OF OUR FATHERS 2000
I want to start my talk today with a prayer and in view of what I am going to say I think the prayer to St Michael is the most appropriate. I would be grateful if all of you who know it would join me, so if we could all please stand. "Holy Michael, defend us ....."
Thank you all very much. I am going to talk about Unity today because it is so important to all of us, and because I want to show that the only possible road to Unity is through Truth and Love, real Truth and real Love. Unfortunately there is no short cut. If we betray Sacred Truth with compromise, or debase the Love proper to human dignity with mere toleration and misplaced compassion, we get nowhere.
The new Archbishop of Westminster said at his installation that all Christians should speak with one voice, and so we should, but only, of course, if that one voice speaks the whole Truth, clearly and without ambiguity. However, my concern today is with Unity within the Catholic Church, because until we confirm our own Unity we are wasting our time trying to unite with others, and here the recipe is the same, unity is only reached through truth and love.
At the Last Supper Our Blessed Lord prayed that His Church would be One, and ever since then the Church has taught the same teaching He gave, to all men continuously down the ages. As we cannot force people to accept all Christ’s teaching, there have always been outsiders who disagreed with us, but faithful Catholics are, and have always been united, even if this unity is less apparent now than it once was.
At one time every Catholic you met agreed with you on all the essentials of Faith and Morals. Today Catholics seem to differ on all sorts of important issues yet still describe themselves as ‘Catholic’. This is because, sadly, Truth has too often been replaced by erroneous personal opinions and, as these personal opinions are not corrected by anyone in authority, they persist to mislead and confuse people. This leads to disunity which is not only damaging to our Faith, it is very distressing.
We naturally love Unity because this is how we should live and how we look forward to living in Heaven where we will be perfectly united with God Himself as well as with each other. Even here on Earth we feel more comfortable with those who share our deepest convictions. People tell us that one of the reasons they come to the Faith of our Fathers Conferences year after year is because they feel the need to spend a day with like-minded Catholics. It comforts them and it strengthens them to withstand the isolation many of them suffer during the rest of the year.
We must strive to restore visible unity so that we no longer have the distress of finding apparent disunity, within the family of the Church, our spiritual home.
After all, as Our Lord warned us in the twelfth chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel, "The house which is divided against itself, shall not stand." And the only way back to complete Unity is by re-establishing complete Truth, which includes hard as well as the easy Truth, and by clinging to it through thick and thin. Here, Our Blessed Lord is our example. He was full of compassion but He never fudged Truth in order to accommodate anyone, even His disciples.
If you couldn’t accept what He said He didn’t change it but let you walk away. For instance, after telling His followers about the Blessed Eucharist, we read in Chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel that many who wouldn’t accept this teaching "went back and walked no more with Him." Jesus let them go, so teaching us never to exchange precious Truth for a spurious unity. It is time those in authority in the Church followed His example and also insisted that only complete truth is taught in our churches and in our classrooms again. Partial truth has proved to be worse than useless, as the modern R.E. which turns so many youngsters away from the Church shows.
It reminds me of the time immediately after the war, which you might be too young to remember, when there was terrible hunger and poverty across Europe which led to terrible diseases. Children were worst affected and penicillin, then a recent discovery, was needed to treat them. As it was in short supply, a black market sprang up, and to make more money some unscrupulous people started to dilute it. This watered down penicillin not only failed to cure, it killed. I remember one doctor who had inadvertently killed children with it, saying in great distress that if he had given them nothing some of them might have survived.
The watered down Catholic teaching in modern R.E. seems just as fatal to our children’s spiritual lives as this diluted penicillin was to those children, and perhaps if they had been taught nothing, more young Catholics might have stayed in the Church. After all, as Archbishop Ward of Cardiff has pointed out, Catholic youngsters sent to State schools are "more faithful to the Mass than those sent to Catholic schools". Though parents who avoid schools altogether and teach their children at home entirely, seem to get the best results.
If we are to be completely honest the first truth to face unflinchingly is that the Catholic Church in this country is now in a "disaster situation". I can imagine some people thinking ‘there she goes again spreading doom and gloom’. Some time ago a Catholic journalist compared me with Cassandra. Wasn’t she the beautiful Greek princess who infuriated the people of Troy by prophesying terrible catastrophes all the time? And although this made her unpopular, wasn’t she always proved right? Perhaps it was meant as a compliment.
However, I am no prophet, but I do try to live in the real world because it seems to be less dangerous than living in a ‘make-believe world of let’s pretend’. Actually the phrase "disaster situation" is not mine. I am quoting the Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals who gathered in Rome for the European Synod last October. These Princes of the Church, who are in a far better position than I to judge, had no hesitation in speaking openly about the disastrous situation the Church in Western Europe is now in. For instance, after referring to Veritatis Splendor, the 1993 Encyclical where in Section 5 the Holy Father warns that "the Church is now facing what is certainly a genuine crisis", Archbishop Varela of Madrid pointed out that, as the remedial steps prescribed by the Pope seven years ago have not been taken, and I quote: "The reality is that now the crisis has passed and disaster has fallen upon the Church and even some of the more prominent of the Hierarchy are stating this as a fact."
He was not alone. H.E. Cardinal Pierre Eyt, Archbishop of Bordeaux, also spoke of a widespread "unconcerned apostasy, especially among adolescents and young people." Yet another Cardinal, H.E. Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, from the Sacred Congregation for Oriental Churches in Rome warned of, and these are his exact words, "satanic activity responsible for dissolute sexuality, abortion, apostasy of the Faith and international conflicts."
By using the word "apostasy" these Princes of the Church do not mean heresy or the mistaken beliefs of non-Catholics, they mean the rejection of the Truth by Catholics who once professed it and who are still remaining, nominally, in the Church. By listing it with sexual abuse, abortion and war, the worst evils we know, and by warning us that it emanates from Satan they are showing us how vigorously we must resist it by action and by prayer. That is why I started this talk with the Prayer to St Micheal, which perhaps we should all recite daily because we are not only being attacked by human beings but by the powers of darkness.
Obviously the European Bishops feel that the gravity of the present situation, which could hardly be exaggerated, must be made clear. Anyone who truly loves the Church will be devastated that things have come to this, and yet, surprisingly, my immediate reaction on reading these comments was almost one of relief. I felt grateful that at last, at long last, people with the authority to do something about it, are openly admitting that the Church in Western Europe has very serious problems which must be addressed urgently.
Of course the Bishops of the British Isles were represented at this Synod but there was no report of any contribution from them to this discussion. However, even more disquieting than their silence, is the complete absence of any mention of these important statements in the Catholic papers or in The Tablet. Could this be because such openness does not conform to the official line here that everything would be fine if only we "extremists" would keep quiet? We must be grateful that L’Osservatore Romano is not under our Bishops’ patronage and that we have independent Catholic organs like Christian Order and Catholic Truth in these Isles.
This determination to turn a blind eye to the problems in the Church in this country makes the disaster even more worrying. It is bad enough when ordinary Catholics insist on burying their heads in the sand but one could weep when the new Archbishop of Westminster tells us in the sermon at his installation, and I quote: "I have no time for prophets of gloom. I do not believe these are gloomy times for the Catholic Church in our Country".
Surely he must know that we are now losing over 90% of our Catholic school leavers every year, and that the figure is still rising, that lay practice has dropped by more than half in thirty years and is still dropping and that in some dioceses priestly vocations are now non-existent. Just how bad does it have to get before those in authority admit that these are gloomy times for the Church in this country and start doing something about it.
Even non-Catholic commentators have noticed that we are in serious trouble, but when one asked our new Archbishop about this terminal decline, His Grace said quite cheerfully that that was God’s problem not his. In another interview he talked about "a leaner fitter Church" and even "quality if not quantity". It is this uncaring attitude which has brought us to the brink of a very real and irreversible calamity. A leaner Church is not a better Church if it is starving to death from lack of Truth. As for ‘quality not quantity’, surely every immortal soul called into existence by Almighty God and redeemed by Him at such cost, is equally and infinitely precious to Him. Any who stray must be zealously sought by their appointed shepherd, not lightly dismissed.
Until our Church leaders, like those in the rest of Western Europe, recognise that we are facing a real disaster, and admit it openly, they will not take appropriate steps to rectify the situation and things will only get worse. Their refusal to see what is so clear to the rest of us is tragic because they are the ones, the only ones who could even now rescue the Church in this country. "The crisis of Truth" described by Archbishop Verela of Madrid can be resolved but only by firmly insisting that the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, on morals as well as doctrine, is proclaimed again in our churches and our schools and this can only be insisted on by the bishops, our designated teachers.
We know this can be done because some dioceses in the States and in Australia have succeeded in taking this corrective action. Archbishop Pell for instance when he took over Melbourne Diocese four years ago, found a situation very like that here, a Church in decline and seemingly no one concerned. He replaced many lecturers in his Seminary, stopped liturgical abuses such as General Absolution, gave his R.E. teachers sound in-service training and is getting reliable religious textbooks written for them. Already the fruits are showing. His newly staffed seminary is full, Mass attendance has stopped falling, people are returning to individual Confession and Melbourne Diocese is on the way to recovery.
Besides our need to face the disaster in the Church, the other important fact the European Synod made clear is that the main cause of this disaster comes, not from outside influences but from within the Church itself. Yes, we do exist in a pagan society with a strong bias towards materialism and consumerism, and yes the media is openly obsessed with sex, so we are surrounded by corrupting influences. None of this helps, but even so if the Church here, under firm guidance, concentrated on pursuing the mission given it by Our Blessed Lord of teaching Truth, of channeling Grace through the Sacraments and of always offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with due reverence and dignity, we would be much better protected from any evil.
After all, the early Church, once it spread beyond the Holy Land, also found itself in a pagan and corrupt society. Not only did it survive, it grew phenomenally, attracting even rich teenagers in large numbers, as we know from the many young martyrs who died in the Roman persecutions. The difference is that the early Church, unlike the Church here today, did not condone or even tolerate apostasy within its ranks. These Catholics valued Truth above even life itself.
It is the loss of this love of Truth, not Society, which is to blame for our present disaster. To quote Archbishop Varela at the Bishops Synod again: "Every pressing problem facing the Church at the present time in Europe has its roots in the crisis of Truth and Faith. This in turn gives rise to serious doctrinal fragmentation." The Holy Father has also been saying that the greatest problems are faced within the Church, and that we cannot point to external forces or enemies as their cause. In a strange way this is comforting because, although we have no power to correct the evils in society, those in authority in the Church do have that power in the Church. However they will have to admit first that there are problems and then that they are inside the Church and so within their jurisdiction.
This means they will have to stop blaming external forces for their failures and accept the responsibility for them themselves. For instance, instead of saying that Catholic Schools are not teaching the Faith because of Society or the media or any other alibi, they will have to find exactly why they are failing, and replace the books and the people at fault.
We had all hoped that the new R.E. Scheme for Senior Schools, ICONS, would be the answer to some of the problems in schools, but unfortunately it seems to be very much the mixture as before. Just like our present ineffective R.E. it spends so long on the children’s ‘human experience’ there is hardly time to even mention the doctrine it is intended to illustrate. For example, fourteen year olds learning about the ‘Person of Jesus’ in Section 9/2A, entitled "Who do people say that I am ?", are given seven full pages about secular organisations such as The Samaritans, The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, etc. and then just three sentences about Christ, and one of them is rather dubious.
This is just one example of the absurdly unbalanced and thoroughly discredited method used throughout the Scheme. Even more worrying is the lack of sound content in the teaching on both Faith and Morals. For instance, The Blessed Trinity is not taught, our immortal souls never even mentioned, Original Sin inadequately covered, Our Lady treated very sparingly, and personal sin ignored, sin being only defined vaguely as "the struggle between good and evil". There is a full review of "ICONS" which is well worth reading. It is available on the Internet, or I can send it to you if you write enclosing a stamped addressed envelope.
Fortunately the bishops refused to approve ICONS at their Low Week Conference. They have appointed an ‘ad hoc’ committee of bishops to spend six weeks improving it. Whether they will be able to make it acceptable to Catholic parents in that time remains to be seen. This repeated failure to compile sound Catholic religious textbooks may be due to ignorance, for the ‘catechetical experts’ employed to write them are themselves victims of the faulty modern catechetics taught in the seventies and eighties. This wouldn’t matter so much if only they stayed faithful to The Catechism of the Catholic Church but, tragically, they won’t.
If ICONS is not drastically improved or replaced by a truly Catholic Scheme we will continue to lose our young people in droves until the Catholic Church in this country disappears altogether. The Church that doesn’t teach effectively, dies.
People sometimes think I exaggerate the problems with modern R.E. They feel that things can’t be that bad or the bishops would do something about it. It is only when they investigate for themselves they realise that far from exaggerating I have, if anything, under-stated the problem.
A journalist who is writing a book about the Catholic Church in England rang me several times to discuss modern R.E. One day he decided to re-visit the school he left twenty years ago and talk to the pupils. The Headmaster and Head of R.E. made him very welcome and allowed him to talk to the sixth formers. He had prepared a short survey to discover what they felt about Transubstantiation, the Divinity of Christ and other important doctrines. He found he couldn’t use it because they had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
These were intelligent youngsters taking subjects like advanced physics at A level but although they had spent fourteen years in Catholic schools listening to R.E.lessons they knew almost nothing about the Catholic Faith and what is even worse, they were not in the least interested in it. He was shattered and rang me that evening to say that though he had thought I was exaggerating, he now he realised everything I said was true.
Because Society is so far from what it should be, it is easy to blame it for school failure, but where the teaching is faithful to the Catholic Church, this failure has been turned round with great success, in spite of Society. I was fortunate enough to spend a month in the States just before Christmas including two weeks in Southern California where I several times visited the Thomas Aquinas College at St Paul’s. Now I assure you that Californian Society is anything but ideal, and the media is probably worse than ours, but because the College was teaching all the truths of the Faith as in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and teaching them in the traditional and effective way, the students were protected from these evils and able to lead good spiritual lives.
Our Blessed Lord promised that the Truth He came to give us makes us free, and so it does. But it must be the whole Truth, not some pathetic compromise. Then and only then can we be free - not only from doubt and ignorance, but also free from slavery to materialism, free from obsession with sex, free from dependence on every kind of addiction and free from the misery of trying to live in today’s society without a vibrant Faith. To deny Truth to anybody, but especially to the young, is to deny them this freedom and condemn them to slavery. So, when Divinely revealed truths are replaced with mere human thinking, and this is happening more and more, we must be prepared to challenge.
We may not convert the dissenter but perhaps we will help people in the audience realise they don’t have to accept error like sheep. Speak up or write in when you read that priests are not really necessary as the diocesan paper The Wrexham News wrote recently, or when a parish newsletter advocates General Absolution and recommends "actively discouraging the practice of individual confession," as a newsletter from St Francis’ Parish, Ascot did last March. Make a fuss when you find error in religious textbooks or when the sermon denies Catholic teaching.
It is interesting that these aberrations are never supported by Scripture, Tradition or The Catechism of the Catholic Church. They are just personal opinions arrogantly presented as if they were better than the Truth and inflicted on the long-suffering and too patient faithful. A typical example is the White Father, Fr Rafeal Estaban who when giving a day retreat in East Anglia, started his first talk by saying: "I’m sure that amongst what I am saying are wonderful, beautiful heresies, but they are my own heresies, they are part of myself." Of course his audience should have walked out at this point. His breath-taking arrogance would be almost unbelievable if it weren’t on tape, but everyone stayed and listened, and he is still, supposedly, a priest in good standing with the Church.
Indeed he spoke in East Anglia again the other day where, I’m sorry to say, he castigated Catholics who go to the Faith of our Fathers Conferences.
One cannot help being staggered at the presumption of these innovators who dare to ‘improve’ on Divine Revelation. They are, to quote St Augustine of Hippo, writing in Book Twelve of The Confessions, "in love with their own opinions, not because they are true but just because they are their own". What they teach is certainly not the Truth revealed by Christ and preserved by His Church ever since. I am reminded of the story about the man who told Oscar Wilde that he had invented a new religion much better than Christianity. "Fine," said Wilde, "now all you have to do is die and bring yourself back to life on the third day then we will all believe it." None of those who invent new religions for us so readily offer to do this.
We must adamantly refuse to accept anybody’s personal opinion if it differs from Church teaching, no matter who gives it or how plausible they make it sound. Otherwise the barque of Peter in this country will slip the anchor of Truth and drift dangerously, caught by every passing current however slight. Unless we are firmly attached to Truth nothing can stop us from being wrecked on the craggy rocks surrounding us.
Even when it’s hard, we must keep to the Truth. Only Truth gives us the guidance we need to save our souls. That is why Christ in His Mercy gave us Truth, and why He continues to give it to us through His Church. It is one of the privileges we have as our birthright from Baptism but it is a privilege that carries with it the great responsibility of protecting and defending Truth whenever it is attacked. If anyone, whoever it is, tries to replace Truth with man-made morals and doctrines we must resist and demand that they return to the Church’s teachings as given in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Remarkably, the Venerable John Henry, Cardinal Newman warned us that this would happen when he said that the time was coming when men would want Divine Wisdom to submit to human reason. Now that time is here. You will find human reason contradicting Divine Revelation not only in Catholic books sold in Catholic bookshops, in R.E. Schemes, in theology lectures, in sermons and parish newsletters but even in the hymns and prayers we say in Church.
This is illustrated in the Collect for the feast of St Albert, the theologian who taught St Thomas Aquinas, which used to start: "O God who made St Albert great by bringing his wisdom into subjection (subjectio) to Divine Revelation....". It now reads: "O God who made St Albert great by reconciling (compenenda) his human wisdom with Divine Faith...." Quite a different matter.
It is particularly devious to insert falsehood into prayers because the way we pray affects our beliefs, but some bidding prayers are seriously at fault and should not be prayed by Catholics. For instance, on April 9th last at St Joseph’s Church, Basingstoke where Mgr Jeremy Garrett, V.G. for the Diocese of Portsmouth is P.P., this bidding prayer was read out at the Sunday Masses. " Lord, we pray for doctors that they will persevere in their research on cloning whose benefits far outweigh any other consideration." Sadly, the congregation all intoned "Lord graciously hear us" like sheep who have been trained to bleat without even thinking.
We have been given Intellect by God, and we should use it to discern Catholic teaching from apostasy and not lend support unthinkingly to statements which deny Church teaching. Unless we keep ourselves aware we will become so accustomed to all sorts of strange aberrations we will start to accept them as True and this could be dangerous. You wouldn’t employ a garage mechanic who ignored the manufacturers manual and ‘ on a frolic of his own’ as lawyers put it, repaired your car according to his own ideas. His stupidity and arrogance could prove fatal for you. False teaching is even more dangerous because it could destroy your immortal soul.
This means that priests and bishops, teachers and catechists should not forget that they have an awesome responsibility and will one day be called on to answer for their failures. I recently heard a convert Anglican vicar, now a good Catholic priest, say that he has a theory that there were really three characters in the parable of the Pharisee and the repentant sinner. The third man hid behind a pillar, too ashamed even to come out into the open and beat his breast saying, "Lord be merciful to me, I taught that Pharisee."
Besides Intellect the other great power of our soul is our Will, which enables us to choose and Love. We need Love as well as Truth if we are to survive this disaster, but we need the real thing not some pale imitation. Real Love cares enough to be tough Love when necessary. This is an American expression used to describe actions which seem hard but which are necessary for another’s good. Parents who are reasonably strict with their children because they want them to be happy and to mature into responsible loveable adults are exercising tough Love. It may not always be easy but if you care enough it should be one of the ways you love.
In a way, Our Blessed Lord’s Love for each of us, though infinitely tender, is tough Love just because He expects so much from us. When He confirmed that the Ten Commandments must be kept and are not mere ideals He showed us what we are capable of. Far from making excuses for us when we miss Mass on Sundays, indulge in sex outside marriage or break marriage vows freely made, He loves us enough to ask us to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
But we are all frail and we need clear moral teaching if we are not to go astray. Sadly this is just what our youngsters are not getting. I heard of a young teacher recently who had been through the Catholic school system and considered herself a good Catholic. Indeed she assured people that her Faith meant everything to her. When she also explained that she was living with her boyfriend and only occasionally went to Sunday Mass a colleague lent her a copy of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. She brought it back after a week-end saying it was much too strict for her. She had not been taught morals honestly and she was suffering the consequences.
It is real love of Truth and neighbour which leads faithful Catholics to protest at such errors being taught within the Church and to expose the failure of R.E. which is leading so many youngsters out of the Church. Sadly it is difficult to carry out this necessary apostolate without stirring up hostility. I suppose none of us likes hearing bad news so, anxious to blame someone we tend to take it out on the messenger. History tells us that the ancient Persians had a habit of executing the bearers of bad news, I can remember thinking even at school that this was illogical. The messenger wasn’t responsible for the disaster he was reporting, indeed he was doing his hearers a favour by telling them something they needed to know.
Unfortunately we still seem to be tainted with this philosophy. Instead of being grateful to the courageous people who do their best to alert us to the problems in the Church we prefer hearing something comforting even if it isn’t true. So we get cheerful Pollyannas of both sexes determined to look on a fictional brightside and put their trust in little bits of anecdotal evidence, while ignoring the over-whelming proof of impending disaster.
These Pollyannas do us a grave disservice because people who are in real danger need to be given a warning not a false sense of security. We may not like what the realists say and write, they probably don’t like saying and writing it, but describing these aberrations doesn’t cause them. On the contrary it is probably the best way to prevent them getting worse and so to protect children and others from error. So, as long as you cannot refute anything they claim, be grateful to people like our two afternoon speakers who are brave enough to ‘tell it how it is’.
Remember that we are not talking about unimportant trifles, but matters of life and death - eternal life and death. Let’s remember too that H.E. Cardinal Silvestrini has solemnly warned us that this apostasy of Faith within the Church is due to "Satanic activity". I am reminded of Hilaire Belloc’s prophetic words if I may quote them before I end:
I’m afraid we live in grim times so it is imperative that we keep very close to our Blessed Mother. I am delighted that the Holy Father has decided to dedicate the new millennium to Our Lady of Fatima. He is giving us a clear signal that we must be faithful to her message at Fatima, say our rosary daily, do penance for sinners and make the devotion of the five first Saturdays in reparation. Then Our Blessed Mother will find us a refuge in her Immaculate Heart as she has promised.
Perhaps the only good thing about a disaster is that it leads us to pray, probably more than we would in better times. But it should also lead us to act. Here I would like to congratulate all of you who do speak up for the Truth and who do write letters to bishops and to Rome. Let me assure you that, bad as things are, they would be a great deal worse were it not for your vigilance. I know this apostolate is never easy but the rewards make it really worth while. So if any of you are not yet involved in the continuing struggle to defend Truth, I urge you now to resolve today that in future you will take every opportunity Our Lord sends you to challenge error and to proclaim Truth.
Real Love means we must each do our part to protect children and others from the apostasy at present in the Church in this country by speaking up, writing letters and correcting error every time we come across it. Write to the miscreants, to their bishops and of course to Rome.
When complete Truth is fully restored and properly valued in the Church throughout the British Isles we will enjoy the Unity we all desire once again. Until then, keep up the good fight and may God Bless you all.