17 February 2013

Apologetics, Again

This began as a post, moved on to be a comment on something of Ben's and then became a post here again.

If anybody wondered what "post-Christian" meant, then the reaction to the debate on same-sex "marriage" should have shown them that apart from the militant atheism of a substantial number of people in our country, the vaguely Christian world view with which many people still identified a generation ago ("he put C of E down as his religion as that was the church he didn't go to") has been replaced by a mire of moral relativism in which if something that suits me must be good for me, then something that suits you must be good for you, and that condemnation is a uniquely fundamentalist stance, unless it's a moral relativist condemning somebody else's moral absolutism (though they'd probably say they weren't condemning so much as #justsaying - a moral relativist's way of having your cake and your ha'penny).

I noted, nearly four years ago, that post-Christian religion had begun to find its voice, and in less than four years, it seems to have mainstreamed in the Church of  England.  The issue of women "bishops" is to be resolved not within the structures of the C of E, but by ignoring them: if they don't produce a result which secular society recognises as "fair", then the structures are wrong; if Parliament legislates for gay "marriage" then the C of E will have to adapt and conform to a changing society (no doubt to remain "relevant").

We can't be complacent: at Mass toaday I heard a parish priest at Mass saying that we always have the right Pope because the Holy Spirit stops Cardinals voting for the wrong on,e and was told that supporting CAFOD was the culmination of our Catholicsm.

This country, Catholic, non-Catholic, post-Catholic - everyone - needs to be re-evangelised.  Three of us specifically - OTSOTA, Ben, me - have looked at the inter-war Catholic Evidence Guild as a model: not "let's recreate the Catholic Evidence Guild" so much as "look at how profoundly and systematically Catholic evangelists were grounded in their Faith before being sent out into the streets to proclaim their Faith".  I'm putting words into their mouths here, but I think I can confidently say that we have offered a model which, suitably adapted, could be a vehicle for the re-evangelisation of England and Wales, and have issued a challenge to anybody to find something better.

There are two problems which, as things stand, will prevent anything like this happening: the first is the lack of a committed body of people with both the faith and the teaching skills needed to identify, train, and organise the people who would carry this out.  The second is that the people who should be that committed body - the Bishops and their staffs - are unlikely to be interested: they probably think that their RCIA courses have already answered this. 

Ben put it like this:

What I would like to see, therefore, is a programme, made widely (and if possible freely) available that would help lay Catholics throughout the UK to develop as apologists. It seems to me that some of the important elements of this would be:

  • Good spiritual direction and formation;
  • A structured programme of study of the Faith (possibly based largely on resources already freely available), supported by both philosophy and rhetoric;
  • Local support, possibly small groups meeting both to discuss and check their understanding, but also to practice putting it across convincingly and dealing with questions and objections;
  • A wider community of support, where issues can be discussed, and questions raised and answered;
  • A small team to make it happen.

The growth of the Catholic presence on the internet clearly supports some of these well, but others are best done on a local level (subsidiarity and all that!)

This would, of course, be a long term programme; indeed, I think it would need to be a lifelong one, so inexhaustible are the riches of the Faith. But that is no reason not to start; quite the contrary.

So I would like to ask you to pray about this, as I shall do, throughout Lent. And at Easter, I will revisit the topic and if others believe it to be a worthwhile project, explore how we can make it happen. But 40 days of prayer seems to me the best way to start.

Please join us in praying for this.  If you need a focus, imagine how the forthcoming period of Sede Vacante, Conclave, election and inauguration could be exploited by trained evangelists who set out to bring this country back to God.

Update: Marianne's comments in the combox suggest that this might not be as unaffordable as I had thought.  More food for thought as we pray.

12 February 2013

Some Thoughts About The Pope's ... What Word?

Isn't the Da Vinci File view of the Pope's abdication/resignation/renunciation (can we agree on a Catholic word?) being touted by the European media (at least) wonderful?  The best they can do is pretend it's the same as a Prime Minister resigning unexpectedly (think Harold Wilson in 1976 if you want to get the bathos) and then try to interpret what is happening as though it was politics as usual.  I hope somebody is keeping a file of howlers.

But here are some observations.

  • The Pope told us what he was thinking of: his visits to the tomb of Celestine V, his clear statement in the Hahn interview: he signalled clearly what was in his mind and none of us - main stream media, bloggers, specialists, amateurs - noticed.
  • The Pope has not done this capriciously or selfishly: whatever the details of the state of his health - how strong he is, how quickly he expects to lose his strength, whether his mental health will hold up - this very holy man has taken a decision after a long period of prayer and discernment and we can be confident that he knows what he is doing.
  • What's coming might be Don Bosco's vision ( I thought Anita Moore had that spot on here), might be a particularly Benedictine vision, or might be something the Pope (as well informed as any Head of State) has inferred: he knows he is not the man to meet the challenge.
  • His decision was taken some time ago: he told his brother six months ago, but he started dropping in on Celestine V rather longer ago.  It's not unreasonabale to suppose that everything he has done in the last two or three years has been done with his leaving in mind, and with his leaving everything in as good a condition as possible for his successor.
  • All of this makes his decisions about whom to elevate to Cardinal very interesting indeed.  The electors will comprise those who voted for him, a small number of those who didn't, and those whom he has elevated.
  • He has looked after Archbishop Gaenswein: not just by consecrating him Archbishop.  He would have probably been made a Bishop in Germany after the Pope's death if tradition were followed, but he has been consecrated as an Archbishop and raised to Prefect of the Pope's Household.  In itself, this is a rebuke to the Curia and a public message that Vatileaks wasn't his Secretary's fault.  (And the secrecy which has been maintained in this affair is another signal that the Curia was bypassed.)
  • Most importantly, perhaps, with the publication of the third volume of his work on Jesus the Pope has completed the teaching part of his ministry.
Goodness knows how many other clear signs there are that the Church is about to enter a period which we will think of as uniquely difficult, but which will simply be yet another engagement with her enemies.

My initial reaction - that he should have stayed on to death - is being replaced by an appreciation that Pope Benedict probably has a rather better idea of what he should do than me.  We have had eight years - eight game-changing years - from a Pope who couldn't have been expected to last anything like this long.  We are seeing the supernatural eddying into the natural world through his decision.

And last of all, he has given us Lent to prepare, so that we can celebrate at Easter.