A short piece of writing by Elizabeth Wang about how the Catholic faith can be lived and celebrated within a Faithful Diocese, and the responsibilities of all the faithful - and especially bishops - to stay faithful to Christ and His Church. Written in 2010.
[Image above: "The Bishop, after death, gives an account of his Ministry", Picture Code: T-07936C-CW]
2. THE LAITY IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
3. CATECHISTS AND TEACHERS IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
4. THE PRIEST AT WORK IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
5. THE BISHOP IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
A picture of the Church today
The Lord has given to me, in prayer – over a long period of time – a picture of the Catholic Church today: the Church which he founded and which I revere. Since the Church is His Body, I believe all that she teaches. I accept her customs and her discipline; and my love for the Church has grown, ever since I was received into full communion with the Church in 1968. I was immensely grateful for that privilege, and had no ambition except to do God’s Will in ordinary ways as I cared for my young family. I have never had any desire to examine or comment on the views or habits of fellow-Catholics; yet the Lord has made it plain for several years that He has called me to share His gifts through the work of ‘Radiant Light’, and also to share what He has shown me about the state of the Church after a long period of desacralisation.
Although, as I said, I look upon the Church with awe and admiration, as do many who seek truth and perfection, the Lord has shown me that parts of His Body are so wounded, today, or malnourished, that He sees only discolouration or decay; and Christ wants those wounds to be recognised and healed, not ignored in the hope that they will heal themselves. He wants the healing to be done by those who have what I do not have: power and influence, in other words, our Bishops. That is why He has asked me to write this piece – but in a particular manner.
He has asked me to focus first of all on describing what He is glad to see happening in faithful parishes and Dioceses. Only later on is there a detailed list of many of those abuses and unwise practices which are unworthy of Catholics and which the Lord wants to see changed. To please Him, I am going to write first about the laity. Then I shall write about parents, teachers and catechists, before mentioning priests, Bishops, and men and women in Religious Life.
Much of what Christ has shown me in prayer about the wounds within the Church have, through the years, then been confirmed by what I have seen with my own eyes in Liturgical worship, ecumenical events, catechetical meetings, Catholic ‘faith-sharing’ groups, and everyday parish life; and this has given me an even greater desire to fulfil the Lord’s Will, no matter how much I regret my inadequate descriptions – and my own failings.
I know that many Bishops as well as members of the laity long for renewal in their parishes and Dioceses; yet they wonder if renewal is possible when many Catholics dispute the long-standing, true teachings of the Church, or demand unacceptable changes in faith and morals, or show more respect for man than reverence for God, in worship, or grumble about current discipline. Yet something must be done, as Catholics live and work amongst different cultures, enduring all sorts of hardships, and many new temptations to abandon the Faith. Christ has shown me, however, that wonderful changes can come about simply through faithfulness to all that the Church teaches in her catechisms and Creeds.
How to achieve renewal
Christ has told me that the most effective way of achieving renewal is for Catholics to believe, teach, and practise the Catholic Faith in its fullness, without joining in the arguments between Catholics so frequently heard today. Christ says that there is no need for novel programmes of renewal, nor any need to pay consultants to devise costly and exhausting schemes which might revive the faith of the lukewarm or the dispirited. In Christ’s view, the main reason for the decline of the Church in much of the globe is the lack of sound teaching. He has heard a great ‘silence’ on the part of many who teach, but who have omitted from their teachings the ‘basics’ of our way of life; and when many Catholics are ignorant of the truths of the Faith, they do not know how to live and act in ways pleasing to the Father.
A lack of sound teachings
It is a tragedy, in Christ’s sight, that many Catholics have not been taught the Commandments; furthermore, many do not know that they are members of the one, united Church which was founded by Christ. They do not know that Christ teaches us through her, with authority. They have never heard about the Real, substantial Presence of Christ our God in the Blessed Sacrament. They do not know that the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on Calvary, indeed, of His whole Paschal work. They believe that the Mass is a meal; and they have no awareness of the need to be in a ‘state of grace’ before receiving what they call ‘bread and wine’, in Holy Communion. Indeed, they know little about grace, and little about sin, whether mortal or venial, because the Cross and sin are little mentioned. It is hardly surprising that they have no firm desire for sanctity. They have no intention of preparing for life in Heaven because they have been given the impression that everyone drifts into Heaven, in the end.
They have learned more about self-esteem and fulfilment than obedience and love. They have no idea of the importance of chastity – or of the effect of the sacraments, through which we can receive the power to resist temptation. They do not believe that when we die, we shall be judged, and shall go to Heaven – even if through Purgatory – or to Hell. It is for these reasons and others that Christ has asked me to paint in words a picture of a Diocese where the Faith is lived in all its fullness, and where most Catholics have opened their eyes and hearts to His wishes, and live and act as Catholics should, in their particular circumstances.
- THE LAITY IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
In this Diocese, where the Faith is lived in its fullness, and where a faithful Bishop leads his people, the laity have all been well-instructed in the truths of the Catholic Faith. Everyone has been taught that God is Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one God, Who has made everything that exists. He is wholly good, wise, generous, beautiful – and extravagant in showing love and offering gifts. He is very tender, always benevolent, and merciful and forgiving. He is just like the Father in the Gospel story about the son who squandered his inheritance.
Everyone knows that the inner life of God consists of Infinite love, beauty, glory and bliss, and that God longs to share His joy. That is why He created the Universe, and human beings. Yet everyone knows, however, that He is very powerful and holy. It is as if He is a blazing fire of holiness into which only those who are as pure as He may enter without pain. He has slowly revealed Himself to the human race, so that He can change us and prepare us for union with Himself in unending joy and fulfilment.
No-one in the Diocese has been left confused, after hearing merely that God became man, and died for us, to save us from our sins. Without further explanations, that statement is inadequate. But everyone has heard, through catechetical programmes, and homilies, that almighty God has had a marvellous plan to help us, has put it into effect, and is now bringing it to its fulfilment.
Christ’s saving work
Everyone has learned the essential truths about that ‘plan of salvation’. Long ago, when the world had fallen under the influence of the evil one, God, in His compassion, decided to come down to earth to conquer Satan and to deliver us from the fear of death. He chose a people, and prepared them to receive His Son. God the Father revealed Himself, little by little, to their Patriarchs and Prophets, then most fully revealed Himself in His Son: Jesus Christ, God-made-man, a little over two thousand years ago.
Everyone has learned that God the Father sent His Son to earth, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus lived amongst us: love made visible, for a short life-time. And everyone has been told that Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sakes. His venture into our world inevitably brought Him torment and pain. He was determined to reveal to everyone the extent of Divine Love for weak human beings, and to bring us to share in His glory; but first, He had to show everyone by His words and example how to lead a good life; yet the essence of a good life is to do the Will of God the Father; and it is impossible to live in a sinful world, doing the Father’s Will by leading a pure life, and speaking the truth, without angering those whose lives are very different. This is true of every follower of Christ through the ages; but it meant that Christ, first, must accept persecution and death; and He did so.
Jesus turned His death, however, from a tragedy into a triumph. In rising from the dead He conquered sin and death. He proved Himself the victor over Satan, and proved that His claim was true: that He had come down to earth from Heaven. All who come to Him and put their trust in Him can share His victory over the power of evil – by the power of His Spirit Who lives in our hearts from the moment of our Baptism.
Every Catholic in the Diocese, therefore, has been firmly assured of the uniqueness of the Christian religion. All over the world there are thoughtful and prayerful people of other religions who want to know God and to do what is right; but no-one can save himself, or penetrate the Godhead by thought, or make himself worthy of Heaven; so Jesus came to help and rescue all who will believe in Him. Jesus is the only Saviour of Mankind. He came from Heaven to show us the Way to Heaven. Only through Him do we have access to the Father of Light, as His children, who have the right to be heard in prayer, and to enter Heaven in the end, if we have remained faithful.
By the love and obedience of the Son of God, in His earthly life, the gulf between Heaven and earth has been bridged. By His Resurrection and Ascension Jesus has opened Heaven’s door, which had been shut since the sin of the first human beings: the Original Sin. He invites everyone to repent, to be baptised, and to be transformed by His Holy Spirit, dwelling within us. Through the grace given in the sacraments and in prayer, with guidance from the sure teachings of the Catholic Church, we are all invited to lead lives worthy of ‘children of God’ who are on their way to their Father’s Home.
Everyone knows that the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was the pivotal event of history. God had reached out from beyond time and space to become man; and He even shared our sufferings – even enduring death, to conquer sin and death; and that is the good news that every Catholic in the Diocese has been told is meant to be shared, in appropriate times and places, with people of other religions or none.
Sin and weakness
Everybody knows the importance of repentance, and trust in God. They know that He looks with pity upon weak human beings who fall into sin in a moment’s weakness. God sees that earthly life is an unending struggle against the temptations caused by our own sinful natures and the wiles of Satan; and God constantly reaches out to help us. The sacraments of the Church are the channels, instituted by God, for the Divine power we need to change our lives, to love as He loves, and to enter and share the very life of the Holy Trinity.
Everyone knows the importance of Confession, and has been advised that the Sacrament of Penance is as important for a healthy spiritual life as a regular bath or shower is, for a person who wants to keep clean. It is common knowledge that those who have committed serious sin should not step up to receive Jesus in Holy Communion unless they have first confessed and received absolution.
Everyone knows that we receive the Holy Eucharist not merely as food at a communal meal but as the completion of our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Even little children know that to be in a Catholic church, for Mass, is like standing at the foot of the Cross with Mary, on Calvary, as Jesus offers Himself to the Father for our sakes, and prays for sinners to be forgiven. It is explained to everyone that since we could not be there on Calvary two thousand years ago when Jesus prayed to the Father for the people who had crucified or betrayed Him we can be in church, today, as that very Sacrifice is offered for all sinners, by the same Victim and Priest, in a sacramental manner. Jesus is made Really Present by the words and actions of the priest, in obedience to Jesus’s command – and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Present in the church
Everybody is encouraged to adore Jesus, the living Incarnate Lord Who is Present amongst us, hidden in the Sacred Host. They know that as the priest prays for the Church, at Mass, it is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Priest whom the priest at the altar represents, Who is now interceding for us with the Father. A faithful Catholic is awestruck at being in the Presence of the Risen Christ as Christ prays to Heaven for all the graces we need to be faithful in His service and in the service of our neighbour. This is why we approach the altar with the deepest reverence and joy, to receive Christ in Holy Communion. We genuflect as to a King on entering and leaving the building; and we talk only in a whisper if we must disturb the peace to hand on some urgent message. We know that the church is full of Angels and Archangels who adore Christ Really Present.
A fervent Catholic loves to join in Eucharistic devotions, outside the time of Mass. He knows that the Incarnate Son of God is Present, as if in a throne-room; and he honours Christ with the worship due to God. He is glad that the priest arranges Eucharistic processions, with hymns, banners, and flowers, and uses a beautiful monstrance for Adoration and Benediction. Everything used is elegant and beautiful, and worthy of Christ; and all who are present show gratitude and awe towards their Saviour.
The First Commandment
All faithful Catholics are determined to remain close to God, showing love for Him, honouring Him and doing His Will at every moment of the day. They know that private prayer is essential, for a living and growing friendship with Christ, and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit; so they make time for prayer, as a priority, and do not fit it into a few moments between one sort of entertainment and another. They pray together as a family, too, with grace before meals. They offer prayers for the sick or the dying whenever they have sad news, or a moment’s prayer of thanks together on hearing good news. They bow their heads when they utter the name of Jesus; and when it is possible, they adopt certain devotions, and pray the Rosary together; but each individual tries to find a quiet corner, and kneels to pray each morning and evening; and each prays in a less formal manner when travelling, or at work, indeed, at frequent intervals. Apart from the sick and elderly, people do not lie in bed to praise and honour God at the start and end of each day. They kneel or stand, to pray. God deserves the best of everything, including our ‘best’ devotion and behaviour. They know that He looks on with tenderness when people are overtaken by tiredness or forget how majestic and glorious He is; yet all who want to please Him show reverence as well as love, and try to avoid lukewarmness in every area of life.
The Second Commandment
Those whose love for God is sincere know that since God made and cherishes every human being, they too must love other people. They understand that it is not necessary to pretend to have warm feelings. The essence of love is to want the best for the other, and to wish him well; so they try, with God’s help, to act with kindness and generosity towards all people, with special compassion for people in special need of help. They do not neglect their own families and friends in order to help others, but rely on grace and common-sense to make wise decisions about how to spend their time, talents and money.
They know that to show love for God and neighbour, it is not necessary to do so in dramatic ways. If they are free to travel locally or faraway, to help the poor, or prisoners, or to do admirable work for needy people of any sort, they do so. But they know that duties towards family, friends, and the local church should not be pushed aside for more glamorous work for the needy.
There are needy children or parents at home who deserve food, company, advice, faith-instruction and prayer. Good mothers know that the fulfilment of their duties towards their husbands and children is more important than the sort of self-fulfilment advocated by extreme feminists. They do not find it demeaning to do lowly tasks in the home or to care for elderly parents; however, they do not criticise women who have to go out to work, or who prayerfully decide to go out to work and who make use of good childcare schemes. Good husbands, as heads of families, recognise their duty to provide support for their wives and children in appropriate ways.
All of these faithful people understand, however, that the greatest importance must be attached to helping others in their spiritual lives; for it is useless to become healthy and wealthy yet to lose God for all Eternity. So they encourage others to open their hearts to God, or to practice the Faith, if they are Catholic already. They are as concerned to help others to avoid moral danger as to help them to avoid physical abuse or starvation. They try to give generous support to societies and groups which work to share the teachings of the Church, as well as to those who campaign for practical help for the poor.
In longing for all their friends and neighbours to become holy and happy, they try to set a good example, especially by forgiving and helping people who hurt or despise them, and by showing patience and forgiveness within the family, indeed, in every area of life. They are aware of the impact that their everyday behaviour can have upon others, and the favourable impact that can be made by the unshowy but constant practice of the virtues.
The virtue of chastity
For the sake of those who surround them, and for the sake of their own souls, and the glory of God, they take special care over chastity, which is so easily forfeited by young people – and by adults who fail to avoid the many ‘occasions of sin’ in a secular society. Faithful Catholics look with pity not condemnation upon those members of the Church who ignore Christ’s wishes and seem to care little for purity. They do not gossip about such people; but they are saddened if they hear that certain Catholic friends or relatives are co-habiting before being married, or are trying to re-marry after a divorce but without an annulment, or claim to have become a spouse to a person of the same gender. They are saddened by Catholics who declare their approval of contraceptive use and even abortion, or who promote such practices amongst children, and amongst people who suffer from HIV or AIDS. They are saddened to hear of the ‘spare’ embryos now being frozen and stored, or used for experimentation, or discarded when people have had I.V.F treatment; and they are horrified by talk of the creation of animal-human embryos. They are glad to hear their Bishop protest against these evils, and not just against other problems such as wars of aggression, or consumerism.
These faithful Catholics are quick to repent of their own sins, however. They know that it is Christ’s wish that we live in humility, and mutual kindness and forgiveness. They see both life and faith as gifts from God; and their gratitude make them joyful, even in the difficulties which are part of everyday life.
These husbands and wives are determined to set a good example in a prayerful and joyful life, faithful to Christ and to the teachings of His Church. They are not disconcerted if they fail to fit into society or are a cause of puzzlement to various friends or neighbours who think them superstitious, or deluded – though it causes them some heartache. They delight in God’s love for them, and in their love for one another; and they delight in their children. They demonstrate love towards them by thoughtful, practical care, and by conversation, evident affection, mutual forgiveness, and family celebrations. They set an example of charity which the children can admire and follow, and which is not outweighed by minor disagreements or misunderstandings. These parents are completely committed to their marriage, no matter what problems they meet, and abhor the idea of divorce; so the children feel secure, unlike many of their friends.
These parents have a special delight in telling their children how fortunate they are to belong to the Church: the one, only Church that Christ founded to be His Body on earth. They explain that the Church will continue to do, until the end of time, what Christ did in His earthly life. The Catholic Church is calling everyone to Baptism and repentance, sharing the good news about the forgiveness we can receive from God, offering the Holy Sacrifice for sin, teaching the truth about faith and morals with the authority given to her by Christ, and explaining the meaning of Sacred Scripture. She alone, amongst all Christian bodies, has the ‘fullness of the means of salvation.’
Good parents do not contradict the teachings of the Church. They know that it is Christ who teaches us, through her. Care is taken, by any Catholic married to a non-Catholic, not to slide into the indifferentism which would cause someone to remark that it does not matter which ‘church’ a person belongs to; yet the husband respects the sincerity of his spouse and vice versa.
Sex and sexuality
Good parents teach the Faith to their children little by little, in ways and words appropriate to each child’s age and capacity. They teach them how to pray; and they take special delight in describing Jesus’s Real Presence in church, in the tabernacle. They take great care in preparing their children for a special meeting with Jesus in their First Holy Communion; and they encourage them to love and to forgive, like Jesus. Yet they are concerned with every aspect of the lives of their children; so they not only teach them how to be holy, and try to set an example they can follow; they teach them, at appropriate times, and in appropriate language, about their bodily development, so that the children are not dismayed by the changes which they see taking place in themselves; rather, they are intrigued that the human body is so marvellously designed.
In teaching their children about sex, the parents do not thrust unnecessary information upon them too soon; and when they answer the children’s questions truthfully, they always link the subject of sex to marriage and morality, and to the gift of life. They make firm efforts to take away the possibility of the children having access to pornography; and they know that they can trust their Catholic school not to offer unnecessary information, nor to give instruction on unusual and immoral sexual practices, nor to advocate contraceptive methods and devices, the use of which is, objectively, gravely sinful.
The gift of life
These parents welcome further children who arrive as the fruit of their loving union. They resist the temptation to act deliberately against the teaching of the Church on contraception and to snatch the pleasure of sexual union whilst by sinful means refusing the gift of a child. They recognise such actions as being a sort of reproductive bulimia. They never grumble about pregnancy, even if only the grace of God helps them to endure hardship and hard work. Although they would not dream of judging anyone’s heart or conscience they know that a person who declares that her conscience tells that her contraceptive use is not sinful has an erroneous conscience. It would not occur to them to declare that they know better – so to speak – than all the Popes, Bishops, Saints and Doctors of the Church of nearly two thousand years, on this subject or any other moral issue.
Faithful Catholics do not give in to the temptation to look longingly at separated Christians, envying them their different types of teaching, worship and government. They know that some ecclesial bodies are indeed ancient, and have a valid priesthood, yet have divided into different autonomous groups. Other Christians have adopted Catholic vestments and devotions in the past hundred years, yet are rooted in Protestantism. Some Christian communities have many baptised members who lead admirable lives; yet they have no valid Priesthood, and gather for a ‘Communion Service’ not a Mass. They mistakenly believe that they can ordain women. Many Christian communities advocate immoral practices even as they provide compassionate care for many people in need. In their official teaching, they declare that there is no need for Christians to have a Pope, nor to believe all that the Catholic Church teaches on faith and morals. They do not teach the need of prayer for the dead, or encourage prayer to the Saints. Prayer to Our Blessed Lady is often unknown.
Other Christian groups have abandoned all idea of a three-fold hierarchy of Bishops, priests and deacons. Some no longer believe in the need for sacraments – not even Baptism, which Christ told us is essential. These are some of the reasons why good Catholic parents are determined to remain faithful to Catholic teachings – and to share them with others, in appropriate circumstances. They are glad to receive encouragement from orthodox members of the Clergy who also want to nurture and spread the Faith.
A privileged vocation
None of these parents gossips about the Clergy and about the personal
failings sometimes evident even in priests and Bishops. Indeed, they respect priests as ‘other Christs’ amongst them; and all hope for the honour of having a priest in the family, knowing that it is a privilege for a man to be chosen. They believe that the Sacred Priesthood is a special vocation, not to be seen as just one sort amongst others, but as the highest calling. They know that priests imitate Christ in a special way, sharing His Priesthood and receiving the power to forgive sins, to bless, to make Christ Present amongst His own people today, to offer the Holy Sacrifice, and to teach, and to explain the Scriptures.
Good parents expect the Catholic Faith to be taught from the pulpit and in the classroom, as true, by Catholics offering ideas, or using books and programmes, which are well-produced and orthodox. They do not want Catholic schools to merge with other Christian establishments. They do not want their children to hear a watered-down version of the Faith, no matter how sincere and kind the people who might offer it. They do not want their children to gain the idea that there is a ‘basic Christianity’ of core beliefs, to which Catholics have to add a few ‘extras’. They know that good teaching about the Catholic Faith is grounded on Who Christ is, what He came to earth to do, why He founded a Church, and where that teaching Church can be found today, still teaching with His authority, just as in past ages, and sharing the grace of Christ in the sacraments.
A similar outlook
Wise Catholic parents encourage their adult children to look amongst fellow-Catholics for a marriage partner. They are aware of all the problems and heartaches that arise when a non-Catholic spouse begins to resent the demands or traditions of the Church. They know about the indifferentism that can develop in a Catholic if his spouse does not pray, attend Mass, appreciate holy objects in the home, or want a priest in the family. Some non-Catholics lead admirable Christian lives; yet it remains true that where both parents are Catholic the children are less likely to abandon the Faith in later years; and throughout the years, two Catholics who sincerely believe in and try to practise the Faith are more likely to avoid painful conflicts about contraception, abortion, education, and many other matters, which can divide families and lead to resentment and worse.
These are the reasons why parents encourage their children to attend the retreats, festivals and conferences of fervently Catholic Movements, each of which encourages sincere devotion towards Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and loyalty to the teachings of the Church. Parents have also seen the value of Catholic marriage web-sites, where Catholics can register on-line, with safe-guards, and look for a fellow-Catholic who seems to share the same interests, with a view to meeting, and perhaps marrying, if all goes well.
- CATECHISTS AND TEACHERS IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
Speaking with conviction
In this Diocese, where the Faith is lived in all its fullness, each teacher or catechist has an honoured place in the Church, as she shares the treasures of the Faith. Everyone in this Diocese knows that teachers believe, and try to practice, the Faith. Indeed, no-one is allowed to instruct others in the Catholic Faith, in a Catholic school or parish, who is not willing to declare that he or she believes all that the Church teaches. Everyone knows that when a Catholic disagrees with one facet of Catholic teaching, or several, she cannot teach the Faith with conviction, or she will water down one aspect or another, to fit in with her own ideas, when in truth the whole Faith hangs together – as is plainly seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Catholic parents know that their catechist accepts the Church’s teachings with religious obedience, never minimises the Church’s teaching authority, never omits from the Liturgy passages of Holy Scripture that do not please her, and does not misrepresent the Church’s teaching on the role of conscience. She makes good use of the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church.’
She does not recommend that people make plans to be received into the Church who want to belong to a loving community but who refuse to believe what the Church teaches. Where some doctrines seem puzzling, and further explanations have no effect, the catechist recommends continued prayer, and reading; but she does not suggest that anyone enter in the hope of believing later on; or if a potential convert is firmly opposed to certain important teachings, he is not accepted as a candidate or catechumen until he is willing to believe that the Church might be right.
The catechist neither uses nor devises experience-based systems of instruction in which the sole focus is the needs of human beings rather than the Will of God, and His plan of Salvation. She never omits from her courses those doctrines which she herself might not fully understand, whether Original Sin, the existence of Angels, the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady or the effectiveness of prayer to the Saints; for example. She gladly proclaims all that the Church proclaims; and by study and prayer she hopes to increase her understanding.
Shopping for truth?
She does not teach a version of the Faith constructed by persons so enamoured of worldly ways that the notion of ‘choice’ permeates all that is heard. She makes it plain that each of us is made free. We can freely choose whether to love and serve God and our neighbour, and whether to follow Christ in the Church He founded for everyone, to live in obedience and trust until we die. Then she explains that we do not act like shoppers in the world who have their own pleasure and convenience in mind as they try to decide between rival goods. Catholics should not decide that they will follow Catholic teachings on hierarchy, Anglican teachings on morals, Quaker teachings on pacifism, and atheist-humanist teachings on medical ethics. All Catholic teachings fit together as a coherent whole; so that is why a Catholic need not pretend that he is making an ‘informed choice’, if he is tempted to go against the teaching of the Church.
A well-instructed Catholic knows that some things are wrong; and if he wants to be faithful to God he prays for help and does not do wrong. Or if he sins, in his weakness, he then repents, and tries again to lead a good life. But he does not pretend that a sinful act such as adultery, is a reasonable choice for an intelligent man – even if his wife has been in hospital for years and he knows that heroism is required if he is to remain chaste. The same principles apply to other moral issues, such as the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of the use of contraception.
The purpose of human life
The good catechist knows that the purpose of human life is union with God: in the present, and for all Eternity. She teaches the simple truth, that God wants us all to repent and be forgiven, to give up our sins, with His help, and to find joy in loving, and being loved, in a state of grace, all the while growing in holiness. God would be unjust, were He not to make plain to us what is sinful and what is not; and so He has acted justly, giving us the Church and her authoritive teachings to guide us, and priests who can confer on us His forgiveness. The catechist who speaks about right and wrong in the life of a Catholic does not make the mistake of speaking about the ‘Beatitudes’ in a way that suggests that it is no longer necessary to keep the Commandments. She explains that the ‘best’ sort of Christian disciple is indeed poor in spirit, saddened by evil deeds, self-effacing yet hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, quick to make peace, steadfast in persecution, and joyful when ill-treated because of his faith in Christ; but the catechist does not scorn the moral teaching of the Church, nor its wise rules and regulations by which weak souls are enabled to see the course of the path they should follow, and are helped to undertake a systematic conquest of their sins and failings.
Rules and regulations
The catechist does not believe that she infantilises those she teaches by inviting them to examine and remember passages from Scripture and the Catechism - or lists of sins and virtues. Just as parents do not wait until a child can understand the whole Highway Code before they teach him how to use a zebra crossing, to keep him alive, so the catechist does not wait until a pupil is thoroughly educated in psychology and theology, before advising him to learn and obey the Commandments – to keep his soul alive. Yet the catechist loves to teach the Faith in its fullness. She loves to see people grow in gratitude as they begin to grasp the extent of the Father’s love for us, the magnificence of His whole plan of salvation, and the greatness of the gift we have received, in receiving His own Son: Jesus Christ, God-made-man.
She aims to give a picture of the whole of God’s wonderful plan of salvation in ways that pupils of various ages can grasp and find interesting. The catechist does not believe that the Faith is too complicated a thing for a child to understand. She has known even little children grasp the plot-lines of television dramas. They can recall the names and titles of movie characters, and even the details of laws and customs of fictional countries, as portrayed in lengthy and exciting films; and she knows that where the Faith is presented for what it is – a great drama, with a grand plan of rescue, and heroes and heroines, with terrible crises and tremendous rewards – children are fascinated by the details and are able to learn far more than some people suppose. They can learn the vocabulary of things Christian and Catholic, just as they can learn the ‘language’ of sport, or art, or film-making or science. It is not necessary to give children an infantile version of the Faith, merely a simplified version.
A Divine Person
She explains from the beginning, however, that at the heart of the Catholic
Faith is a Person: Jesus Christ, a Divine Person, who entered human history in a particular time and place, to help sinful people and to show what God, the Creator of all Heaven and earth, is ‘like’. By His miracles, the God-man Jesus showed Himself to be compassionate. He also revealed Himself to be all-powerful – especially after He had risen from the dead. He also showed that He is One of Three Divine Persons, Who are One God, undivided: a strange and extraordinary truth that no-one in history had ever before known, and a glorious truth, which revealed to human beings something of the inner life of God, and held out the hope that all who share His life will be embraced by the Holy Trinity.
She firmly declares that by all Christ did and said He proved that He loves us with an infinite love, that would ‘do anything’ to rescue His beloved. He had seen that we were trapped in our sins and needed rescuing. He came to earth as God-made-man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to live amongst us, and to teach, heal, suffer and die. By his compassion, He showed that He is Love incarnate, not just a law-maker and Judge. He showed out the greatest love by allowing sinful people to condemn and kill Him, though He was innocent; and He showed out a perfect example of love, patience and faithfulness. Those who ask: “Did He have to die, to redeem us?” are asked to consider the subject of love. She hopes that her listeners will agree with her when she suggests that the greatest love is shown when someone is willing to sacrifice what is precious, for the sake of the beloved. She says that Christ showed out the greatest love for us by being willing to accept the pain, persecution and death that were inevitable if He, true God, lived in utter truth and love in a sinful world, as man, to fulfil God the Father’s plan.
Leaving behind His glory
From Heaven, the Holy Trinity had known what suffering Christ would be bound to endure if He lived amongst us; but He was willing to suffer, for our sake. He knew that in accepting opposition and death, though He was innocent, He would achieve extraordinary results. By His willing obedience to His Father’s plan, Jesus Christ offered a perfect sacrifice of Himself, to the Father, and so honoured God the Father as no-one else on earth had ever done. By His love and obedience He outweighed the disobedience of human beings of all the ages; and Christ sealed, in His own blood, on the Cross on which He was nailed by His enemies, a new Covenant, or agreement, between God and Mankind.
In this way He freed all who would believe in Him from searching for a way of ‘making up’ to God for our sins. He made it plain that no other sacrifice would ever be necessary in the future in order to ‘win’ God’s favour towards sinners or to achieve union with Him. We can be united to Christ by Baptism; and Christ’s once-for-all offering on the Cross on Calvary is available for us to offer as our own, to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – so great is the love of the Holy Trinity for each one of us, and for every generation. Furthermore, when we choose to live as true followers of Christ we have our sins forgiven, we become adopted children of God, and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. We live in the Father’s love, in the light of the Holy Spirit, and have Heavenly companions even now: the Saints and the Holy Angels.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
The catechist helps people to see why the Mass is the heart and the summit of the Christian life. In being Christ’s work and action, it is the most sacred event that ever takes place on earth. It is the most perfect act of praise that can be offered from on earth to the Father of Light in Heaven. At every valid Mass, the congregation prays with and through the Divine Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who is made Really, substantially Present on the altar at the Consecration, though ‘hidden’ in the Sacred Host and in the chalice. This is the marvel that has drawn converts into the Church for centuries: people who had been led to believe, in other Christian communities, that Christ once gave His disciples the command merely to celebrate a memorial meal in future times. Now, they have learned the great truth which St. Paul proclaimed, and the Church still proclaims, that at Mass we ‘show out Christ’s death’, until He comes again in glory, at the end of time.
At Mass, we hear in the living Word of God – the Sacred Scriptures – about God’s wonderful plan of salvation; yet then we are present, as Christ is made sacramentally Present with His Church, offering to His Father the very sacrifice He once offered from the Cross, and praying for sinners. That is the glorious truth that was for a while almost forgotten by many Catholics, when a generation of Catholic writers emphasised the community aspect of the Mass, described the Mass as a meal at which we celebrate God’s love for us, and omitted all mention of the Holy Sacrifice of which the Communion meal is the fulfilment. A good catechist knows that Christ’s sacramental Presence has given joy to converts, hope to sinners, comfort to those persecuted for the faith, courage to the dying – and awe to all of those catechists, teachers, priests, Bishops and parents who have the privilege of speaking of the Sacred Mysteries to children or to adult enquirers.
The catechist uses all sorts of modern idioms, illustrations and analogies to cast new light upon ancient truths; for example, she is not afraid to point out that if intelligent human beings can make present, in a certain manner, within a small plastic DVD, a colourful musical drama which is powerful enough to move people to tears, or if we can connect, by conversations and images on a small screen, grandparents and grandchildren on opposite sides of the world, almighty God can do even greater marvels. He is clever and powerful enough, and good enough, to make Himself Present to His friends in every age, in a unique way, under the appearance of bread and wine, so that in receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist we share His Divine life. We can greet Him with joy and gratitude and find joy in His love.
The Ever-Virgin Mother of God, Mary
The catechist rarely speaks of Christ, however, without speaking about the woman whose courage and selflessness made possible – by God’s grace – the arrival of the Son of God into our world. Mary, the catechist gladly explains, is the ever-Virgin Mother of Christ, who was and is Christ’s most treasured relation and confidant. She tells how Christ has given His Church, through the ages, many indications of His desire to see His Mother honoured, and to see us approach her with confidence to ask for her prayers. We should love St. Joseph too, with a special love, since he is her beloved husband, and is with her in Heaven now, interceding for us all.
The wise catechist explains with utter conviction that there is nothing more important on earth than to know God the Father, and His Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can grow in the knowledge and love of God through Liturgical and private prayer even if we remain unaware of God’s action within our souls. What counts is to be regular in prayer, to be guided by the Church, to find out God’s Will for us and do it, to lead holy lives on earth no matter what the cost, and to prepare for Heaven, which is a state of utter bliss, at God’s heart, with all the Saints and Angels, for all Eternity. She also repeats the truth that none of this is possible without prayer. It is true that the Way to Heaven is hard; but all our trials are temporary; and when earthly friends grieve or oppose us because of our Faith, God Himself loves us and holds us in His love, giving us the courage to persevere.
Love for our neighbour
The catechist also reinforces the teaching given by the Prophets of ancient times, by Christ and His Apostles, by the Church through the ages, and by all good priests and parents today, that we cannot imagine that we are pleasing God, and are on the Way to Heaven, if we do not love and serve our neighbour, which means everyone whom Providence might bring into our lives. We have greater obligations towards our immediate family and friends, and to needy people locally, than to people further away; but if we do not recognise every other human being as having been created by God, in love, we are not looking at the world as if through the eyes of Christ; and unless we see things as He sees them, learning to do so through study, reflection, and prayer, above all, we shall not love as He loves; and we shall not achieve the holiness which will fit us to be with Him – and with our neighbour – in Heaven, for all Eternity.
A solemn responsibility
The person who prepares children and adults to receive the sacraments of the
Church is not a self-chosen individual who yearns to put across her own view of the Catholic Faith. She has been invited by a priest or Bishop to do this very important work not as a hobby but as a solemn responsibility before God, to help people to take the one road through life that leads to Heaven, and to help them to avoid Hell. A good catechist radiates joy, and speaks a great deal about the hope that faith in Jesus Christ brings to the hopeless. She speaks about the rewards promised by Christ to those who suffer for His sake in earthly life. She encourages in her charges tremendous gratitude to God for His extraordinary goodness.
With lavish generosity
God the Father not only gave His Son to live and die as one of us, and His Spirit to make us holy. He gave us life itself, with all the glory of the natural world, and human laughter, friendship and excitement, with physical and mental challenges in a world of colour, and beauty, music and drama, and all kinds of celebration. In speaking of life on earth, the catechist encourages her listeners to care for the earth, over which human beings have been made ‘stewards’; but she avoids spreading gloom and hopelessness by over-emphasis on disputed views about ‘saving the planet’ from disaster, especially if this means that she is not teaching the Catholic moral vision in its fullness.
She explains that God has given us, amongst all His gifts, an inner yearning for something good, fulfilling and Eternal, in other words, for union with Himself. She tells all the children she teaches, as well as the adults, that God’s love for them is unconditional, unending and very tender. And with that foundation they cope with the realisation of how unlike Him they are, in their many weaknesses, though blessed with gifts and talents which they can use in the service of others, and to build up the Church. They are encouraged to grow in humility, not to develop an exaggerated self-esteem which causes them to reject authority, bridle at discipline, and see themselves as the centre of the universe.
A catechist is not afraid to state, at the right time, that by grave sin we can cut ourselves off from God – even for Eternity, if we do not repent of our sins before we die. God condemns no one ‘in advance’, but allows each of us to choose whether to love Him or to love ourselves more. But the catechist explains that the loss of God, for all Eternity, is not a fiction, but a state more horrible than can be described. People enter it who have deliberately, up to death, spurned God’s invitation to love as He loves, and to grow in holiness. Since God is the Source of all love, light, joy, peace and beauty, those who freely fling themselves away from Him experience only torment; hence the courageous teaching given by Catholics who are willing to speak hard truths as Christ did, and not to limit their teaching to pleasantries and half truths, as some teachers do, elsewhere.
A state of grace
The catechist warns those in her care about the danger of sin. She speaks clearly and truthfully about mortal and venial sin, and about ‘occasions of sin’: things neglected in some circles where Catholics speak little about sin, or the Cross, or anything that might make people feel guilty or uncomfortable. She explains the crucial importance of remaining in a state of grace, full of God’s own life. In this state, we can find the peace held out by Christ to His friends, and give glory to the Father Who gave us life. We can even meet sickness and death unafraid, trusting like little children in God’s goodness. For which of us knows when he will die? How can anyone who deliberately commits grievous sin hope to be ready to stand beside Christ and His Mother Mary in Heaven, when he dies, to be rewarded for his life and actions? We cannot possibly reform ourselves by our own power; but the power of God is available for all who turn to Him in humility and trust and who ask for His help.
Evil powers at work
In speaking of the reality of God’s supernatural power, the catechist reminds everyone that there are other, lesser, supernatural powers which are at work to help or to harm souls. She shares the teaching of the Church about the good Angels who guard us; but she mentions our spiritual enemies. Through her strong warnings against any involvement in the occult by the use of Tarot cards, Ouija boards, fortune-telling, or astrology, she prevents some unsuspecting innocents from being influenced by evil spirits who want to draw them away from faith in Christ.
Even today, in our ordinary earthly lives, we fight against the very powers of darkness which worked to overcome the infant Church. Satan is at work today, trying to tempt us to follow his ways; and he is very intelligent. If he cannot tempt us to commit theft or adultery, he will tempt us to look with scorn upon the poor, or to become worldly and sophisticated, or to act with pride in elevating our opinions about the Faith above the constant teaching of the Church, or even to increase our devotions so much that we neglect our families.
The good catechist looks with goodwill upon all those she teaches; yet as she deals with children she does not give in to the fashionable trend of ‘medicalising’ every type of bad behaviour and rudeness. She does not attribute the ill-will and cruelty she sees in a child solely to the fact that he or she might have been diagnosed with a particular behavioural medical condition, or has felt unloved since infancy. Children are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. Every child deserves love, justice and compassion; yet disruptive attention-seeking is seen as selfish behaviour, even if the child has suffered misfortune in his earlier life or has problems at home.
Sex and reproduction
When it is necessary for the teacher or catechist to explain the Church’s teaching about our sexuality, she speaks with sensitivity and prudence, and complete faithfulness to the Church; and she does so in single-sex classes, and only with the acceptance of the parents. Teachers never speak about sex and reproduction to young children; and to older pupils they only do so in the context of love, marriage, and the gift of life. They do not harm children by demonstrating various contraceptive methods and devices or describing in detail the sinful sexual practices of those who disagree with the Church’s teachings and see sex only as entertainment or self-satisfaction.
The teachers know that to teach the children about sinful means of contraception so that they will be able to make ‘informed choices’ would be as irresponsible as to demonstrate how to commit suicide with a length of hose-pipe attached to a car exhaust, or how to suffocate a sick, elderly relation. To older teenagers, in single-sex classes, a teacher can explain something of the principles behind natural family planning – though only to children on the verge of adult life. But any catechist or teacher who teaches her pupils how to sin – even if she believes she is being sensible – acts against the Lord who has called her to contribute to the children’s spiritual progress as they live, bodily, in an exciting world.
A Catholic perspective
The catechist who assists a priest by giving pre-marriage instruction is aware that marriage is a sacrament, not merely a public announcement of the union of a man and a woman. So she does not limit her classes to discussions about communication, commitment, and ‘conflict resolution’. She explains something of the other ‘three C’s’: Christ, Church and charity. She tells of the meaning of marriage, from a Catholic perspective, and if couples are co-habiting she tries, with the help of the priest, to encourage them to separate until the marriage, or at least to live in continence and chastity, in order to be married in a state of grace. She ensures that couples who are being prepared for marriage, or persons receiving RCIA instruction on the subject of marriage, learn about right and wrong in marriage, not just about how to gain an annulment if things go wrong.
To Heaven or Hell
Gratitude for all that God has done for them makes wise catechists and their wise pupils value and nourish not just their bodily lives but also the life of the soul. They treasure each human life, whether the unborn, the newborn, the healthy and powerful, or the weak and elderly; yet they also recognise each person as having an immortal soul. They know that each of us will one day arrive in Heaven or in Hell; and this truth underpins all their decisions about their attitudes and behaviour, not from fear or superstition, but from the desire to strive for what is good, out of love for God. They are determined never to drift away on a tide of self-indulgence and evil, and so to lose the One Who alone can give Eternal joy. Their whole desire – increased by what they learn from the Church, and in prayer – is to love God and their neighbour, and to show the love and forgiveness of Christ to everyone they meet.
- THE PRIEST AT WORK IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
Setting an example
In this Diocese, where the Faith is lived in all its fullness, the priest knows that the Lord is calling him to a special life of love and sacrifice; and he finds himself fascinated by the God Who has called him: the Three Divine Persons Who have made him a shepherd, and a judge, and a spiritual father. It is now his privilege to lead a little flock in a glorious, complicated, and sometimes terrifying modern world; and so he has a fervent desire to love God even more, and to fulfil the responsibilities entrusted to him. He knows that he has been ordained to preach and to offer sacrifice, and to ‘sanctify the Christian people.’ He is realistic enough to know that he will also be required to undertake or oversee some very mundane and repetitive enterprises; but he sees these as inevitable aspects of earthly life, to be welcomed as God’s Will for him; yet he is consumed with the desire to call people to salvation, as Christ did.
Like Christ, the priest teaches, encourages, and urges people to repent. He sets an example of holiness, having spent much time in private prayer, which he knows is essential if he is to honour and love Christ and to become a real friend of Christ who can speak from personal knowledge of His love. He resists the pressure to become worldly, or to count efficiency as the supreme virtue – or to become so busy that he neglects what is necessary for a healthy spiritual life. Just like devout people ‘in the world’, the devout priest knows the importance of regular spiritual reading, which includes the study of Sacred Scripture, with advice from a Spiritual Director, regular retreats, and time spent before the Blessed Sacrament, in private prayer.
The priest recognises the danger of losing a sense of the sacred by being immersed so frequently in what is holy. This fuels his determination never to speak lightly or flippantly about priestly vocations, priestly work, or any aspect of his special way of life. His great desire is to lead people to know and love Christ, and through Him to know the Father and the Holy Spirit, and to be immersed eventually in a known way in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity. He has complete faith in the promises made by Christ and the Apostles about the rewards that await Christ’s faithful friends, in Heaven; yet he knows that he has done nothing to deserve the gift of faith or the hope of Heaven; so he lives each day in a spirit of humility and gratitude.
Closer union with God
The priest firmly believes in the efficacy of all that he does in Christ’s name as he prays and confers the sacraments through which Christ gives life and power. He is eager to speak about God; and his whole demeanour in church is solemn, yet peaceful and prayerful, as he leads people to a closer union with God and to greater peace of soul, and joy in His service.
The priest takes every opportunity to tell his people – whether by his words, his personal behaviour or his use of symbols – that God is real, and that people who aim to be friends of God or true ‘children of God’ must stay in touch with God. The priest knows that many Catholics watch television for five hours each evening yet are unwilling to spend five minutes each day in thanking God for His gifts, and expressing sorrow for their sins. The priest therefore explains, from the pulpit and elsewhere, that God deserves our attention but is not a hard task-master.
God delights in our love for Him, which we need not express in complicated prayers. God is Someone Whose reality is ‘beyond’ and greater than our own since He holds us in existence, having created us from nothing; and His majesty and beauty are greater than anything we can imagine; yet He loves to hear us offer Him an ‘Our Father’ or a ‘Glory Be’. We need not imagine that our prayers are unworthy of Him because they are sincere but simple; on the other hand, if we remain attached from dawn to dusk to our i-pods, televisions, mobile phones, play-stations and computers we will never honour the Lord as we should; nor are we likely to receive the words and inspirations which Catholics in every age have been given in times of silent attention to God’s presence and God’s Will.
The purpose of life
The priest explains that God hears everything we think and say, knows our hearts and intentions, and sees all our actions, all the time loving us; but it is also true that God knows who really loves Him and who is treating Him with indifference or contempt. So the priest provides reminders that the purpose of life is to live in God, now and forever, and that it is possible to lose Him by our selfish choices. God the Father has shown Himself to be very loving and tender; and Jesus Christ the Son of God has given us a Church to belong to, in which we can receive the power and love of God; and we are not wise to spurn or disobey her. There are eternal consequences to our actions, as we make our way, by our free choices, towards Heaven, or towards Hell; and that is why the priest encourages, in everyone he teaches, a supernatural outlook. He explains that, in the lives of those who are sincere in their pursuit of holiness, one of the biggest obstacles to making progress is the habit of grumbling and complaining in everyday life.
A holy person loves God’s Will; and if someone routinely expresses dislike of what God does, or what God allows to happen, he is not living in a state of thankfulness in which he sees God at work in every situation, as God does good things for him or brings good out of evil. There is suffering in the life of everyone on earth, whatever his religion; and if a Christian cannot accept in patience the unavoidable sufferings that come his way in ordinary times, he is unlikely to endure spiritual trials, or to bear opposition to the Faith, should he meet it. So the priest invites everyone to develop a spirit of thankfulness for what is good, and a spirit of hopefulness when things are difficult. He offers reminders that we can gain help from God Himself Who is kind and merciful, and from the prayers of our earthly and Heavenly friends, and the holy Angels.
Respect for God
Throughout each year the priest conducts a quiet and gentle campaign to bring people to honour God with their bodies, in prayer, as well as their hearts and minds. He explains that we can give greater glory to God when we kneel or stand before God, in prayer at home, and make careful signs of the Cross – and when we make reverent genuflections in church. Our loving God knows that many sick and elderly people cannot kneel. Some can scarcely utter a word of praise; but He sees their loving hearts. There are many healthy Catholics, however, who suppose they are offering worthy homage to the Holy Trinity by routinely praying in bed or in an armchair; so the priest invites people to remain at ease for meditation, for example, or for spiritual reading, but to show more respect for God when approaching Him in contrition and praise.
There are things so basic to spiritual progress that some of the Clergy suppose everyone knows them; yet in his experience the priest has found that there are Catholic adults who have still not realised the importance of our making deliberate efforts to co-operate with God’s grace, if we hope to succeed in leading good lives. Yet he has little need to encourage the good people he serves to recognise their obligation to love their neighbour. All sorts of good works go on in the parish, and outside it.
Love for our neighbour
There is scarcely anyone who does not know the importance of loving their neighbour, which is something admired wherever it is seen, not just in Church circles but in ordinary society. The priest encourages everyone, however, to look carefully at their own motives and attitudes. He reminds them of Christ’s words about doing good in secret, if it is possible. This lessens the risk of pride in our actions; and by humility we give glory to God. Where Catholic families or groups must make public their good works to gain worthwhile support or influence, the priest wants them to recognise that all the energy they have, and all the gifts they use in the service of others, are gifts from God, Who deserves thanks and praise for giving them success in helping the needy. The priest knows that it is right to show joy in the achievements of those good people, and even to give evidence of gladness, in the form of certificates, medals, special Masses of thanks, and commemorations; but he helps his parishioners to see that they are ‘only doing their duty’ in helping others, as God helps them.
He encourages his active parishioners to do what he tries especially hard to do, which is to help not just the sick and the poverty-stricken, but also those who are ‘poor and needy’ in other ways: parishioners who have little confidence, do not express themselves well, and are too shy even to have an ordinary conversation at a parish gathering. The priest makes efforts to offer a consoling or cheerful word with such individuals, and not to give the impression that the only useful members of the parish are those who are eager to take up a ‘ministry’ or to throw themselves into the activism that is so admired elsewhere. He assures the shy ones of the immense value of their prayers, and the value of the sufferings borne and ‘offered up’ in union with Christ, for the sake of the Church.
In his own prayer-life the priest makes friends with the Saints and Angels who look on, as he prays. He sees them as his personal helpers and companions and not just as exemplars of particular virtues. In his homilies he does not shy away from recommending the practices which have helped the Saints to grow in holiness, such as penance and mortification, private devotions, alms-giving, fasting and praying the Rosary. He treasures relics of the Saints. He knows the help that a pilgrimage can bring, and a visit to a shrine; but he also values ordinary prayer and devout reception of the sacraments. The priest reveres and loves, above all the Saints, the holy woman chosen to be the Mother of Christ, the woman willing to suffer whatever that privileged state might bring, after her surrender to God’s plan. He looks upon the Blessed Virgin Mary as his own mother. He confides in her about all his troubles; and he encourages everyone to turn to her, to honour her, and to be confident that she can help us by her intercessions.
A holy task
The priest loves to teach the Faith and to expound the Scriptures. He does not involve dozens of lay-persons in catechesis just so that he can ‘escape’ the task, and do other things. He is grateful to those who help him; but he ensures that they believe the Faith in its fullness, before he invites them to teach it. He leaves to most lay-persons the sort of work that they can do better than himself, or that he need not do. The priest rightly sees himself as the father of the flock entrusted to him. He has a mission to foster the life of Christ in each individual and must one day answer to God for the way in which he has carried out his holy task.
The priest recognises, however, the goodness and expertise of those Catholic teachers who have a share in handing on the Faith in the local Catholic school. The curriculum is usually organised by the Bishop and the secular authorities; but where it is within the priest’s power to check the curriculum or the text-books he does so. He wants these to be the best-possible for a community in which a child should develop as a happy, healthy person with a pure soul, and an active spiritual life. He wants the children to learn the main purpose of earthly life. It is not primarily ‘to build a better world’, as so many have been told, where the Second Commandment has supplanted the First Commandment. It is to love and serve God, and to become holy, and to give glory to God by that holy life. If we really know and love God we love to do His Will; and that includes showing love for our neighbour, caring for our world, and preparing for our life with God in the bliss and purity of Heaven.
As well as encouraging the children to know and love Christ, the priest encourages the teachers to show out their love for Christ and the Church by their words and example. He asks them to show respect for the pupils of other religions who are there in his local Catholic school; but he suggests that the staff should not make unwise decisions, in their desire to be inclusive; for example, he points out that a Catholic parent should not have to discover that their Catholic children celebrate, in school, not just Christian feasts but also the festivals of various non-Christian figures revered by others as ‘deities’, or the birthdays, fasts, or historical triumphs of various heroes of other religions.
The priest has noticed that children can be puzzled and misled not just by evidence of indifferentism in religious matters but also by trends in the wider world which excite a great deal of interest when they permeate the classroom. For example, the increased interest in environmental pollution, in nourishing food-stuffs, and all sorts of other subjects can cause over-enthusiastic people to create a new religion. If he has any influence, he tries to prevent a disproportionate amount of time being set aside for each new theory that the world finds fascinating, whether the ‘evil’ of population growth – as if human beings were vermin – or any creed that is at odds with a Catholic outlook.
He has known teachers, for example, who would not dream of teaching children the truth about sin and Hell, but who are willing to offer such a grim picture of the results of ‘global warming’ that their pupils lie awake at night, terrified that the world is going to fall apart in ten years time. They are more concerned about their carbon footprint that about their uncharitable behaviour towards their families. These children have not the skill to explore unproven theories; nor are they old enough to have developed great trust in the Providence of God, Who cares for His creation, even though we make mistakes in our stewardship of this world; furthermore, the priest who is concerned for the children’s life of faith knows that he must foster in them the knowledge that the health and life of the soul are of even greater importance than the life of the body and the state of ‘the planet’ – although these are important subjects.
With reverence and awe
In his homilies, in church, the priest explains the Scriptures, and uses them not just to reveal the Mysteries of the Faith, but also to reinforce the ‘basics’ of Catholic daily life. He encourages everyone to make deliberate efforts to grow in love for God and for their neighbour. The greater is our resemblance to God in love, the more we glorify Him, the greater is our understanding of His nature and of His Will for our lives, and the greater can be our degree of glory in Heaven. The priest urges his flock to give up all that separates them from God, or is inappropriate or distracting in a particular vocation. He asks everyone to pray sincere and reverent prayers daily, and to approach God with reverence and awe as well as child-like trust and hope. He enquires whether we extend to God, in our homes and in church, the exquisite courtesy which we try to show to guests whom we especially want to impress, or to royalty, or to the Presidents of our Clubs or Associations.
He explains the value of traditional devotions of the Church, including Eucharistic devotions – though advising his flock not to try to adopt them all, but only those which seem to be helpful. He reminds people to pray for the dead, and especially for the forgotten souls in Purgatory. He encourages everyone to attain self-mastery through penance, in small ways, and to offer up all sufferings in union with Christ, as penance for their own sins, and for conversions.
The priest is careful to explain that the Christian life is a Way of the Cross, as well as the sure way to peace-of-soul, and joyful union with Christ. He mentions the delight that is often experienced by converts to the Church, or by Catholics who resolve to make a fresh start and to practice the Faith in its fullness. He explains that God gives special joys to help ‘beginners’, but that these spiritual delights are usually withdrawn for a while, as the Lord leads each soul towards greater maturity by inviting him to act in faith, and not to rely on sweet feelings. Feelings come and go; but a strong faith in God’s love, and in God’s goodness, can carry people through both earthly and spiritual trials.
The priest emphasises the generosity of God in sometimes attaching great spiritual joy to other stages of the spiritual journey, or to the practice of certain devotions; but the priest encourages his hearers to aim, above all, to please God by doing His Will and cultivating greater faith, hope and charity. In order to help them further, the priest seizes every opportunity to speak about the great goodness and wisdom of God in giving us the Church – as our guide, our ‘family’, and the source of all the graces we need to become saintly people.
Christ’s power in the sacraments
The priest encourages his flock to believe that the sacraments work, in those who have the right dispositions, because this is what Christ designed them to do. Baptism is not just a ‘rite of passage’ but the means of being freed from sin and made a member of the Church. The sacrament of Penance, also known as Confession, really does bring great graces to a soul previously ‘dead’ through sin, and to the soul of a sincere child at First Confession. The Holy Eucharist really does provide us with Heavenly Food, in a meeting with the living God: with Jesus the ‘living bread’: the Son of God, substantially Present. Confirmation really is an outpouring of the Spirit, with powerful gifts, upon children or adults willing to receive them, to make them strong in bearing witness to Christ. Holy Matrimony really does give a man and a woman the graces necessary for faithfulness and love, until death. The sacrament of Order really changes a man, and confers on him a special character, as ‘another Christ’. It is as if he is given the graces that normally accompany great sanctity, before he has developed them for himself, so to speak. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick really does confer grace, so powerfully that souls estranged from God are made ‘alive’ again in Christ, and saved from the brink of damnation, while others, not in such danger, are given the grace either to recover from illness or to approach death in peace and even in joy, at the thought of seeing their Saviour.
The loss of God
In his homilies, the priest is not afraid to speak about Hell as well as Heaven. This is not from a desire to make people toe an imaginary line but because he knows that people inevitably descend to Hell who refuse, to the end, to ‘ascend’ to God in Heaven. He also knows that Hell does not consist of the monsters, the tortures and the foul surroundings depicted by artists in past ages. He knows that, in reality, it is worse than any of those things, since it is the absence of God, Whose life we were created to share. It is also the absence of all the beauty, light, peace and joy of which God is the Source. This is why the priest, or any conscientious Christian, who hears someone admit to thinking of conducting an adulterous affair, for example, does not suggest, “Well, do what you feel you must. I can’t tell you what to do.” No, he begs that person not to take a step that could lead him towards spiritual disaster and Eternal damnation, just as he would speak boldly to a man on a cliff-top who had arrived there by accident when playing a game of blind-fold with friends.
The priest is determined to be available for people who want to confess their sins. This is why he not only advertises an allotted time for Confession each week. He also remains in the Confessional for that time even if no-one arrives. He does not potter around the Church doing odd jobs so that a shy Catholic must reveal himself and ask for the sacrament. The priest always provides a screen so that people who wish can confess anonymously. He is familiar enough with human nature to know that the confession of sin cannot always be the explicitly joyful occasion that some of the Clergy wish it could be, when the penitent is both deeply embarrassed and deeply ashamed, and perhaps tearful.
A compassionate father
The priest prays for the grace to be compassionate in the Confessional, like Christ; yet he recognises that he is there to offer forgiveness, if he can. He is not ordained to act as a counsellor who offers non-prescriptive conversation or psychological therapy. He invites people to believe in God’s love for them, as individuals, and also to repent and to change, relying on God’s help. He recognises that the greatest sinners can become the greatest of Saints, as if ‘launched’ by their profound contrition into a life of intimate union with Christ; and so, at appropriate times, the priest fosters, in people who pray, a desire for contemplation and union.
He knows that contemplation is compatible with an active life, if a person is regular and fervent in prayer; and so he invites people to learn more about the three stages of prayer: about the purgative stage, the illuminative, and the unitive. He helps everyone to realise that the spiritual journey sometimes has recognisable sign posts – and also ‘dark’ places in which trust and perseverance are essential if we are not to fall away from our desire to achieve known union with God. He explains that contemplative prayer is a free gift from God to those who have prepared their hearts for it, and who are privileged to receive it, if God Wills.
The ante-chamber to Heaven
The priest looks upon his church building as being like the ante-chamber to Heaven, or the throne-room of a great King. Once over the threshold, the priest knows he is in the presence of the living God: the Son of God, substantially Present in all His glory, surrounded by the holy Angels; and that is why he has taken steps to keep the church open for a few hours each day. He longs for parishioners and occasional visitors to continue the practice of ‘paying a visit’ to Christ, Who is Really Present in sacramental form in the tabernacle. The priest longs to see Christ loved and honoured in a fitting manner; indeed, the priest sets a good example by his prayers in church, his reverent genuflections and his whispered words – if private conversation there is necessary. He makes plain the truth that Christ deserves to be honoured in His own House of prayer. Christ is not now the lowly carpenter of Nazareth, but reigns in glory; and He deserves to be royally acknowledged as the One Who has rescued us from darkness and brought us into His own wonderful light.
The priest knows that his greatest and best work takes place at the altar. Although he has been called to preach, teach and care for his flock, he knows that at the altar, offering the Holy Sacrifice, he is providing for his people the very means of salvation offered by almighty God for the human race. The priest has given his heart and his life to Jesus Christ; so he knows Whom he offers, in the Mass; and he tries to become worthy to offer the Holy Sacrifice, hence his prayers before Mass, and his thanksgiving in church after Mass, and his avoidance of anything which is unworthy of a Sacred Minister of the altar.
The Sacrifice of Calvary
He knows that he celebrates the whole Paschal Mystery: Christ’s
Resurrection and Ascension as well as Christ’s Passion and Death; yet he knows that, at its heart, the Mass is a solemn re-presentation of the Death of Christ on Calvary, when His Body was given up for us and His Precious Blood poured out for us. This is the Sacrifice by which Christ won Redemption for the human race. With their priest, local Catholics gather together, to witness that once-for-all Sacrifice being offered to the Father in a sacramental manner. There is no more awesome worship that can be offered to God from this world than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest’s whole desire, therefore, is to offer the Sacrifice in a worthy manner; and he encourages his people, by his bearing and his words, to take part with gratitude and reverence, and with a prayerful demeanour, as well as prayerful hearts.
For obvious reasons, the priest never allows any clowning or frivolity to mar the event. He cannot allow dancers in scanty clothing to leap about the sanctuary; nor can he allow everyone to laugh and chatter at length in church, as if in a pub, when they can easily have lively conversations elsewhere. In holding this reverential attitude towards the Sunday and weekday Mass, the priest of course holds the same, or an even more reverent attitude towards each Requiem Mass he offers.
A Requiem Mass is the same as any other in being a solemn re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice of the Cross, at which those present pray for the living and for the departed. Yet at a Requiem there are special prayers for the repose of the soul of the person who has just died. Although many people might have thanked God for that life, and expressed their delight to others at having known that person, no-one can suppose that the departed soul has automatically reached Heaven, and has no need of purification. That half-hour or more of prayer should not be interrupted by jokey reminiscences of the deceased’s funny ways; nor should it end with rock music pouring from the loudspeakers when devout friends have just received Holy Communion. The priest has to learn how to speak with kindness and sensitivity, therefore, to grieving people, whilst educating them about the fact that a Mass for the dead cannot be seen as a party with spiritual overtones.
God’s own ‘house’
Whenever parishioners do persist in treating the church as merely a social centre, or allow the children in their care to run riot, or make the Mass inaudible, the priest quietly reminds them of the fact that the building has been solemnly consecrated for prayer. It is ‘God’s house’. He is not worried by thoughts about being unpopular, or about driving people away. He has provided a pleasant, sound-proofed room, with speakers, where people with noisy youngsters can hear Mass. Christ loved to welcome children to Himself, but He strongly objected to noise and worldly uproar in His Father’s House. The priest’s main concern in church is about the honour due to Christ, Really Present; and that is why he rarely cracks jokes in the pulpit, or at the end of Mass. The prayerful atmosphere can be destroyed in a moment by a thoughtless gag; and the people present deserve to feel as though they have gathered for prayer. They are not there to be entertained but to listen and learn, and to praise God and give Him glory, in and through Christ.
Although he is prayerful, the priest is not seen as gloomy or boring; on the contrary, his flock has had plenty of evidence of his loving concern for them; and he is plainly full of joy. This comes from the conviction that he can do nothing more valuable than live out his vocation with a fervent and sincere heart. He has the added incentive of knowing that he is responsible, before God, for the souls of his parishioners, as a mother is for the souls of her children; and this helps him to see what is most necessary in his care for the flock, and helps him to persevere.
The priest knows that the ‘full participation’ required of all Catholics at Mass consists of sincere and prayerful attention to God. It is not a requirement for everyone to have a ‘job’ to do, such as welcoming, reading, bearing gifts, or offering bidding prayers. These things are all necessary; but the greater the number of lay-persons busy around the church the greater is the risk that people are thinking about themselves and not about what is taking place on the altar: the greatest miracle in earthly life.
The priest neither omits nor makes additions to the prayers of the Mass; and he follows the rubrics, in obedience to those in authority. If he believes it right to offer a few words about a reading, or about a special part of the Sacred Liturgy, he does so in a way which preserves the dignity of the occasion and does not suddenly turn a solemn rite into a personal performance.
The Real Presence of Christ
The priest firmly believes what the Church teaches: that Christ is present in the Assembly, in the Sacred Scriptures, and in the priest, who acts ‘in persona Christi Capitis.’ Christ is Present in a unique and substantial manner, however, after the Consecration, in the Precious Blood and the Sacred Host. This is why the priest is immensely careful in dealing with broken or dropped particles, and teaches others to do what he does. For the same reason – that Christ is Present when the bread and wine have been changed by transubstantiation – he does not allow the use of those Anglican hymns and chants which sing of our receiving ‘bread and wine’; nor does he allow children in his First Communion classes to use books which declare that in Holy Communion we receive ‘bread and wine’.
He does not allow Ministers of Holy Communion to distribute the Sacred Hosts when priests can do so, nor to step up to the tabernacle to remove Hosts if priests can do so, nor to purify the sacred vessels when the priest should do so. Before First Holy Communion Masses he makes sure not only that the children have been well-instructed but also that they will have a moment in which to kneel and pray, after their First Communion, rather than stand around looking for their relatives. Furthermore, he ensures that they have not been so preoccupied in bringing gifts or flowers to the altar, or in queuing to read from the Scriptures, that their attention is on their own behaviour for that tremendous occasion, and not on the dear Lord Whom they are about to receive.
The priest does not encourage children to sit around the sanctuary, next to the altar, for Mass, so that they can see what is happening. He can teach those things in a classroom; and he knows that what children need is to learn how to pray in church at solemn and sacred rites. They are not helped if, from time to time, they are asked to act in a casual manner, or invited to applaud soloists, visitors, or popular members of the church. He does not ask them to do unnecessary tasks during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass just to make them feel ‘wanted’. They deserve to learn that their main ‘job’ at Mass should be prayer, as everyone praises the Father through and with Jesus, in the Spirit. Jesus is made Present amongst us by the words and actions of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit; and children need to know that it is because we pray with and through Jesus that our prayer is worthy of Heaven.
The priest is not afraid to speak clearly and often about the clothing and behaviour appropriate for the throne-room of Heaven’s King. Like a good ambassador, he speaks gently but frankly to those children and adults who are plainly good-hearted but in need of instruction. He asks them to show respect for God and for His House of prayer by finishing their conversations with friends or family before coming into church, then making a reverent genuflection towards Christ in the tabernacle. He also explains that, unless for an urgent reason, it is not right to dress for church as if for a beach party or a summer hike, in shorts or sleeveless tops, or with over-exposed breasts, bare shoulders or naked limbs, which can be distracting for fellow-worshippers.
The priest is glad that he is no longer urged to train girls and women as altar-servers. Some of his female helpers were conscientious and dutiful; but the presence of girls and women in the sanctuary generally caused more trouble than assistance. Many of them introduced a worldly element into the sanctuary by wearing frivolous hair ornaments, bright nail varnish, dangling earrings, high heels – or long hair loose about their shoulders, which was not only inappropriate but also dangerous, amongst so many lighted candles. Their presence was distracting not just for their fellow-servers but also for the priest. Worse problems were caused by girls dressing and undressing, and dealing with make-up and hair-styles, in the sacristy: furthermore, boys began to look upon service at the altar as a ‘job’ to which everyone had a right, as some girls claimed, instead of a prayerful step towards a vocation to the Priesthood.
Calm in the sacristy and sanctuary has been restored, now that the priest trains only boys as servers; yet the priest delights in the generous and conscientious work of women, in various tasks in the church which are appropriate to their gifts and aptitudes. He makes sure that he offers them the thanks they deserve; and, when he has the opportunity, the priest expresses delight that some of his female parishioners cover their hair in church, in accordance with the time-honoured custom, to demonstrate special respect for the holiness of the church and the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. He himself is careful to wear the prescribed vestments at every Liturgical celebration.
The priest does not agree that secular concerts and gatherings can be allowed in church even if it involves removing the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle. The church is a building consecrated for prayer, whether or not Christ reigns there bodily; and to use it otherwise would be like using an empty, decorated reliquary as a sandwich box at a parish picnic. If concerts of sacred music are planned, with female singers, the priest requests in advance that the women be modestly clothed, and not wear low-cut, bare-shouldered evening dresses.
The homily: part of the Sacred Liturgy
The priest does not allow parishioners, or leaders of other Christian bodies, or of other religions, to preach during the Mass, since the homily is an integral part of the Sacred Liturgy: an opportunity for an ordained Catholic to explain the Sacred Scriptures and to teach the Faith. It is wrong for the faithful to be deprived of this blessing through a priest’s desire to show goodwill towards a favoured parishioner or a neighbouring leader. He can do that in many other ways which do not go against Church practise. He protects his flock from confusion, furthermore, and respects the purpose of his Church and altar, by not ‘lending’ his sanctuary to ministers of Protestant denominations.
If a local Christian group should show kindness by offering their premises for Catholics without a church, it does not follow that a Catholic must offer his church for whatever sort of service local Christians might want to hold there. The priest is glad to welcome everyone to joint non-Eucharistic services for peace, or for Christian unity week, for example, with hymns and intercessions. But he does not offer the sanctuary and altar for a ‘Holy Communion Service’, which is not a Mass, no matter how ‘high church’ might be the Anglican minister who wants to celebrate it.
The altar in a Catholic church has been consecrated for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. It might well have within it the relics of some martyrs who have sacrificed their lives in order to help priests to stay alive and to offer the Mass. The priest cannot allow a Body which denies Catholic Eucharistic beliefs – technically a schismatic and heretical body, albeit led by good-hearted Christians – to ‘borrow’ the church for their ‘Eucharist’, and to send a man, or even a woman, to the altar clothed in vestments identical to the Catholic priest’s vestments. This would only confuse the faithful.
The priest recognises the dignity of those who are baptised but are not fully in communion with the Catholic Church. He is obedient in taking part in ecumenical events and conversations; but he never denies the Catholic Faith, either directly, or by taking part in unauthorised worship, or in ambiguously-worded covenants or declarations. He is selective in what he does ‘outside’ his basic duties and does not attend needless events merely for fear of causing offence by a gentle refusal. His sole desire is to please God and to do His Will. He is aware that, through a ‘false ecumenism’ recently so prevalent, thousands of Catholics have been given the idea that one ‘church’ is as good as another, that there is no ‘one true Church’ which hands on the truth on all matters of importance for our fulfilment as human beings with immortal souls. He knows that, unless Catholics receive clear teaching, many are unable to understand why they should remain Catholic, and not find a more congenial venue for worship; and they resent whatever Catholic practises or duties mark them out as different from various Christian friends. That is why the priest is determined to attend only those events which promote real understanding between Christians, but not to support ambiguously-worded programmes or prayer-events.
The priest has thought carefully about the recent trend towards ‘inter-faith’ services as well as inter-church celebrations. He has decided not to allow passages from texts which are sacred to other religions to be read from his pulpit. The church has been consecrated for the worship of the Most Holy Trinity; and though the priest intends to act with charity towards all, whether they believe in God or not, he does not believe it is charitable to allow passages to be read in church from any book which, overall, denies the Divinity of Christ. Other, non-controversial works by devotees of other religions are simply not suitable for use in church, just as secular music is inappropriate in church; and the greater the number of occasions on which non-Christians might enter a pulpit, or pray in church, without renouncing their own beliefs, the stronger would be the impression given that the main religions are interchangeable and equally valid, in themselves; and so Christ would be pushed to the margins, in His own domain.
Although the priest loves everyone, and respects all who try to do good with sincere hearts, he never pretends, by his words, his presence, or his actions, that it does not matter to which religious body a person adheres. He does not thrust unwanted information towards people of other Christian communities, or to people of other religions; but when others propose ‘joint Eucharists’, or ‘intercommunion’, or other unusual events, he explains the teaching of the Catholic Church and makes it clear why he cannot join in.
He remains aware of his dignity as a priest, even when not officially ‘at work’. Though he has a joyful heart, and a great sense of humour, he sees what is appropriate for him and what is not, when good-hearted people urge him to take part in undignified, unnecessary or dangerous-to-health social events. If he needs funds for his church, for example, or is asked to support charitable events, he does not usually take part in sponsored abseiling, parachuting or similar activities. He approaches Catholics and asks for what the Church needs, and also places his needs before God as before a loving Father Who delights in helping His children.
The priest is busy; but he is not like those colleagues who grumble about being over-worked whilst being too timid to limit their activities to those which are essential, or optional but very worthwhile. He knows it would not be right, for example, to attend every possible social, ecumenical or political event that takes place in his area if he did not have enough time to visit the sick, and left their care to Ministers of Holy Communion, who can neither bless, nor anoint nor hear Confessions.
Love and obedience
In his everyday life, the priest ‘thinks with’ the Church; and he loves what she loves, and pays attention to what she thinks important. He listens to those in authority over him rather than to those unorthodox theologians who like to act as teachers in opposition to the Pope and the Bishops. The priest knows that some of these theologians mistakenly see themselves as mediators between the Clergy and the laity, and ignore the truth that they themselves are subject to the authority of the Pope and the other Bishops. The priest ignores theological explorations which contradict the doctrines of the Church, just he pays little attention to loud and persistent demands for change in those matters of discipline which in theory could change, but which the Pope and the Bishops have said are unlikely to change. That is why he never grumbles even with fellow priests about the requirement for celibacy in Priesthood.
The gift of celibacy
He praises God for having freed him to keep Christ at the centre of his life as only a single man can do in such service, without having to be torn between the demands of parish and family. He is freed, too, from many of the problems which can affect married Catholics as they argue about contraceptive use, divorce, and other evils. But he does not embrace celibacy for utilitarian reasons. He knows that he imitates Christ who emptied Himself to save us; and a priest whose life consists of a total and direct self-giving to God is one most fitted to offer Christ’s one Holy Sacrifice at Mass – and look after Christ’s Bride, the Church, even giving his life for her.
- THE BISHOP IN A FAITHFUL DIOCESE
An entire Diocese
In this Diocese, where the Faith is lived in all its fullness, the Bishop looks with awe towards the Triune God Who has chosen him in his weakness to be an Apostle, in an age when Christianity is under attack. The Catholic Church suffers much more criticism than any other Christian body partly because of the firmness of her doctrines – especially those about the value of every human being as a precious person given life by God. The Bishop has no fear of the future, however. Several years ago, he surrendered entirely to the Lord, after several years of darkness in prayer, and many years in the Priesthood, with all sorts of difficulties and trials; and Christ Who had called and sustained him revealed Himself suddenly as the Bishop’s dearest friend and Companion. Christ led him to experience the tender love of the Father, and the sweetness, in prayer, of the Holy Spirit Who now clothed the Bishop’s soul in new ‘garments’ of grace. Since that time, the Bishop has served God with an unshakable faith, a deep serenity, and a joy that almost overwhelms him.
Though he shoulders a heavy work-load, he relies on the Lord for wisdom and courage – and is grateful for the kind and able people he has chosen to assist him. They begin every work, every meeting and every new undertaking with prayer. The Bishop knows that his basic duty is to save the souls of those in his care: no longer a parish but a whole Diocese. He despises neither the phrase –‘saving souls’ – nor the work, which must include administration, and the development of respectful relationships with people around him, whether other Christians, or people of other religions or none.
He is deeply concerned for the lives and sufferings, hearts and bodies of the poor, the sick and the handicapped, the lonely, and immigrants, as is every good friend of Christ; yet he knows that earthly life must come to an end. He knows that if his people are in a state of grace, at death, they will be welcomed into the embrace of God, even if they must accept purification before entering Heaven’s glory; he also knows that people in mortal sin at death will have freely chosen to turn away from God; yet, without God, they will live in torment forever; and he knows that when his own life ends, he wants to appear before the Lord to be welcomed as a good and faithful servant – not to kneel and weep in remorse, on the steps to the Father’s throne, perhaps seeing how busy he has been with civic affairs and ecumenical projects yet how lukewarm he has been about saving souls. He knows that there is no more solemn task than to do all he can, under God, for the salvation of those in his care. That is why he has ensured that his work for souls has priority, in his everyday life.
The Bishop’s duty
The Bishop does not waste time, or disturb faithful Catholics, by taking part in needless discussions on issues which some people label as controversial. He knows that there are no such persons as ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ Catholics, but only Catholics, some of whom believe the Faith in its fullness and try to practice it. Other Catholics have not yet made up their minds to believe what they have been taught – or have been so badly taught that they have little understanding of the Faith. They would not know what to say, if asked to explain the Faith to a stranger; furthermore, some never pray but are culturally Catholic, and are bold in offering strong opinions about what the Church should teach and how she should change.
In his desire for unity, the Bishop is kind to everyone, but he does not try to give the impression that he agrees with every opinion. He knows the truth about God’s Will for Mankind. He teaches what he knows to be true. He never chooses to deny the truth by what he says, or by what he is seen to do.
The Bishop recognises the Lord’s Will for him: that he should speak clearly on what is necessary for union with God in holiness of life, with the hope of reaching Heaven. It is true that everyone can learn from Holy Scripture that God wants everyone to be saved. It is also true that God has given each of us free-will. God sees that some people refuse to believe in Him, to listen to His wishes or to obey Him; and in separating themselves from Him definitively, persistently, they will spend Eternity without Him. These are the reasons why the Bishop gives clear reminders of the basics of a really Christian life, for example about daily prayer to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. How can we enjoy God, in Eternity, he asks, if we have refused to speak to Him, or listen to Him, during our lives on earth?
The Bishop is not afraid to remind those in his care that each of us is on the way to Heaven, or Hell. Everything in life that we do, or use, should be evaluated with our destiny in mind. Do these particular things help or hinder us, as we aim for heaven? Are we sincere, in our efforts to live as ‘children of God’ who can one day enjoy life in the Kingdom?
Care for those in need
The Bishop also helps people in his care to look beyond themselves. He helps Catholics to show sincere concern for one another, and to care for needy people whatever their creed, race or background; yet he encourages Catholics to ensure that the charitable organisations they choose to support do good in ways which will really help people. Some of his flock have offered help to certain groups only to find that in supporting ‘women’s health care’, for example, they are providing money for abortions, or are making donations which will be used to flood poor countries with contraceptives.
In his own Diocese the Bishop supports and praises the continuing good work of well-known charities, and gives encouragement to people with new ideas about giving practical help to the needy. And as he urges everyone to show love for their neighbour, and to be kind, and quick to forgive, he offers reminders of the importance of loving the needy ‘neighbours’ in one’s own home: spouse, child, parent, brother, sister, or any relation, helper or dependent.
No-one need travel far, or take dramatic action, or attract publicity, in order to obey the Second Great Commandment – to love one’s neighbour. Young people can actively try to show love for their parents by being helpful and obedient. And many of the children’s lives can be marvellously improved when parents set a good example to their children, and pray for them every day. There are sick grandparents to care for, and elderly neighbours to help, besides the overseas causes which attract so much attention.
The Bishop invites Catholics to do good in secret, if possible, as Jesus recommended. That is the reason for his own decision to be cautious in his involvement in modern ‘sponsored’ events which raise a lot of money for good causes but which can engender pride in those taking part. These can encourage the modern notion that only those activities that other people know about and applaud are worthwhile. He knows he will draw attention to special causes without the need for drama if he relies on prayer and on ordinary speech and action. He sometimes prays outside abortion clinics, and – when acting in the interest of Catholic education or the provision of care for the homeless, for example – meets with Government ministers. He is equally keen, however, to help people and projects who are involved in bringing spiritual sustenance to others: people providing orthodox but new ways of evangelisation amongst youngsters, families or students.
In his concern to help young Catholics, the Bishop recognises that his main task is to help them to become holy, helping them, above all, by sure teaching and by the sacraments of the Church. Young people also deserve good parenting, happy homes, and opportunities to escape from poverty or ignorance, but the key to real fulfilment and joy lies within their own hearts, in their relationship with God. That is why the Bishop does for young Catholics what he has been ordained to do; he teaches and preaches, and tries to lead them towards Heaven. He believes that it is especially important that young Catholics are taught about goodness and sin, and reward and punishment. They deserve to hear the truth about the consequences of their actions – and the truth about the role models who can inspire them, and pray for them. They can learn more from St. Maria Goretti, St. John Bosco, St. Jacinta of Fatima, St. Patrick – and Our Blessed Lady – than from the celebrities on whom they focus so much of their attention.
He does not believe that young people need the constant flattery lavished upon them by the Clergy, elsewhere, about youthful fervour and generosity. There are a number of fervent, holy youngsters; but others lack the courage to live chastely, to stand up for the Faith, to live out the Commandments, to make sincere commitments, or even to honour God in reverent prayer. They need to be asked, with gentleness and compassion, “Does the way you live lead you closer to God, or damage your relationship with Him?”
The Bishop is always ready to assure the young people he meets that God’s love for them is unchanging, and very tender and forgiving. He knows that many live in dreadful circumstances, and have been poorly-instructed in the Catholic way of life. They live in an age when a pill is seen as the solution to almost every problem: an age when a person used to antibiotics now takes another sort of pill with equal ease, to make herself sterile, or to procure a miscarriage, to induce a ‘high’ in a boring life, or to end a life when everything seems too hard to bear. But the Bishop is determined to open their eyes to the existence of God, and to speak about God’s plans for their lives. He teaches these young people the true meaning of conversion. He praises them for their whole-hearted care of the handicapped and elderly on parish or Diocesan pilgrimages; yet he is not afraid to invite them to look at the results, for their spiritual lives, of their frequent drunkenness, sexual immorality or indecency, or use of pornography or contraceptives – or their abortions.
He has seen that very many youngsters act ‘cool’, speaking with bored voices and blank faces in ways which are uncharitable towards their peers as well as their parents; and they miss Mass, and grumble about every duty. Yet the Bishop does not believe that it is necessary to use fashionable but foolish means to persuade youngsters to enter a church. He cannot approve of special youth Masses with rock music, so-called liturgical dancing, and the sort of cheering suitable for football terraces. Every Mass is a living memorial of the One Sacrifice of Christ; so no Mass should be celebrated as if people have been asked to a circus. The Bishop knows that the Church cannot provoke a sincere interest in Christ by encouraging irreverent behaviour and self-centred worship.
In touch with almighty God
He knows that it is almost impossible for people to honour God, and find joy in God in sincere and trusting prayer, if they ignore God, and harm themselves and others by their sins, ‘outside’ prayer; and this is why he sees catechesis as the key to opening the eyes and hearts of youngsters. The more a person learns about God, from people in the Church who love God, know Him and have been wonderfully changed by Him, the more attractive God seems. The hearer begins to want to know Him, to love Him and to trust Him. So the Bishop is determined that all Catholic youngsters in his Diocese learn the truth: that by reverent private and Liturgical prayer we are powerfully in contact with almighty God, through Jesus His Son, who descended from Heaven to save us. The Bishop invites gifted priests and lay-persons to arrange, from time to time, a joyful event for youngsters to attend: a social event, ending with some powerful catechesis about prayer, about the Church, about the sacraments, about Sacred Scripture and about repentance.
When the youngsters’ hearts have been touched by the warm welcome they have received, and when their knowledge of God has been increased, and they have a greater curiosity about Him – or even love for Him – they can take part with sincerity and gratitude in a reverent and beautiful prayer-event. This might be a Mass, conducted as a sacred and solemn rite, or a time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and those who respond to God’s grace experience the peace that can come from being in the presence of God, in prayer, with a peaceful conscience, united with the whole Communion of Saints.
The Bishop, who is present at the prayer-event, says frankly that whoever learns to love God, and to pray, and to show love for God by loving his neighbour, will draw down great blessings from Heaven upon himself and upon all those he loves and prays for. Every Catholic who wants to lead a holy life can do so, if he relies on God, and on the help he can receive in prayer and in the sacraments. We are all called to be Saints. That is the challenge held out by the Bishop, who is not afraid to invite young people to be ambitious for great sanctity rather than great celebrity, riches or power.
The indwelling Trinity
The Bishop loves to explain to adults, as well as to youngsters, the truths that lie at the heart of the Catholic Faith. He loves to share the good news that Jesus Christ, by His saving work, and His sacrament of Baptism, has made possible the entry of God, and the indwelling of God in all His glory, within each human being who has freely chosen to revere and welcome Him, and to be baptised as Christ commanded. It is a gift of indescribable grandeur: that a baptised person shares in the very life of the Three Divine Persons. He can pause to adore God present within himself as a man might once have paused to praise God after travelling to the Temple in Jerusalem. Whether the baptised person in a state of grace is at home, or sick or well, or travelling, he is never without immediate access to God, through Christ, in his own soul; and this is especially joyful news for those Christians who cannot keep bodily close to fellow-members of the Church, whether the sick, or those in prison, or deserted, or suffering in other ways.
As the Scriptures tell us, the Holy Spirit goes wherever He wishes. He is at work even in the souls of some of the unbaptised, inspiring them to do good; yet such individual ‘inspirations’ are not to be thought of as having the same value as the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, with the Father and Son, which is brought about by Baptism, and which provides an unbreakable bond. This also means that in every type of loneliness, pain, difficulty or rejection which youngsters or others experience in everyday life, each one can say – if he loves God, and trusts Him: “I am not alone. God is with me, and loves me. He is here in a special way, with His strength and His friendship, no matter what I am going through.”
A state of grace
As the Bishop speaks about friendship with God, however, he insists on the importance of remaining in a state of grace, and not grieving or driving out the Holy Spirit by deliberate and serious sin; and he adds another word of advice about the Christian life. We live by faith, which means that we can be certain about the truths of the Faith even if our feelings fluctuate, and we feel very devout and loving during one occasion of prayer, yet feel dull and tired on another occasion. The perfection for which we aim, in order to please God, help others, and find lasting joy, does not consist of ‘feeling wonderful’ all the time, within ourselves, but of loving God with all our strength, and our neighbour for God’s sake, whether our feelings are pleasurable or dreary.
The Holy Eucharist
Day by day, the Bishop preaches, encourages and rebukes, as necessary, and dispenses the sacraments, fortified by private prayer; and then he makes time, if he can, for other matters, such as fostering friendship and understanding with people in local government, with other Christian leaders, and with people of other religions who also try to serve God and to promote charitable work and justice. He also initiates friendships with those enemies of the Church who are able to believe in his goodwill towards them. Yet his greatest concern is with the care of the Catholics of his own Diocese, and their salvation; and before he makes any plans, decisions, campaigns or new changes, he turns to Christ Who is his life and his joy, and his source of wisdom and strength and love. He has a tremendous devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist – and to Christ’s mother Mary, the Blessed Virgin, through whose selfless love the world received its long-awaited Saviour.
The Bishop knows that the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. That is why he urges his priests to explore every possible means of keeping their churches open each day, even if they need to use alarms, or cameras, or rotas of watchful parishioners. He does all he can to encourage everyone to visit and to adore Christ, Who is Really Present, in a unique manner, in every Catholic church. He urges everyone to show gratitude to the Father Who sent Christ into our world, and to respond to the promptings of the Spirit Whom Christ sent from the Father to comfort and guide us.
The Bishop does everything he can to ensure the reverent and beautiful celebration of the Sacred Liturgy throughout the Diocese. In his own celebrations, he conveys the truth, by his every movement and gesture, that he is leading his people in prayer in union with the whole Company of Heaven, in the presence of the holy angels and the glorious Trinity. In his Cathedral there can be found sublime music, beautiful decorations, art-works which stimulate devotion, and a prayerful atmosphere which nothing is allowed to disturb. It serves as a model for all churches in his Diocese. He allows no undignified or secular events to take place within it, nor anything unworthy of Christ the God-man Who is substantially Present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the tabernacle.
With dignity and reverence
The Bishop shows, by his attitude, and his decisions about the Sacred Liturgy, that he has paid attention to documents from the Holy Father in Rome, about liturgical norms, and about fostering even greater dignity and reverence in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries; indeed, he is attentive to all recommendations which come from the Pope. He works to overcome, in his Diocese, any remaining disrespect for the Papal office, a disrespect evident elsewhere in the way some priests and religious speak about The Vatican as if the Pope were an interfering relation who had no business giving advice to those outside his own country.
The Bishop does not allow rock music to be played during the Mass, as it stirs the emotions rather than stirring up spiritual thoughts; nor does he permit mourners at Requiem Masses to play soundtracks from popular musicals. Everything in church is designed or introduced to help people to raise their hearts and minds to God, and to the truths of the Catholic Faith. This is why he commissions artworks which inspire and teach. He knows that the wandering thoughts of an adult, or a bored child, at Mass, can be drawn towards the things of God if they alight on a picture or carving of the Holy Trinity, or the Mysteries of Christ’s life, or the Saints and Angels, or the Last Judgement, and not on a bare brick wall. He gently refuses gifts from artists who, liking experimentation, have fashioned crucifixes or ‘Stations of the Cross’ in peculiar materials or unrecognisable forms that prompt neither joy nor devotion in the regular worshippers.
The Bishop respects both the structure and the purpose of the Mass. He does not permit leotard-clad dancers to leap onto the steps of the sanctuary after the Consecration, with an interpretation of the Passion, for example. Dramas such as these can be deeply moving, in the right venue; but there is no place for them in the Mass, which has a traditional and formal structure with no room for intrusions from such performers, or from children urged on by teachers who are keen to let their pupils shine. Indeed, every Liturgical celebration should take place in a prayerful and dignified manner, according to the rubrics.
A few years ago, the Bishop used to arrive in a parish for Confirmations only to be aware of a general uproar in the church, like that heard around closing time in a bar. It was the excited chatter of good-hearted people who were completely forgetful of the special nature of the church building as a ‘house of prayer’. He wrote a pastoral letter about the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle, and the importance of maintaining a prayerful silence in church. He asked all the Clergy to set a good example in this matter; and there has been a change for the better, throughout the Diocese.
The Bishop is now grateful that Catholics in his Diocese treasure the sacraments, above all the Mass, and see it for what it is – the solemn re-presentation today, in sacramental form, of Christ’s once-for-all Sacrifice for sin on Calvary. The Bishop is heartened to see the laity acting with great reverence in church with sincere signs of devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and signs of respect for the priests who offer the Holy Sacrifice. He has been pleased to see a larger number of boys offering to be altar-servers since his decision that such service is appropriate for males only, and is, furthermore, a means of inspiring an interest in vocations to the Priesthood.
In his concern for vocations to the Priesthood, and for the happiness of the Clergy, the Bishop is pleased by the Pope’s recent document on the Mass: ‘Summorum Pontificum’. The Bishop wants to act with justice and kindness in Liturgical matters as well as social or educational. He therefore respects all legitimate ways in the Church of celebrating the Sacred Mysteries; so he aims to be as helpful towards people who like the extraordinary form of the rite of Mass as towards those who prefer the ordinary form of the rite. He tries to be generous and kind, as instructed by the Pope. He has personal hopes, however, about certain aspects of the Liturgy.
First, he hopes that the new, and much better, translation of the Latin text of the Missal of Pope Paul VI will foster a greater awareness amongst Catholics of the Infinite holiness of God and of the sacredness of the Liturgical rites; and secondly, he hopes that the Mass will eventually be celebrated everywhere with both priest and congregation facing East together, looking expectantly towards the Lord. Meanwhile, he celebrates Mass regularly according to the ordinary usage of the Roman Rite; and he is brushing up his Latin so that he will also be able to celebrate Mass according to the extraordinary usage, and so offer to his flock visible evidence that he has sincerely welcomed the instructions from Rome.
The Bishop wants to be at peace with everyone, in every area of Church life; but he knows from experience that various sins and abuses in the lives of his flock are calmly accepted by certain Catholics or even defended. He is a normal man who does not want to be unpopular – or to drive people away – but he is aware that he must sometimes act as a Moses to his people. He sees that the principal ‘golden calves’ today amongst Catholics – the principle idols – are the elevation of private opinions above God’s laws, the lack of reverence shown towards sacred things, people and places, especially in church, the gross neglect of penance and prayer, and the neglect of the ordinary duties of one’s state of life. He also sees that many Catholics never attend Sunday Mass. He feels conscience-bound to speak.
The Bishop is not afraid to speak out about other matters too, such as the desertion of one spouse by another, or the use of pornography by both children and adults, and other types of sexual immorality. He speaks about supposed ‘re-marriage’ outside the Church, about the neglect of children’s real needs by some working mothers, and about the neglect of some elderly parents, who, though fit, are unwelcome in their children’s homes; and he makes plain his opposition to euthanasia and other evils. He knows that there will be greater change for the better in the spiritual life of the Diocese and the nation if he speaks about specific wrongs which are commonplace even amongst Catholics, rather than send out ‘scatter-gun’ criticisms of consumerism, poverty, warfare, and environmental pollution.
The Bishop speaks the truth about God’s plan for married people. He recognises the pain and sacrifice that are often required in birth and in child-care. He knows that heroism is sometimes required if spouses are to be faithful to the teachings of the Church; indeed, he himself needs courage to speak out against the use of contraceptives, as a lone voice amongst others who should teach the truth but fail to do so. He is saddened that many married people are so unconcerned about, or defiant about, behaviour which is, objectively, mortally sinful. Direct sterilisation is against God’s plan. Abortion is a great evil, whether directly intended or brought about by the so-called ‘contraceptives’ which prevent implantation of the embryo in the womb; and condom-use goes against the integrity of the marriage act, whether the intention of the user is to prevent a pregnancy or to avoid one of innumerable health problems such as pre-eclampsia, or infection by syphilis or HIV, for example.
A deafening silence
The Bishop once spent an idle moment imagining a nation where almost all married persons were committing adultery and where most of the Clergy had stopped preaching against adultery because they didn’t believe anyone would listen to them. That scenario seemed outrageous; and he knows that it is just as outrageous, today, that God’s gift of life is so often spurned by those who should be life-bearers; yet there is a deafening silence on the subject of contraception, except from successive Popes, and a handful of Clergy and laity.
This is why the Bishop urges married people to explore the teachings of the Church, and to trust in God’s help. He urges them towards great faithfulness, as Bishops did when the early Christians were surrounded by people who thought that Christian beliefs about Christ, or Christian moral stances, were foolish, and failed to see why Christians would not offer a pinch of incense to the Emperor to save themselves from a horrible death.
The Bishop is not swayed by those Catholics who insult him, perhaps unintentionally, by suggesting that a celibate cleric has no right to tell married persons what to do or how to live. His concern for truth, however, and for the salvation of these people, helps him to be patient and unmoved, no matter how unpopular he becomes because he supports the Church’s sure teachings on sexual morality; and besides, he knows that the ‘prophets’ today are not those who challenge the long-standing teachings of the Church, but those who astonish many of their contemporaries by believing all that Christ teaches us through His Church, trusting in the grace of Christ in every difficulty, and practicing what they profess – and repenting and being reconciled if they fail.
Involvement in politics
The Bishop knows that there are times when he must also speak about unpopular political matters; yet he does not leap up to mention every fashionable cause; nor does he spend time with fellow-Bishops planning needless announcements about far-away evils when there are personal sins which are common-place amongst Catholics throughout the country, which they should ask people to abandon.
The Bishop has no intention of accepting a recent invitation to take a seat in the Upper House of Parliament. He knows that the Church does not allow the Clergy to take an official part in the political process. He must not identify himself with a single political group; and he recognises that it is lay Catholics who should become involved in government, and in ordinary society, and who should try to be the ‘leaven’ there, as the Clergy do their own work in their usual venues. He knows that Bishops do not need an extra ‘platform’ from which to speak. If they proclaim the Catholic Faith as vigorously as they might, they will be guaranteed front-page attention in all the newspapers, even if the publicity they received is very painful.
Needless programmes and questionnaires
In his desire to revive the life of Christ in needy souls the Bishop does not try to entice the lukewarm to practice the Faith largely by offering them non-prescriptive or ecumenical programmes which lead to companionship rather than conviction. Neither does he agree to spend millions of pounds on the printing and analysis of needless questionnaires entitled ‘What can the Church do for you?’ He knows that where large sums of money are available there are a dozen social and devotional projects on which those funds would be better spent. He could offer further support to those Orders which provide help for pregnant women who have decided against abortion, for example; or he could build a new and magnificent shrine for a local Reformation-martyr whose name is nearly forgotten, and whose relics could inspire Catholics in the present age of mockery of all things Catholic. For the moment, however, he encourages Catholics to ask themselves: “What does Christ ask me to do? How can I love and obey Him, and build up the Church?”
Unorthodox and heretical views
The Bishop delegates much of his routine work to qualified people; but since he is responsible for souls he makes a point of examining the catechetical books and programmes which are used in his Diocese in school-rooms and in classes in parishes. He has ensured that there are no text-books in his Diocese which deny or omit major doctrines of the Faith such as Original Sin, the immortality of the soul, the Divinity of Christ, the substantial ‘Real’ Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady, or the authority given by Christ to His Church to teach the truth. He does not permit any speaker to address Catholic children who presents the moral teachings of the Church in a manner which suggests that the Church might be wrong and that other Christians have an alternative and reasonable viewpoint on contraceptive use, sex outside marriage, and related matters. He does not invite Catholics to become involved in catechetics just because they have degrees in theology. He knows from experience what strange ideas some people have imbibed if their lecturers have been extreme feminists, for example, with warped ideas on Scripture, Christology, Ecclesiology, and many more topics. The Bishop requires all teachers who are Catholic to be practising Catholics who believe in the truths of the Faith.
He does not allow them to challenge the Faith or to stir up doubts; indeed, he is so keen to help everyone to see the marvellous coherence of the Catholic Faith, and to treasure it, that he makes great use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and of the Compendium. Copies of these books are on sale in his Diocesan Pastoral Centre, and in most parish repositories. A free copy of the Compendium is given to every person enrolled in a class for Baptism of a child, and to each child in a First Holy Communion class – to help the parents; and each person being confirmed, ordained or married in a Catholic church receives a copy.
The Bishop has had to take steps to ensure that the good foundations laid in Catholic education are not damaged by any recent provision of inappropriate materials in the classroom. Since, by law, the Bishop must allow some teaching about other religions, even when the children might not yet have attained a firm grasp of their own religion, he ensures that the Catholic teachings are taught as true; and so the children, when told what others believe – about the transmigration of souls, or the existence of several ‘gods’, for example, can draw reasonable conclusions. They can see what is admirable in other religions, yet can recognise what cannot be accepted by Catholics.
As the Bishop is so keen to hand on the Faith, he is determined not to disappoint Catholic parents who have chosen, and helped to pay for, a Catholic education for their children. He does not agree to have joint schools with Anglicans or other ecclesial groups who do not share many Catholic beliefs. He knows it would be unjust to confuse Catholic children by their knowing that two sets of doctrines are being taught on the same site, sometimes by women who appear to be priests. The inevitable result of such schooling would be a lack of clarity in teaching, leading to a tragic loss of faith.
With neither compromise nor confusion
The Bishop knows that wherever the Faith is well-taught, in its fullness, without compromise or confusion, a number of people of all ages embrace it and become inspired to share it with others. He knows, however, that amongst Christians who practise a false ecumenism, there has arisen a general belief that Christianity is a wonderfully simple religion, with only a few core doctrines, which Catholics complicate by unnecessary additions. He has experienced, in ecumenical circles, the woolly thinking and compromise in doctrine which emerge from a desire not to give offence to colleagues in other religious bodies.
In his own relations with other Christians he is eager to look for the good in every group, person and situation; indeed, he meets people whose humility and goodness put him to shame. But he does not pretend that false doctrines are true; nor does he agree with the opinion expressed by most Protestants, that what others call Christian ‘denominations’ are all equally-worthy parts of an invisible Church, or of a once-visible Church which fell apart five hundred years ago and will be made one again if we persevere in prayer. He knows that the Church founded by Christ as one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic, is still one – and recognisable to all who look with wonder upon her unity in government, liturgy and doctrine. He is generous about commending what is good in numerous ecclesial bodies in his country; but he does not make the mistake that some Catholics have made – even highly placed Clergy – of saying that there is no need for anyone to ‘return’ to the Catholic Church.
The Bishop recognises how tragic it is that ministers with invalid Orders neither confect the Blessed Sacrament, nor receive it. How can he suggest that people who sincerely love Christ have no need of the ‘living bread’, which is Christ – and no need of the sure teaching of the Church on faith and morals? Where there is common ground he works with others to promote justice, for example, or to oppose abortion; yet there are so many areas of disagreement between Christian bodies on important matters of faith and morals that he participates only in those ecumenical events and programmes in which he will not be required to water down the Catholic message and so cause confusion amongst members of his flock.
Out of love for Christ, and for the truth, he does not pretend that Anglican ‘Bishops’ are validly-ordained; so although he respects them as Christian leaders, and meets with them, he does not take part in joint Confirmations or joint blessings. He does not preach at the ‘Ordinations’ of Anglican clergy, nor sit in the sanctuary of an Anglican or other church at their ‘Eucharist’, lest he confuse people about Orders or about the Mass; and though he offers a sincere welcome to other Christians who come to pray in a Catholic church or Cathedral, he does not allow Protestant ministers to sit around the sanctuary, giving the impression that they are Catholic Clergy. He always arranges for non-Catholic visitors, even if they are ministers, to have reserved seats in the main body of the Church, so that they are welcomed as fellow-Christians but are not taken to have a ministerial role in the Liturgy.
When the Bishop is seen in public with other Christian leaders for a particular celebration, or a commemoration of local or national heroes, he does not speak about Catholic martyrs, for example, with admiration, and then express admiration for the ‘martyrs on both sides’. That would be to give the impression that it doesn’t matter what we die for, as long as we are sincere. He knows that to die for Christ ‘is gain’; but to die for error is a tragedy.
As well as being prudent in his decisions about Christian ecumenism, he thinks carefully about the effects of his presence at ‘inter-faith’ events. He sees the good in every person, but tries to avoid taking part in line-ups with leaders of non-Christian religions unless the circumstances are appropriate. He avoids those occasions when onlookers would be encouraged to believe that all religions are of equal value, as religions, and are equally able to bring us to salvation, or that the Catholic Church believes herself to provide only one of numerous paths to salvation.
It is because the Bishop wants the Catholic Faith to be offered to all peoples that he encourages all who directly or indirectly support the Missions. Like the Apostles in whose footsteps he treads, he longs for everyone to know that God has reached down to the world in the Person of His own Son – and that Jesus Who died and rose again has made a Way to Heaven. He knows that Jesus is the only Saviour, and that the Church He founded is designed for everyone. The Bishop is glad to see generous material and medical help being given to persons in poor countries overseas; yet he also wants everyone to receive the Good News about Christ, to believe and be baptised, and to have the certainty of being on the sure road to Heaven. The Bishop is of ‘one mind’ with Christ and the Apostles, and with the Church ever since those early days, in wanting to see the whole world brought to know and love Christ.
The Holy Spirit at work
The Bishop knows that, in other religions, whatever causes members to praise God, to lead pure, charitable lives, and to act with kindness and justice to all, is admirable, even if the religions in themselves are not salvific, or even if some are far from admirable in their founders, their origins, their traditions and their outlook. He sees certain precepts in other religions which help people to think and act in ways that delight God – Who has revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, what He is ‘like’, and what delights Him. The Bishop knows that when a person acts as a true friend of God until death it is possible for him to be saved, (by the grace of Christ, and after the manner of a baptism of desire), even if he is not baptised. By the love of such a person for all people, and by his amazing and vigorous response to conscience, his worship of the One Who is his Creator, and his open heart as he tries do good to all, he shows that the Spirit of God is at work in him. As far as he can, he is living as a friend of God, even if through no fault of his own he has not heard the call to Christian discipleship; and so it can be hoped that he will recognise and accept Christ when he meets Him at last – though no Christian should sit in judgement upon him. Only God knows a person’s heart. But the ordinary means of Salvation is by Baptism, through faith in God and in His Son Jesus Christ; and the Bishop knows that it is not easy to be saved, as Christ and the Apostles have affirmed. If it is difficult for persons who have the solid teaching of the Church to guide them, and the sacraments to make them holy, with the encouragement of fellow-believers, it must be much harder for those without such help.
The Bishop recognises that it is his duty to spread the Gospel, so that people can be baptised and have their sins washed away, as Christ commanded; therefore he excludes no one from his hopes. He longs to see ‘Jews and Greeks’ baptised, as did St. Paul; so although he encourages inter-faith dialogue, he does not agree with those who suggest that one group of people, or another, has no need of the Gospel message or the sacraments; indeed, he wants Jesus’s own ancestral people, the Jews, to recognise Christ as the One promised by the Prophets, and to have the joy of knowing that the Lord has kept His promise of sending a Saviour – Who is amongst us even now in the Holy Eucharist.
The Bishop treasures his friendships with people of other religions. He takes part in private meetings, and official talks and conferences, which will increase mutual understanding. He even takes part in rallies or marches in support of unborn babies, for example, with good people of every background. But he does not take part in those inter-faith prayer services where the name of Christ is left out in case it causes offence, and where prayers are addressed only to ‘almighty God’ or ‘Creator’ and never to the Most Holy Trinity. He is not willing to insult Christ and confuse the faithful in order to placate those who do not share our beliefs. Christ cannot be treated as an embarrassment or an irrelevance, but should receive the honour He deserves; so the Bishop makes enquiries before promising to attend inter-faith events. He finds out whether people will meet together yet pray separately, or whether there will be an attempt at ‘joint prayer’ which will, sad to say, not be offered ‘through Christ our Lord.’
New church buildings
The Bishop’s love for Christ, and his desire to see the greatest-possible honour paid to Christ’s sacramental Presence, drive him to pay close attention to any plans for new churches and chapels in his Diocese. He ensures that whatever is built is really worthy of the Lord.
When the Bishop confers with architects about the design of a new church or Cathedral he chooses a Catholic architect, or at least someone who will bear in mind the main function of a church building, which is not to show out the most innovative and exciting of modern architectural styles, nor to win awards for men, but to serve as a glorious and awesome setting for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and for the placement of the tabernacle in which Jesus Christ is substantially Present in sacramental form.
The Bishop ensures that those who cross the threshold find it easy to believe that they have arrived as if at the edge of Heaven, to join in Heaven’s praises during the Mass, united with the whole Church of earth, Heaven and Purgatory. The eye is drawn to the Baptismal font, and then to a raised sanctuary, and to the altar where the Holy Sacrifice is offered, and to a nearby crucifix with a corpus on it; yet the eye is also led upwards, to where the Invisible Trinity reigns over all, in glory; hence the most suitable arrangement for the congregation is that people face together in one direction, not ‘cut in half’ by what is called a choir or antiphonal arrangement. This antiphonal arrangement is traditional in monasteries where Religious pray the Divine Office together antiphonally; but it is less helpful for ordinary parishioners and families, who are helped if they can focus their attention on the altar and sanctuary, and not on the faces of people sitting opposite them.
The Bishop makes sure that all paintings, sculptures, tapestries or mosaics for such buildings are designed to inspire, educate and delight those who enter. As far as possible, art-works should not be added, piecemeal, later on, when further funds have been raised, causing people to worship for a long period in a space which represents a council chamber, in its bareness, or an airport terminal. The Bishop knows that faith can be fostered, and grief assuaged, and hearts made joyful, when people in church look not only towards the altar, but also towards images that provide powerful reminders of the truths which are proclaimed in church.
He listened for many years as broken-hearted parishioners expressed their dismay as their beautiful ‘Stations of the Cross’ were replaced by bare numerals, or by monstrous modernistic art-works. He himself grieved to see many churches stripped of their statues of the Saints, their Piétas, their altar-panels and wall-panels which depicted, for example, the Passion of Christ, or the Mysteries of His Resurrection and Ascension; so he understands why some young Catholics look enviously towards Christian groups and denominations where much use is made of colour, imagery and beauty. These are amongst the reasons why the Bishop encourages artists and architects to learn from past ages in the Church, and to make Catholic churches places which reflect something of Heaven’s glory.
The Bishop does not allow the use of shoddy materials in God’s house; nor does he insist that since the people are so poor they won’t want their gifts spent on extravagant art-work and decoration in church. He knows that those who love God want to see the best of everything offered to Him or used for Him. He knows that people coming from dreadful homes to praise God in an exquisite church will delight in it. A reminder that everything to do with God is glorious and beautiful, like Heaven, will give poor people today as much joy as that felt in the hearts of peasants in the Middle Ages who came from their mud huts to magnificent Cathedrals. On seeing polychrome sculptures of the Saints, and beautifully–decorated shrines, the poor were given new joy and hope in the midst of a cruelly-hard daily life.
The Bishop and his architect ensure that the design of each church or chapel allows for kneeling in the presence of Christ, our God; since they know that we should honour God with our whole being as we pray, body and soul.
Caring for his priests
The Bishop has a special concern for his priests, knowing full well what a difficult and lonely life some of them lead, though it can also be immensely worthwhile and fulfilling. He organises, or asks others to plan, meetings and retreats for priests, to give them time for prayer, rest, reflection, friendship, growth in communion, and inspiration. He invites happy priests to address them: priests who call them into closer union with Christ and Our Lady, and to greater loyalty to the Pope and the Bishops, not priests who cast doubt on the Church’s teachings and discipline by means of witticisms and emotive anecdotes.
He encourages his priests to live as leaders and Apostles, not ashamed to be called ‘Father’, to wear clericals, and to act as decision-makers in their parishes. They now speak with gratitude and dignity about their vocation because the Bishop has encouraged them to share his high view of the Sacred Priesthood and not to adopt the role which others have invited them to take, of being social workers with a spiritual slant. The Bishop takes particular care of the newly-ordained – for several years. It is too easy for them to feel abandoned and alone if they are overwhelmed with new work yet receive little care from those who once took such an interest in their progress and welfare.
In personal contact, the Bishop assures them of his prayers. He makes available a private means of contacting him about personal disasters or worries; yet he invites them to cast off the cynicism and gloom that can afflict all Christians who work hard and seem to see few results. He encourages them to take the Curé of Ars as a model, in a life of self-sacrifice in imitation of Christ. He invites them to persevere in private prayer and not to be satisfied with fulfilling their Liturgical duties. He knows that if they come to experience the love of Christ in contemplation they will have ‘eagles’ wings’ to carry them through their trials. Yet the Bishop does not limit himself to giving good advice.
He makes sure that he does not add to his priests’ burdens. He does not arrange frequent, expensive, unnecessary campaigns in the Diocese which involve the priests in many more meetings, or further desperate searches to find lay-persons able to sacrifice their spare time to help them. It is right that there should be special celebrations or commemorations from time to time; yet this should be only when really necessary, and not just because other Dioceses have packed programmes of extra events, or because some of the laity are not content with the ordinary joys of the Liturgical year.
The Bishop thinks of the welfare of his priests, too, when he makes decisions about the future employment of certain converts to the Church. He understands why special concessions have been made in past times; but he no longer undermines the morale of his priests by welcoming large groups of married Protestant ministers into the Church, ordaining them, and putting them to work, accompanied by wives and babies, amidst their celibate colleagues. It goes against justice to ask great sacrifices of Catholic men who have proved themselves worthy to be priests, yet to give special treatment to men who, though at last Catholic, have for many years been blind to the claims of the Catholic Church.
Scandal in the Priesthood
As he reflects upon modern problems, to make wise decisions, the Bishop does not allow past paedophile scandals to make him despondent. He knows that the sins and crimes of men with such inclinations are monstrous, and he does everything in his power to ensure that children are protected from harm; yet in every group and profession there are people prepared to commit gross evils; and in every country, furthermore, there are enemies of the Church who are glad to use this subject as a stick with which to beat the Church, most of whose Clergy lead pure and holy lives.
The Bishop is at work, meanwhile, trying to make changes so that innocent members of the Clergy are not treated unjustly or assumed to be guilty solely because a malicious youngster spreads a rumour about sexual misconduct. He is unwilling to accept current advice that everyone should believe, from the very start, that what every child says is true.
There is another matter, to do with sexual behaviour, which the Bishop has
had to ponder. He believes that all Catholics in his Diocese deserve care and compassion. Yet, in thinking about pastoral care for those who are sexually attracted to persons of the same sex, the Bishop is cautious in allowing special Masses to be celebrated for these people. He believes it would be unwise to encourage them to gather together for a Mass, if they were not at the same time given pastoral help to live chaste lives and to turn away from any immoral behaviour or relationships.
The Bishop has had a pamphlet prepared on the subject of sexual immorality, and holiness. He has decided that those who have not yet resolved to lead chaste lives can receive, from their priests and Bishop, this easily-read instruction on the Church’s teachings. They can be encouraged to think more about their spiritual progress than about their personal desires, and to join only those organisations which encourage them to lead chaste lives in the service of people in need.
The Bishop has often heard it said that people wanting same-sex relationships deserve special treatment because it is not their fault that they cannot marry and find fulfilment there as other people do. Yet the Bishop knows that there are many Catholics who cannot marry, whether through sickness, paralysis, desertion by a spouse, or not being able to find a suitable partner; and Christ has shown us all how to follow His Way, carrying our crosses, in the hope of finding immense joy in our communion with Him, and an ultimate fulfilment greater than anything found in earthly union; and that is why the Bishop is cautious about holding, or permitting other members of the Clergy, to hold, ‘special’ Masses; rather, he speaks the truth about chastity; and invites to practice heroism, all who have a great Cross to carry, and who are willing to shoulder it for as long as God allows.
The Bishops’ Conference
If it should happen that fellow-Bishops have different views on how to deal
with this problem, or with any other, the Bishop is willing to go against the general opinion of the Bishops’ Conference if he believes that his fellow-Bishops have come to faulty conclusions or are involved in unwise projects. As in ecumenical matters, he is not willing to remain silent on important issues for the sake of a false peace. He knows that the Bishops’ Conference has, in itself, only a limited authority to teach or to command obedience, whereas he has authority of his own, in his own Diocese, from God.
Vocations to the Priesthood
As he thinks of the future of the Diocese, and the need for a greater number of priests, the Bishop confers with others; and he uses every reasonable means to promote vocations to the Priesthood. He also does what Christ recommended, Who said: “Ask the Father to send labourers”. So he arranges for extra prayer and penance throughout the Diocese at certain times, or days of Exposition and Adoration with that intention in mind. His trust in God is absolute.
The Bishop does not agree with people elsewhere who say that a reduced number of applicants for seminary training is God’s way of indicating that members of the laity should be placed in many more positions of leadership in the Church. He does not follow the trends, and ask for a re-examination of the celibacy requirement, or hope that the Church’s firm teaching on a male-only priesthood can be changed. He is not willing to align himself with all those others in the Church who are calling for change in every area of Church life, to make the Church more ‘relevant’. The Bishop has many seminarians in training; and he is confident about the future because he knows that God does not change. God is still calling men to be priests, even if young men elsewhere fail to hear the call through the distracting sounds of modern life or the cynicism about Priesthood vocalised by people around them.
The Bishop ensures that the priests who care for and teach his seminarians lead holy, chaste and prayerful lives, and that they form the seminarians as men of prayer. Without a well-nurtured, well-developed prayer-life no man will grow and develop as a pastor, a leader, and ‘another Christ’, with great trust in God the Father’s love for him and in His Providential care; and without great trust in God, no man will persevere in the Priesthood.
As he surveys the state of Religious Life in his Diocese the Bishop sees quite clearly where there is life and vigour and where there is sadness and decline. He does all he can to ensure that elderly Religious in declining Orders are rewarded for their faithful service, looked after in their old age, and helped to retain their trust in God even in tragic circumstances. He sees all too clearly the sad stages through which many of their Orders have passed in recent decades; yet he is heartened by the knowledge that several new Orders have been established in the Diocese and are offering visible, enthusiastic witness to a life spent in the service of God, in poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Bishop knows that a vigorous re-examination of their Founders’ principles was requested of Religious Orders after the Second Vatican Council, but produced unexpected results. Where Religious were careful and prudent in their discussions and decisions, and continued steadfastly in their way of life, though making some necessary changes, their Orders continued to flourish.
Other Religious abandoned important beliefs and practices. They seized this opportunity for change to throw off what had always been irksome. Others wanted to be in the forefront of those who were proclaiming that the Catholic Church had at last made itself ‘relevant’ to modern man and who said, “the old Church is dead”. Many women Religious rejoiced in their ‘freedom’ and were persuaded that it was infantile to have a regular routine for prayer, to be required to come together for community recreation, or to obey their superiors, to ask for permission to travel, to behave with religious decorum in company, and to be self-effacing and docile. But when the spirit of self-denial is lessened, the spiritual life is less vigorous, no matter how sincere a person might be. It ceases to attract others to the same degree; and without new members an Order must decline; and that was exactly what had happened, in some cases.
When these dispirited groups were almost extinct, forty years later, many were still asking themselves what more they should do, to become even more ‘relevant’ to the modern world. They had not yet recognised the truth about Religious Life: that old Orders were being renewed, or new Orders were growing, wherever the tried and tested traditions of the Religious Life were embraced. Where there is fervent devotion not just to Christ but also to the Pope, and to the Tradition, and to traditional customs and devotions, with a spirit of penance, and a determination to live out poverty, chastity and obedience in time-honoured ways, there can usually be found, today, joyful monks or nuns or friars or sisters. These are either enclosed contemplatives or contemplatives in action; and many of them are young, and are an inspiration to all who see them – including their Bishop.
The Bishop is a gentle and patient father to those in his care, and very tender, just as God the Father is tender, especially towards the weak and the lonely; yet he also acts as a good father by ‘vigilantly warding off any errors which threaten’ his flock (Lumen Gentium 25). He is determined to protect his children from danger, both from people within the Church, and from outside influences. He is not a man who is frightened by change; indeed, he accepts necessary changes in his own life and in the life of the Church. He has matured in unexpected ways, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and the Church too has undergone changes of various kinds, like a sapling which has grown into a great oak tree; but just as an oak remains a plant, a tree, an oak, and a particular oak, like no other, so the Church remains what she really has been from the beginning. She cannot change in ways which would contradict her very nature and purpose; and that is why the Bishop defends unchanging doctrine, is faithful to The Tradition, and fearlessly speaks out when Catholics agitate for unacceptable changes.
There are dissenting Clergy and Religious, as well as lay-persons, asking him for what cannot be granted. He has listened to their requests, and shown patience even when his authority has been questioned. He respects the sincerity of those who contradict him. He knows that he cannot forbid these individuals to express their opinions in private. Each is on a personal spiritual journey, and makes mistaken judgements as well as wise ones. The Bishop knows that they believe themselves to be reasonable, forward-looking Catholics acting in solidarity with other Catholics who are unable to believe in many teachings of the Church or are unwilling to abandon their unorthodox life-styles. The Bishop has found it necessary to reflect, and to consult widely, however, about the effects that these people are having upon the Church; and He has at last decided that he cannot allow any large group of dissenters to become influential in the Diocese.
Changes in discipline
Some of these dissenting people, mostly those who are not familiar with Church documents, feel very let down by the Church. They have lived through an era when the Church made legitimate changes in discipline, changes which she authorised because of changed patterns of worship, of migration and many other factors. She had forbidden meat-eating on Fridays in one era, but allowed it in another. She had forbidden attendance at Protestant prayer-groups in one era, then later gave limited permission to participate, to give only two examples; and many Catholics, having seen in recent years so many changes in custom and discipline, have mistakenly supposed that articles of faith can also be changed. They have come to believe that what was once morally wrong, in sexual matters, can now be pronounced right; and so they grumble to one another, and to the Clergy, but do not campaign for change in a systematic way, unlike other dissenters who are well-educated and at ease discussing doctrine.
These articulate people give all sorts of reasons why the Church needs a ‘new theology’, which would provide justification for all the changes they have long desired. The Bishop has realised that most of them have a common agenda which they are determined to ‘push through’; and he has decided that, as a group, they constitute a ‘wound’ in the side of the Body which is the Church. Many of them know one another, and help one another in campaigning for change. They proclaim that the Church will only be acceptable to them, and ‘attractive’ to others, when she decides to fashion herself according to their desires and designs. They ignore the evidence of past ages which suggests that the Church grows in stature and in numbers whenever there is great love for God, with prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and martyrdom, not when there are cries for self-fulfilment and for a ‘freedom’ that is sometimes self-will, in disguise.
The Bishop is puzzled by their belief that their attitude is one of ‘loyal dissent’, or ‘critical loyalty’. They campaign on lesser matters, for example, as they suggest that all of our sacred texts and ecclesiastical documents should be re-cast in what is called inclusive language. They seem unaware that this is a subject of little concern to many women; indeed, many women are unhappy to see such an issue lead to changed meanings in theological statements, and even to a ban on prayers addressed to ‘Father’ in Heaven , or to ‘the Son’.
The Bishop has looked on as dissenters have also campaigned for change on major matters of faith and morals. He sees them working to overturn Church teachings on the wrongness of contraceptive use, abortion, sterilisation, re-marriage and same-sex practices. They deplore a male-only Priesthood and dispute the invalidity of Anglican Orders. They demand ‘inter-communion’, as well as a change in the discipline of celibacy for priests. They look sadly upon past generations who, they say, only “prayed, paid and obeyed”. Thus they dismiss the marvellous work and virtues of many Saints of past ages, and present themselves as the Catholics with the greatest insight and intelligence, and the deepest concern for the future of the Church.
The Bishop gradually came to see that many of these Catholics had been chosen to lead R.C.I.A groups, or had applied for posts as catechetical co-ordinators; so it became of particular concern to him that dissenters had caused confusion about an important moral issue that must be considered by most of the laity. Most Catholics – until recently – have chosen to marry, and have had to make decisions about right and wrong in marriage; and now, more loudly than ever, the dissenters propagate unorthodox teaching about marriage.
Determined to help couples who want sexual union but not further children, they promote the opinion that Church teaching on the wrongness of contraceptive use is mistaken, or that it is only a ‘Vatican ban’ foolishly imposed in 1968. They ignore the fact that contraception has always been regarded as sinful, in the Judeo-Christian tradition. They have even suggested that the teaching has not yet been ‘received’ by the faithful and so cannot be held to be true. They claim that the ‘lived experience’ of married Catholics proves that couples who use contraceptives feel happier than those struggling to be continent when the woman is fertile. They do not see that such feelings as those provide no more valid a reason for change than the ‘lived experience’ of relief felt by a man who has suffocated a sick elderly wife, or the ‘lived experience’ of freedom felt by a woman who has chosen to have an abortion.
The Bishop sees that much of their determination to bring about change in Church doctrines stems from disbelief in what Christians have always believed: that God does not ask us to bear the unbearable, and that He gives enough grace for us to be able to face temptation and suffering, and to endure. Many of these dissenters quite frankly say that the Church’s teachings are ‘too hard’ to follow in their fullness.
In their misguided compassion they have forgotten the power of Divine grace, and the example of the Cross, and have convinced themselves that the Church must be wrong. As they speak out, to persuade other Catholics to share their views, they make highly selective use of a few quotations from the documents of the Second Vatican Council. They conjure up a picture of a Church that would be more successful if its followers would abandon traditional ways of being Catholic, to fit into the world; yet the truth is that in their ‘openness’ to the world these Catholics have capitulated to worldly ideas.
As they work to persuade others to adopt the same views, they often mention the teachings of the Church, but only to draw false conclusions. For example, they speak about the infallibility of the Pope, only to point out that there have been few infallible pronouncements in fairly recent times: so they like to give the impression that on everything else, belief is optional. They never quote those sentences from Lumen Gentium (26) which declare:
‘In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. That is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known chiefly either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.’
‘Although the individual bishops do not enoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith.’
The supernatural life
The Bishop has realised that the disapproval of many dissenters falls not just upon some major moral issues, but on numerous aspects of the supernatural life, as understood and experienced in the Church for centuries.
Many of the dissenters no longer believe in Purgatory, or Hell. They have little interest in petitionary prayer, such as prayers for the Faithful Departed. They object to the belief that the Saints really help us by their prayers. They prefer to see them solely as heroes and heroines of past times, although they generally proclaim that the Saints were misguided in doing bodily penance, for example, or going on pilgrimage to win special favours from God, or showing great deference to obstinate superiors, Bishops or Popes, or believing that they experienced assaults from the evil one.
They criticise the Saints for what they call an ‘exaggerated’ devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, in the tabernacle. Some dissenters scorn Eucharistic adoration, saying that the Sacrament was designed to be eaten – yet forgetting that since Christ is Present we cannot fail to adore Him as God. They show little evidence of believing in miracles, since they explain away many of the miracles described in Holy Scripture, doubt the miracles held to have been worked by God through well-known Saints, and speak with exasperation of the requirement, in the Church, of miracles before a person can be canonised. By their attitudes on this matter, and others, they unknowingly contribute towards that ‘loss of the sense of the supernatural’ which can be so dangerous to souls.
Many of the dissenters think those things unnecessary today which have long been experienced as binding Catholics together, culturally and in prayer, in past ages. They want little to do with Eucharistic processions, or with Rosaries, Novenas or Blessings of homes. They dislike devotion to the Sacred Heart, or to the Immaculate heart of Mary, or to St. Anthony who finds lost objects. They are repelled by statues depicting Our Lady of Sorrows, by sad representations of the Way of the Cross, and by devotions which have as their object Christ’s wounds, or the Precious Blood, for example. They pity Catholics who wear holy medals or scapulars, and who believe in promises issued from God through the private revelations of Saints, approved by the Church. Indeed, they are suspicious of some canonisations, having seen, held up as role models, popular figures whom the dissenters regard as exemplars only of a ‘pre-conciliar’ mentality, such as the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, and St. Pius X and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. They have been appalled by the fervour expressed by the faithful at some recent canonisations: of Mgr. José-Maria Escriva, for example. They detest his firm attachment to doctrine and to discipline.
The dissenters are not the least attracted to Padre Pio with his wounds, or to the Rosary-reciting Mother Teresa, or to any of the Saints of the past century who have had visions of Hell and have urged sinners to repent while there is still time. It is because the dissenters’ dislike of Catholic beliefs, customs, traditions, and piety is so widely-publicised that the Bishop has made some firm decisions about how to counter the influence of these people.
He knows that in an earlier century, they would have discussed their problems of belief with colleagues or superiors in private – or, sad to say, they would have left the Church, like many others who founded Protestant sects. But today, they stay within the Church; and the Bishop is glad that they do so; he does not want any member of the Church to abandon her; but he cannot rejoice at their perpetual complaints about Church teaching and discipline; and since the Bishop’s concern is to bring people closer to God, to establish them even more firmly in their Catholic Faith, and to protect them from harmful influences, he has acted like a good father. He has ensured that no-one holds a position of responsibility in his Diocese unless that person believes and practises the Faith in its fullness.
Waging a war
For a long time now, the Bishop has made extra efforts to read, listen and learn. Yet he has seen that even though they are sincere in their convictions, the dissenters are waging a war within the Church which not only damages Catholics but also puzzles people outside the Church. The confusion they stir up has contributed to the ‘loss of a sense of sin’ which is so damaging in modern times. Furthermore, in some mainstream Catholic publications, in a single weekend – even every weekend – there are letters and articles in support of beliefs and ways of behaviour which in Christ’s sight are sinful or unwise. Old prejudices are reinforced and misconceptions are reiterated in tirades against traditional theologians, against opponents of condom use, against so-called patriarchal systems, against ‘the Vatican’, against the Traditional Mass, against the celibacy requirement for Priesthood, and against ‘pre-Vatican-Two’ catechesis; and these are the main reasons why the Bishop now raises his voice more frequently than in earlier years, in defence of Church doctrine and discipline, and to promote charitable speech between individual Catholics. He also takes time to listen to Catholics who are upset by unorthodox teaching.
He does not see as ‘prophets of doom’ those Catholics who speak frankly but with respect about their concerns, whether about misguided catechists, unauthorised changes in the Liturgy, unorthodox talks at Catholic conferences and retreats, or loud dissent in the groups and associations they used to believe were staunchly Catholic. He follows up concerned letters from faithful Catholics who have to inform him that some doctors offer immoral means of birth-control, or suggest abortion, as they offer advice from their surgeries in Catholic hospitals. He asks Catholic booksellers not to stock works by authors who promote immoral behaviour or who scorn the doctrines of the Church. He does not allow Catholic halls, schools or churches to be used for any group or project which promotes beliefs or behaviour known to be sinful. He personally peruses the text-books in use in Catholic schools in the Diocese, to ensure that the Faith is being taught in a systematic way with no strange distortions or omissions. The children deserve a good ‘grounding’ in the Faith; so the Bishop is willing to be caricatured as a ‘hard-liner’, though he is simply guarding the flock given to him by Christ.
The true Faith
In his desire to promote the clear teaching which is necessary if people are to be helped to give up their sins and to pursue holiness, the Bishop does not worry about being criticised. It is solely from a desire to be faithful to Christ that he now permits only orthodox teachers to hold posts in his seminary, to offer retreats to his priests, and to address meetings of Catholic associations, or Ministers of Holy Communion, and other groups who gather to deepen their love for Christ and their faith in Him and in the Church.
The Bishop has looked on for many years as numerous Catholic columnists, authors and speakers – both clerical and lay – have vied with one another to praise certain dissenters. They have encouraged them to hold retreats, give lectures, chair debates, or give keynote talks at conferences; but the Bishop has ceased to offer such invitations. No matter how witty, erudite, amusing or famous are such Catholics, he has decided that he fails in his duty before God to build up the Church if his efforts to show kindness towards such people afford them even greater influence. When people accuse him of not allowing ‘debate’ on important issues, he refers them to the New Testament, and then to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He invites them to consider whose version of the Faith is valid: that of Christ, and St. Paul, St. Peter and St. James, for example, whose teachings endure today, in the Catechism, and are handed on by all the Bishops, or the version composed by dissenters?
The Bishop does not offer public praise to journals whose editors deliberately argue against Church teaching. He does not attend book-launches held for Catholics who, by their work, stir up confusion about Church teachings. He offers guide-lines to those in charge of his Diocesan Pastoral Centre, so that they will promote talks on prayer, penance, pilgrimage, and Sacred Scripture rather than offer retreats with alternative therapies or an emphasis on the psychological at the expense of the spiritual.
The Bishop asks for the word ‘Catholic’ to be removed from the title of any Association which promotes behaviour not acceptable to the Catholic Church. He only does this when absolutely necessary. He knows that, when an association ceases to have the word ‘Catholic’ in its title, opponents of Catholic principles find it easier to push through previously unacceptable proposals and practices in the running of the organisation, whether it is about marriage counselling, for example, or the care of patients with HIV or AIDS. He removes the name ‘Catholic’, however, whenever the present-day members of a group have changed the original, admirable aims, or when he has learned that the founders of a group were not initially completely frank about their agenda.
If ever the Bishop’s voice is heard in debates and conversations throughout the Diocese on disputed issues, he can be heard encouraging people to open their eyes, and to see that the Church was not radically altered by decisions taken at the Second Vatican Council. He knows that some theologians and others have seized upon changes in attitudes, since that time, to suggest that doctrinal changes have been made, or will soon be made. So he is quick to speak the truth on this subject, and to declare that he treasures the teachings of ‘Vatican Two’; but he cannot let his flock imagine that the decrees of past Councils have been superseded, as in worldly associations, and that it is scarcely worthwhile to read earlier documents or to believe in teachings of earlier times. He reminds the theologians that it is not their task to pass judgement on the teachings of the Church. He also addresses some false notions about academic freedom, in Catholic Colleges.
The holy Saviour and his holy People
In this Diocese, where the Faith is lived in all its fullness, the Bishop knows that the ‘deposit of faith’ is a treasure to be handed on from one generation to the next: perhaps in improved language, but never radically changed; and when he goes on retreat he examines his conscience, to see whether he has been handing on the truths of the Faith in season and out, to help each member of his flock to find ‘true life’ in Christ and to avoid damnation.
It was Christ, after all, Who told us that the gate is narrow, and the way is hard, that leads to Eternal Life, and that there are few that find it. That is why the Bishop often speaks about the essentials of the Faith, without which there will be little change in the lives of his flock: change of a worthwhile sort, as people decide to put Christ at the centre of their lives and to surrender their lives to Him. The common theme discernable in everything the Bishop does and says is holiness; and the most oft-used name on his lips is that of Christ.
He reminds everyone that we serve the One Holy God, Whom we know through the life and work of His holy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who came down from Heaven to earth, as man, to save us. We are called to holiness; and we are given the means to achieve it through the Holy Spirit, Who is at work in our souls, and Who guides the One Holy Church Christ founded. Growing in holiness, we will be joyful people who give joyful service to others and glory to God; and we shall eventually experience joy in God’s presence, in prayer and in Eternity, because we shall be like Him. So the Bishop is a happy man who is full of confidence in God and trust in God’s promises. He knows that he is a weak man, with a great task to do; but he believes in Christ’s promise, that Christ will come to earth again, but not in poverty and hiddenness. He will come in glory, with all His Angels, to bring the Father’s plan to a glorious conclusion.
Heaven, our Home
With faith in that eventual triumph, therefore, the Bishop is not afraid to be simple, and to say to his people, in a hundred different ways: “Love God. Love the Church. Stand up for the Catholic Faith. Believe in what the Church teaches you with Christ’s authority. Pray regularly, as though your salvation depends upon it. Give up your sins, and be reconciled, through Confession. Show out God’s love in your homes, and wherever you go; and never lose hope, whatever trials you bear. Look forward to life in Heaven, when God will wipe away the tears from the faces of all who have responded to His call, suffered in His service, and have persevered in faith, hope and love to the end of their lives. No earthly joy can equal the joy of entering into the heart of the Holy Trinity. We are invited to live there, in the blissful embrace of the Three Divine Persons, in the company of Our Blessed Lady and all the other Saints, and the holy Angels, in a life of beauty, peace and extraordinary delight; and we will never be threatened by any calamity, and our joy will never end.”
From the First Letter of Saint Peter:
“…yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgement to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.”
(1 Peter 4:16 to 5:4)