriously – do sound rather strange.
I therefore thought that I would spend two words about what I think is the role expected from a priest vis-a-vis the challenges of modern times – and, come to that, of all times -.
1) I find it very good that a priest is shocked at perverted behaviour. When a priest – or every other person – is not shocked anymore, this means that he has been polluted by perversion himself. One must wonder about the state of a soul who is not taken by disgust at seeing people of same sex holding hands in public or, worse, kissing. Of course a priest must not be a Pollyanna utterly unaware of the existence of sin; but neither can he be one who looks at sexual perversion without cringing.
2) I find it (after the consecration) the most important duty of the priest to be good from the pulpit. In particular, it is inconceivable to me how a priest – any pastor or minister, let alone a Catholic priest – may renounce to address the matter of sin. I do not only mean the sin of lust, but all sins: envy, gluttony, pride, the lot. We are surrounded by obese people, on their way to a life of trouble and a premature death, because the sin of gluttony is not mentioned anymore; we have more and more vocal perverts around, because their sin of pride has been hidden under the cloak of “understanding” for their “plight”, when vocal homosexuality is simply utter rebellion to Our Lord; we have the environmental madness and the spreading of socialist ideas, because the sin of envy is not properly addressed; nay, it is encouraged.
How important the homily is can be clearly seen from the fact that the Church post Vatican II has tried to kill it, transforming it in a harmless chat where no uncomfortable messages are conveyed. The measure in which sin is so accurately avoided in every trendy homily is simply scary. In fact, whilst we still say that something is said “from the pulpit”, the pulpit itself has been one of the victims of Vatican II. How many new churches have been built with a proper pulpit? And when a pulpit is available, how many priests still use it?
The entire concept and physical presence of the pulpit reminds one of sin. NuChurch wants to get rid of the concept of sin. Therefore, NuChurch has to get rid of the pulpit.
Let me state very plainly that to me, a priest who is unwilling to address sin from the pulpit is unrecognisable as a priest.
3) In my eyes, a good priest is one who is, as it is generally said, a lion from the pulpit and a lamb (when he sees contrition, of course) in the confessional. From the pulpit, I am reminded of what a wretched sinner I am. In the confessional, I am re-directed toward the path of salvation. Being a sinner, I need the constant reminder that I go astray, and need to be reconciled to Jesus; that I am like those half-broken spring-propelled toy cars we had as children, which couldn’t go straight and had to be constantly put on the right way again; and this not only in the very grave things, but in the lesser ones also. I need to be reminded that I alone can do pretty much perfectly absolutely nothing; that left to my devices, I am very likely to find a rather fast way to hell; that my path to improvement and to a life of – at least – struggle to be as good as I can goes through the humiliation of penance, the crushing acknowledgment that I continue to nail Christ to the Cross every day. And this humiliation is really good (I mean: salutary), because it keeps me away from the worst of the sin of pride, and puts ruthlessly in front of my eyes what wreckage concupiscence is ready to make in my soul, if I am complacent.
Unpleasant? You bet! The human condition is unpleasant: we are sinners ready to continue to offend Christ every day. We are serial sinners who, unless we are properly instructed and reminded and admonished and rebuked, would easily find a speedy way to hell, and the priest is the man to help us avoid that.
4) Still, my ideal priest is one who uses a wise mixture of all that; one whose homilies are a healthy mixture of instruction and admonition, of hope and brimstone, of roaring and consoling. By one homily of twelve to fifteen minutes a week there is really a lot to say, and a normal churchgoer can have a thorough foundation in Catholic teaching, and at the same time develop a very healthy, nay, indispensable sense of his own sinfulness, in a matter of just a few years. This is what has always happened in the past, when people actually built churches with pulpits; and this is what the perverted generation of Vatican II has abandoned. Even the way to the confessional clearly goes through the pulpit, as the confessionals are deserted because the need for confession is not stressed strongly enough. One would have to talk about sin, you know. So he devotes the homily to the jooooy that awaaaaaits us aaaall in heaaaaven instead. “What a beautiful homily, Father”, will the people whose hand he is – in pure Protestant fashion – happily shaking after Mass say to him. Nothing but smiles all around. How very nice.
5) A good priest is, in my eyes, one who doesn’t refrain from addressing sexual perversion from the pulpit. He will – if he is any good – be able to express himself in a way that is clear without being obscene, and can be directed to the adults without upsetting the children. I agree that one hundred years ago the Sin of Sodom didn’t need to be addressed in Church; but others did, and St. Augustine openly rebuked his parishioners who slept with their own servants without being so afraid of what questions the children of these very fathers might have asked after Mass.
This is not meant to offend anyone in particular, of course. In fact, the blog where I have read one of these debates is run by what I think a most excellent priest. But then again, it is surprising what comments people (or even: priests) can write around as comments to blog posts or answers to questions. If I look back at my own experience the lack of proper homilies as a child has been, no doubt, one of the things which allowed me to slide away from mass attendance. If the priests isn’t serious, you end up not taking the Mass seriously. My mistake of course, but I can’t say that I was even warned from doing the mistake. Such were the times and such they, I do not doubt, very often are. We live in times where many priests would consider mentioning Mass obligation a no-no. Then they complain about the fact that the world is so materialistic and not turned to God. Why don’t they wake up instead.
A priest doesn’t have to be a master in sensitivity. He is there to save souls. He must be able to find the words, and to use the strong ones when needed. This is what a loving father does.
At times I have the impression that modern “Fathers” would prefer to be called “Mother” instead.