Sin and Mercy

To be honest, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Urosa, has never before crossed the radar of my consciousness. But then he made an intervention at the Synod:

Mercy invites the sinner and it becomes forgiveness when one repents and changes one’s life. The prodigal son was greeted with an embrace from his father only when he returned home …

This Synod, without a doubt in the light of the revealed truth and with eyes of mercy, is called to reflect very clearly the teaching of the Gospel and of the Church through the centuries about the nature and dignity of Christian marriage, on the greatness of the Eucharist and on the need of having the necessary dispositions to be in union with God to be able to receive Holy Communion; on the need for penance, repentance and the firm purpose of amendment for the repentant sinner to be able to receive Divine forgiveness; and the strength and continuity of both dogmatic and moral truth of the  ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium of the Church. It provides as well lights inspired by mercy to assist more effectively those in irregular situations to alleviate their moral suffering and to better live their Catholic faith.

His intervention is dripping with sound scriptural exegesis and a full knowledge of the recent magisterial teaching of the Church on morality.

The Prodigal Son is often (mis-)used to exalt mercy without justice. But there are other passages to, for which we must be prepared to offer a succinct and sound explanation.

How about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)? Read it carefully. If you do I suspect you will notice that:

  • Our Lord never disputes, mitigates or modifies the Law on adultery, nor does he say the scribes and Pharisees accused her unjustly.
  • The scribes and Pharisees were not intent on justice but on trying to catch our Lord out.
  • The woman does not try to justify herself.
  • Our Lord does not ignore her sin, but reveals that the scribes and Pharisees too are sinners, which they implicitly admit.
  • The Lord invites her to repentance, to sin no more. In this she will find divine forgiveness.
  • Our Lord clearly does not want the woman to die in her sin, nor to continue in it. This is a life-changing moment for her.
  • Our Lord clearly intends to exemplify how God’s mercy offers forgiveness to repentance.

Mercy is life-changing. As Cardinal Urosa reminded the Synod, it becomes forgiveness only when greeted with repentance and a firm purpose to reform one’s life. Mercy is not carte blanche to continue as one wants. We will fall again into sin. But thanks be to God, mercy is not offered only once, and repentance is always possible in this life.

Yet, even tomorrow we might die. We know not the day or the hour. Repentance is the task of today, not tomorrow.

The scribes and the Pharisees actually did that woman a favour by bringing her to the mercy seat of God, though their intention was ill. The Church’s intention in its teaching on mercy and forgiveness is truly loving, and let no one tell us otherwise.

Woman Caught in Adultery, John Martin Borg, 2002.

Woman Caught in Adultery, John Martin Borg, 2002.

The Sin-nod — Clarifying some of the Nonsense

It has taken some time, but it is coming finally. It’s in a more subtle form than usual, and perhaps far less subtle in places I have not seen.

It is, of course, the old chestnut that bishops and clergy preach down to the faithful, have no knowledge of “real life”, and that their recourse to doctrines is divorced from reality, and almost inhuman. So we hear the drivel that the Church needs to “listen” to those in irregular situations (ie sinners) so that the Church can better “accompany them”. So this article seemed one of the more temperate versions of that rhetoric. Sr Maureen Kelleher, an auditor at the Synod, reworks the language into that of a cultural chasm between laypeople and the bishops. The bishops she paints almost as victims, desperately trying to please both the institution and the people.

“And they’re very, very – well, they’re in pain, I think, to deal with the pastoral situation and reaching for particularly the remarried after divorce in a way that would be accompanying them … and yet being faithful to their understanding of Jesus’ sentences on divorce and its consequences,” she continued.

“I am watching people who have been very formed and steeped in language and concepts really trying to reach for a way that won’t confuse us faithful laity and will be sensitive and yet be faithful to everything they believe,” said Sr Kelleher.

The mildness of tone should not blind us to the tendentious manipulation at work in what she is quoted as saying. The bishops are in “pain” because they are torn between the supposed needs of the people and the demands of the unfeeling, unyielding institutional Church. The bishops want to be “accompanying people”, yet (somehow?) remain faithful to “their understanding of Jesus’ sentences on divorce and its consequences”. So Jesus’ solemn teaching, the commandments of the Son of God, are reduced to “sentences”, and of course the bishops are trying to be faithful only to “their” understanding of them. It’s a double lie: that the Lord’s teaching is but “sentences” and the timeless preaching of that divine teaching by the Church’s pastors is now relativized, and thus diminished, to “their understanding” and “their beliefs”.

So it is “us” (God’s people) and “them” (clerics and the institutional Church), and the latter has no more importance than the former.

Let us not be sucked in by this subtle manipulation. It is not us and them. This is what really ticks me off. When this argument, or variations of it, are trotted out a totally false, and indeed insulting (among other things), division is made. The laity are struggling with the burdens and imperfections of their messy lives, and by implication the clergy are not. What utter rot.

Most clergy I know, and most bishops I suspect (I know so few!), are more than conscious of themselves, ourselves, as sinners. We also struggle with temptations, inclinations, urges, moral lapses, uncharitableness, resentments, poor judgements, misunderstandings. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Yes, we are sinners too. I am a sinner, and I have temptations to sin everyday, temptations that will remain with me for the foreseeable future and become in many ways a burden, an ongoing trial, an obstacle to joy.

On the one hand, the bishops and the pope could come out and say (hypothetically) that all the sins the trouble me are no longer to be seen as things that keep me from God, not things that impair me from communion with His Church. Don’t feel excluded because of your sins, they would be saying.

But does that change reality? Does that help me towards salvation and eternal life, which is the very purpose of the Church? Or is it little more than a sop to my self-pity and my desire not to feel bad about myself? Should I not feel shame for my sins? Why are we not hearing the first word of the gospel – “Repent”? What little value does it give to those who struggle honestly and daily to overcome their sins and strive, faithful to Christ’s clear teaching, to be holy.

In case someone should assert that I do not speak for them, I shall revert to the perpendicular pronoun. I, a cleric and not a layperson, am a sinner too. I do not want the Church to “accompany” me, or “walk with” me or whatever term one might employ. I want the Church to teach me the truth, that truth which sets us free. I want the Church to teach me what God has revealed about humanity, its fallen nature, its redemption in Christ, the offer to humanity of redemption though faith in Christ, the daily demands that faith makes upon me in particular, and I want it to give me all the spiritual and sacramental helps it can to heal me of what separates me from God and to strengthen me to carry on the struggle, the carrying of the Cross, that is the essential element of Christian life. I want to be conformed to God’s law in Christ’s teaching, and do not want the pathetic lie involved in conforming it to suit my sinfulness to make me feel better.

In fact, and in sum, I do not want the Church to make me feel better; I want it, need it, to call me to repentance. I want it to make me truly better. Worthy of heaven. A blessing to my neighbour. A bearer of a treasure not made of gold in the feeble clay of my flesh. I want to please God not myself.

Who is it that some of the Synod fathers are trying to please? Man? Or worse?

Let’s pray for them. To them much has been given; and from them much will be demanded.

The Sin-nod and a Sin-nodized Church

The confusion and kerfuffle in the world’s media during the first week of the current Synod were remarkable and un-precedented as far as I can see. Then came week two, and things have become truly extraordinary, and frighteningly so. Anyone who denies that a major ecclesiastical battle is being fought in and around the Synod is in cloud-cuckoo land.

Matters seem to have come to a head with the Archbishop Cupich of Chicago proposing that no-one should be denied Holy Communion as the Church should respect individual conscience. The utter logical and theological nonsense of his position is breathtaking. However, things became exponentially worse yesterday after the papal speech to the Synod. The Pope is certainly faithful to the infamous call he made to young people to go out and “make a mess”.

Not long ago the Pope reminded us all that the Synod was about more than Communion for civilly-divorced Catholics who had remarried. Now he has shown the true nature of the “more” he had in mind. His speech yesterday had little to do with marriage and the family. It announced his intention to restructure the Church, to make it a “Synodal Church”, decentralizing it, gutting the Curia and moving power to synods of bishops, which, in their proper form, have historical precedent and standing. But he also made clearer his deeper purpose, which is devolve as much as he can, “in a special way” to national and/or regional bishops’ conferences, which are a post-conciliar creation with no historical precedent or standing.

Synodal and national churches are dire. They become immersed in petty bickering and less-petty nationalism. They are apt to fall prey to regional and national forces, both social and political. They have a habit of mutual recrimination and even excommunication. Fr Blake fleshes this out better than I can. Bishops’ conferences are even worse. They neuter individual bishops in their own dioceses, exerting peer pressure to make non-conforming  individual toe the party line. That party line is all too easily manipulated by factions within the Church and forces without it. There is nothing collegial about them at all in truth. They are a means of manipulation and control under the guise of decentralization and democratization. Do a little research and see when the term and concept of “collegiality” first appears in Catholic theological thought. You will not have to look far back; it is a very recent novelty with little, if any, biblical warrant.

The Pope is right in tying his project to Vatican II. For that was the first clear occasion that the universal Church was being marshalled to adapt to the secular world, and to make the Church (somehow) relevant to the modern world. That is what forces within and without the Synod are attempting to do yet again. In the wake of the Council we witnessed the most dramatic falling away from the Church in the western world ever seen. Having tried so hard to be relevant to the world by conforming to it, it no longer had a message that people whose hearts and minds were being stirred by the Holy Spirit wanted and needed to hear. There were oases of gospel truth of course, and great figures who spoke out against the prevailing decline. But the forces of worldliness had been unleashed in the Church and they have been near impossible to root out. Now, with this plan to synodize the Church, we find the same mistakes being repeated in a different form.

Yesterday morning my thought had been to join in the chorus exposing the evil of the plan proposed by Cupich. He proposed that the Church should, in effect, give the nod to grave sin. He proposed that individual conscience should prevail in a way unheard of in Catholic doctrine; unheard of because impossible. He seems to think that an individual’s conscience can absolve all its grave sin simply be refusing to call it grave sin. It is the most profoundly defective understanding of conscience one could expect to see in a bishop. Self-absolution seems to be a plank in the platform of this brave new synodized Church. Though of course, not brave at all. Cravenly cowardly more like it.

One of the most subtly disturbing things in the papal speech yesterday was its exclusive focus on this life and this world. There was no mention of the next life, heaven and our eternal destiny, of this brief life being a preparation for the eternal life of divine bliss that awaits the faithful, Cross-carrying Christian. The first words of the gospel are “Repent”. Where was any call to repentance? Mind you, since sin is effectively being abolished, then logically any call to repentance is obsolete I guess.

While Christians are being martyred daily, literally in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, and metaphorically in the Western World, Rome fiddles.

Sorry to be so gloomy but this Sin-nod is an outright disaster so far, especially in a pastoral sense. It has sown confusion and dissension, and all this willingly presided over by the “Bishop of Rome” as he resumed styling himself. True to his word, sorry and sad to say, he has made a mess.

Pray for him, and for Mother Church. Go to confession soon, give alms and fast a little. Something is up; there is a whiff of something in the air. Best to be ready. The Cross might be about to get very real in our lives.

The Drama of the Synod – hope springs eternal

As if the Synod and its prelude have not been fraught enough, Mgr Charamsa’s strategically-timed exhibitionism in outing himself, complete with beau at his side, has thrown so many into a, not unjustifiable, tizzy. It is a deliberate attempt to pervert the course of the Synod, and for that reason it is not to be ignored (though he is, to be blunt about it). But it was all rather pathetic. The 10 demands of his manifesto reflect a political method now obsolete and ineffective. The demands had little connection with reality. If he’s lucky, history will give him a brief footnote.

Much of the tizz and fizz results from the Vatican statement, which implied quite directly that Mgr Charamsa has lost his curial and teaching positions because his grandstanding constitutes

such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure.

Commentators, again not unreasonably, point out that the Mgr is not being dismissed for his violation of his vows or his immoral lifestyle, but for his poor form and provocativeness. In other words, not because he was a sinner but because he was not a gentleman. So, it is argued, the Vatican is playing down the moral aspect, pandering to the liberals and possible even signalling the tone of the Synod now upon us.

Further and deeper reflection reveals things to be not quite so dire, or so we might hope. Perhaps the Vatican is seeking to defuse the monsignor’s little bomb by refusing to engage with his sexual agenda. Why make a “gay” martyr of him? Why allow him to pose as a victim of “homophobia”? Why feed his cause in the eyes of the secular media? Far more effective, surely, is it to remove him for his grossly crude attempts to manipulate the Synod. Everyone can at least acknowledge the fact that what he did was not cricket, pursuing a political stratagem that carried it with significant risk if he failed in its execution. He did fail, his bluff has been called and he lost. Now we can forget about him, and the secular media will have to do some impressive manipulation themselves if they want to portray him in any convincing way as a martyr of homophobia. To the dispassionate observer he looks an idiot, and the papers are full of those already. Let’s move on; there is nothing to see here.

Indeed such desperation might give us cause to hope that the Synod may prove far better than the pre-synodal guerilla warfare might suggest. While we must avoid the sentimental piety that moves some to say, as at the papal election, that the Holy Spirit will get His way whatever happens. History shows that many councils, and many papal elections, had little of fragrance of the Holy Spirit about them. God permitted missteps as part of His larger scheme, in the service of a deeper aim. If synods, councils and conclaves were automatically conformed to the positive will of God, then why do we have Masses to pray for the Holy Spirit to move with power in these events?

Thus, perhaps it was the Holy Spirit who ensured that the opening Mass of the Synod would hear today’s readings from Genesis and St Mark. Genesis recounts the creation of Eve as the companion of Adam, for which reason “a man leaves his mother and father and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body”. St Mark recounts our Lord’s uncompromising teaching about marriage, that God made male and female, and it is they who can form one body together; and that to leave a wife to marry another woman is adultery, and the same for the woman who leaves her husband to remarry, because what God has joined no man can rightly divide.

Perhaps in this, the Spirit has spoken the judgement that the Synod must inevitably reaffirm. After all, the Synod Fathers all know that St Paul uses our Lord’s teaching on marriage as the basis for understanding not only the sacramentality of marriage, but also the sacramentality of the Church, which is the Bride of Christ, wedded to Him so that they are one Body (cf Ephesians 5, for example). Marriage is the only context for sexual intercourse, and so it must be between a man and a woman. If not, if sexual intercourse it outside marriage or not between man and woman, then it is not in the strict sense Christian.

Let the state do what it will, but the Church can only accept marriage as defined by our Lord because it is contiguous with the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. If the Church were to forsake marriage as revealed by God, and thus to forsake God’s intended meaning for sexual intercourse, it would be forsaking its relationship to Christ, shattering the unity of Christ’s Body, and making herself an adulteress. With this in mind, read the following from 1 Corinthians 6, vv 13ff:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The matters of marriage, sexual activity and the Church’s identity are so intimately connected that to change teaching on marriage or sexual activity would be to change the Church’s identity. But we cannot. Christ has bought us with is blood; we are not our own. If we rebel on matters of marriage or sexual intercourse, then we might unite our bodies with a prostitute but the we cannot drag the Church with us. She is eternally one with Christ. In fact, and this might shock some, the Church is not free to do or be anything else. Having died for us, Christ will never sign the writ of divorce; the Church certainly cannot.


So the coincidence of the Synod’s overture with the Mass of today alone seems a sure signal that the Spirit has spoken already, once and for all. The only revelation that will come from the Synod is which Fathers will prove themselves faithful, and which (if any) will show themselves time-servers and lovers of the world. Mgr Charamsa has already revealed his choice, and he will now fade into the obscurity that comes with that choice. Let’s look forward to seeing some heroes for that Faith which alone can save.


By the way, go to Adopt a Synod Father, and target your prayers for the Father it gives you to adopt. I was given Archbishop Diego Rafael Padron Sanchez of Cumaná, Venezuela. May the Lord be in his heart and on his lips that he may worthily proclaim the gospel.

On Synod’s Eve

It’s been busy. Little time has been left for blogging. Maybe just as well.

But a few of people have asked in recent days why I have not posted about the Synod, and what do I think about the Synod.

The short answer is that I wish it were not happening. But reality bites.

It’s cheating, but not totally. Last Sunday I preached at the conventual Mass here at Douai, and I had the Synod firmly in mind. Homilies rarely keep their full effect when reduced to the text without the voice. And of course, there is only so much you can say in under ten minutes. Nevertheless, for once I am going to add a homily here, last Sunday’s, as a sort of ferverino for us all on Synod’s Eve.

The Gospel, you might remember was from St Mark, chapter 9:

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.

“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

So with these words of our Lord in mind, you will see what I am on about. Some of you may find it helpful. If you do not,  move on in peace. But do pray for the Synod Fathers.

For better and for worse the Enlightenment of the 18th century happened, and changed almost everything about human life in this world. At its best, it gave free rein to human reason to extend the boundaries of our knowledge of the universe, the earth, and human existence. At its worst, human reason became a god, a golden calf to be worshipped for itself. Indeed after the French revolution Robespierre and his cabal established the Cult of Reason, declaring, “Reason is God”. It is no coincidence that what historians call the Reign of Terror exactly coincided with Robespierre’s Cult of Reason.

Even as human reason expanded our knowledge of the natural world, it reduced our vision and focus more and more to this natural world, shrinking our horizons to what merely could be observed and measured. As our reasoned knowledge grew our vision diminished proportionally. That this should affect the world as it has is no real surprise. But that this diminished vision should condition so much of what happens in our Church is more troubling, and more dangerous.

If you have not heard, next month round two of the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and Family Life will begin in Rome. The lead up to it has been tumultuous and troubling to many. The trouble comes from a loud faction which seeks to change the Church’s consistent teachings on marriage, divorce and sexuality. The arguments are highly emotive and command much attention. These people point out that, say, the divorced who have remarried are often more sinned against than sinning, and that the Church’s refusal to admit them to Holy Communion is to punish them, and to victimize them further.

Of course if our vision, our conceptual and spiritual horizon, is largely limited to this world and this life, then such assertions are compelling. Yet in today’s excerpt from the Gospel of St Mark we find our Lord quite clearly and forcefully directing our vision to beyond this world and this life, reminding us that our horizon extends beyond the kingdom of the world to the Kingdom of God. It is the promise of a life and a world beyond this one that gives meaning to all that we endure and suffer in this life and this world, and gives value to all our good actions and sacrifices here and now.

The Church’s power to teach is not unlimited; it can only, and must only, teach and bind us to the truth that has been revealed by God. The teaching authority of the Church is not a magic wand that can be waved at will to take all our discomfort away. There is no Cross-less Christianity. The psychological, emotional or physical discomfort of this life is as nothing, says our Lord, to the discomfort that might be endured eternally in the next life if we fail to heed the truth as it has actually been revealed. Not to teach the truth is to foster a lie; and, to encourage people in a fantasy which calms the spirit but endangers the soul is hardly charity. Thus our Lord puts it in stark, uncompromising and unmistakable terms: if your eye should cause you to sin, pluck it out for it is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to enter hell with both. So what we do here and now has consequences beyond this world and this life, and the Church has a duty to remind us of this and encourage us to keep to the way, the truth and the life.

Human lives are messy, a cloudy and obscure grey. The truth of Christ to which the Church has consistently witnessed possesses the crispness of black and white. The challenge of Christian living, and the Church’s pastoral practice, is to bring our lives more and more into harmony with Christ’s truth as it has been revealed. We do this not by introducing the murky grey of messy humanity into Christ’s truth, but by introducing more of the crisp clarity of Christ’s truth into the murk of human life. Christ always told the sinners he forgave, “Go and sin no more”. Christ’s example must be the Church’s pastoral practice. To refuse to call sin what it is fools only ourselves and merits the millstone.

So our patient endurance now, our sacrifices now, our efforts to live as Christ calls us to live here and now, all have a value that derives from God’s eternity, and have a meaning that derives from the God’s Kingdom. In another place Christ encourages us: Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all that you need will be given to you. He requires only that we honestly seek it, not that we succeed in attaining it, for that will be God’s gift to the sincere heart.

Indeed Christ has a small word of encouragement in today’s gospel that we might easily miss. “If anyone gives you a cup of water for my sake he will not lose his reward”. All our acts of selflessness, of self-sacrifice, of generosity, of endurance will be crowned with a reward in the Kingdom of God. No good act is wasted, no sacrifice for God’s sake is done in vain. But to see that we must look beyond the narrow confines of this little world and this short life, to that eternal Kingdom that Christ ceaselessly calls us to. Let us not cling to the tinsel and lose hold of the gold. The wonder is, if we strive to be the person Christ calls us to be, we will have a little gold even now, as a pledge of the treasure to come.


i-am-the-way blog

A Telling Letter in The Tablet

In the latest issue of The Tablet (22 August) there is a letter from the composer and former director of music for Portsmouth diocese. Here it is:


Melanie had suggested that children be taught more traditional Eucharistic hymns because of their (undeniably) fuller theological content and catechetical utility. Mr Inwood is clearly not impressed, perhaps because if all parishes switched to traditional hymns there would be little work for him to do.

But his last sentence suggests there is more to it than that. It is amazingly bald in its honesty:

That is why there is a whole new generation of hymns that reflect a postconciliar understanding of what we do at Mass.

Here is an expression of the hermeneutic of rupture that Pope Benedict XVI so eloquently warned of in 2005. Mr Inwood seems to think that there is a radical difference between “what we do at Mass” now in our “postconciliar” days, as opposed to pre-conciliar days.

Part of me wants to say that the main agent, or do-er, at Mass is God. But insofar as there is a purely human activity he is right in a sense. We do do things very differently now. Some might here point to the very much emptier churches that we also have now and wonder if we are in fact doing things as we actually should.

Mr Inwood is subtly implying that the changes in what we “do at Mass” in these postconciliar days are mandated by the Second Vatican Council. We might point him to the Council’s great document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and ask to show us where it teaches a new and different understanding  of “what we do at Mass”.

And pace Mr Inwood, it is the same Eucharist at Benediction as at Mass, and at both we adore Christ made present in his sacrificial Body. Let’s go to Pope Benedict again, from a speech he made on 14 March 2009 to the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship (emphasis added):

I therefore willingly accepted the proposal that the Plenary Assembly should address the theme of Eucharistic adoration, trusting that a renewed collegial reflection on this process might help to make clear, within the limits of the Dicastery’s competence, the liturgical and pastoral means with which the Church of our time can promote faith in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist and guarantee [to] the celebration of Holy Mass the full dimension of adoration. I stressed this aspect in my Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, in which I gathered the fruits of the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod celebrated in October 2005. In it, highlighting the importance of the intrinsic relationship between the celebration of the Eucharist and adoration (cf. n. 66), I cited St Augustine’s teaching: “Nemo autem illam carnem manducat, nisi prius adoraverit; peccemus non adorando” [ie, “no one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it”] (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 98, 9: CCL 39, 1385). The Synod Fathers did not omit to express concern at a certain confusion which arose after the Second Vatican Council about the relationship between Mass and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 66).

Mr Inwood seems to express so pithily the very postconciliar confusion that Pope Benedict exposes and seeks to remedy. Notwithstanding those ministers who have necessary roles to fulfil in the sacred liturgy, we would all do well to do a little more adoring at Mass. That is a truly active participation.

Melanie McDonagh, against whom Mr Inwood was complaining, was acting very much in accord with Pope Benedict’s exhortation. Indeed one hymn she refers to more than once is Soul of My Saviour, which seems admirably to combine “static adoration” (whatever that is! we are clearly meant to boo and hiss] with “an active, participatory liturgy” (and here we are clearly meant to cheer) – and so remedy the artificial and illegitimate divorce of these two dynamics that Mr Inwood encourages. It is clearly a hymn about receiving the Blessed Eucharist in an attitude of reverent faith and dynamic adoration:

Soul of my Saviour sanctify my breast,
Body of Christ, be thou my saving guest,
Blood of my Saviour, bathe me in thy tide,
wash me with waters gushing from thy side.

Strength and protection may thy passion be,
O blessèd Jesus, hear and answer me;
deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,
so shall I never, never part from thee.

Guard and defend me from the foe malign,
in death’s dread moments make me only thine;
call me and bid me come to thee on high
where I may praise thee with thy saints for ay.

Vatican II advocated an understanding of Mass and the celebration of the liturgy that was deliberately consistent with the Church’s understanding for all those centuries leading up to this most recent Council. I fear that Mr Inwood is a spokesman for the “virtual Council”, the “Council of the Media” that Pope Benedict identified as working against the “real Council” at which he was actively present.

Which Council do you choose?


Recently, after Mass, someone articulated some spiritual difficulties, in particular, why doesn’t God do anything when we pray for those migrants in Calais?

It’s that old chestnut, or rather two chestnuts thrown into the blender to make one sludge of bewilderment: why does God not always answer our prayers; and why do bad things happen to the innocent? The answer to both, of course, is sin – human sin, to make it perfectly clear.

However, that is not by itself a satisfying answer to most. Books have been written addressing this real problem in Christians’ spiritual lives, and they often do it very well, and better than I could.

Yet we could still approach the problem from one angle at least.

A few days ago Fr Ray Blake paid me the compliment of advancing a few spiritual reflections on my report of the recent EBC Forum. In particular he noted that the monastic orders often serve as indicators of the health of a particular Church, black canaries down the ecclesial mineshaft. If the air is toxic, foetid or foul the canary will fall sick and even die. Rightly he said that it is not merely an issue of liturgy or doctrine (however important these indeed are). Fr Blake put the issue in spiritual terms: do these monasteries produce saints, or as he aptly put it, “vessels of clay shining with supernatural light”?

Monasteries with holy monks attract vocations. That these monks will celebrate the liturgy worthily and well is not only a cause but an effect of this holiness. It is a symbiotic relationship: a liturgy centred on God will feed holiness, which itself will bear fruit in a liturgy centred on God, not man. Read Church history and you will see more than enough examples of this plain truth.

Alas, if the local Church has lost its vigour, the monasteries will suffer too. If the Church no longer points to eternity as the homeland we need ultimately to worry about and work towards, but rather sees this world’s problems as the focus of its attention, then why would young men (and women) find attractive a life that makes no sense in this-worldly terms?

Of course, authentic Christianity has always placed immense significance on what we now term “social justice”. Yet we should be clear about the fundamental reason why: because what we do here in this fleeting world has direct and potentially irreversible consequences for our lives in the next, and eternal, world. Apart from the fact that basic human decency should bid us have concern for our neighbour wherever and whoever he or she might be, our Christian faith demands that we do. What we do, or fail to do, to our neighbour is done to Christ.

Do we really believe that? Has our earthly life as Christians lost its supernatural flavour? Is our Christianity confined to Sunday attendance at Church and no more? Do we feel smug that at least we go to church, and effectively leave our Christianity at that? Do we consider that our Christianity is a purely private matter and that its intrusion into public life is vulgar, or even intolerant? Do we worry far too much about what people might think of us rather than about what God might think of us?

If the answers to the questions above are mostly “yes” then our Church will not produce vocations, nor bear any fruit that will last except through a freakish and exceptional rogue shoot.

So if we truly want vocations to our monasteries and our seminaries, then we need to start acting like we do. Pray. And keep praying. Fast and do penance, remembering the example of Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh. Live a life that is Christian 24 hours a day, and not just in church on a Sunday.

Likewise if we want our prayers to be answered, then we need to start acting like we do. Do penance. Walk an extra mile. Give to the poor, the orphan and the stranger. Lobby our MPs to have the guts to take a stand in Parliament. Make a stand ourselves, however “vulgar” such displays might seem. And keep praying.

For really, why should God give heed to our prayers if we so feebly and half-heartedly live as Christians? Most talk of God’s love as unconditional is bilge and wastewater. God’s love and grace are indeed umerited, but unconditional?! Really? What then is the covenant in which we stand with God? What is our part in that covenant? What then of Christ’s commandment to love (a doing not a feeling) our neighbour? Why did he bother with the parable of the Good Samaritan? Is it enough that our liturgies too often become human-centred and not “in memory of Me”?

So it seems at least to this writer, and to Fr Blake, that for both the vocations crisis and the problem of evil flourishing in this world despite our prayers, the solution is holiness, personal holiness for every Christian. If our charity never goes beyond prayer, then why should God listen to us? Prayer is wonderful, but if there is never any evidence in our lives that we intend to live as we pray then our prayers are little better than rectal emissions of methane. We owe it to our persecuted brethren in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, not only to pray for them, but to be holy enough that our prayers might bear fruit.


Today is a day of fasting for life, held on the feast of St Maximilian Kolbe, who lived as he prayed, and laid down his life for another in Auschwitz according to the teaching and example of Christ. Some demons, taught Christ can only be expelled by prayer and fasting. So, for once, I am getting of my ample monastic backside and doing at least a little something beyond words in order to fight the evils of abortion and euthanasia. Bread and water only, with maybe a cup of tea to keep my spirits up.

Why don’t you have a go too? You’ve nothing to lose and both the world and eternity to gain. Besides – I need the company.