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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The dangers of "Woman's Weekly" spirichooaliddy


A priest friend sent me a copy of his diocesan newspaper in which he had highlighted a particular article concerning a Mass celebrated by the Bishop for catechists. After Holy Communion there was a quiet reading of the following meditation. Put on your best soothing voice...
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE EUCHARIST
It could be said that the bits and pieces of each day’s jigsaw puzzle are put together at the altar; [well, it could, I suppose] that the separate, often discordant notes of a day in our life are fused into one flowing symphony; [this is the "Woman's Weekly" spirituality that goes some way to explain the absence of young male Catholics in the Church, something James Preece rightly points out regularly] that the hurts, fears and betrayals of our lives are all held and embraced [yes, that "holding and embracing God" who hugs you and rubs your back, buys you flowers, goes clothes shopping with you and will chat for hours on the phone sympathising with all your complaints about the men in your life] in this ritual of bread and wine; [Nooo! These people are catechists?] that the Eucharist creates stories and poems out of the mixed-up alphabet of the lies, the promises, the failures that happen during life; [one good poem related to our lies and failures is the "Dies Irae". There is a good running commentary going at the moment at Libera Me] that the scattered beads of our broken vows are again refashioned into a new rosary of pearls; [Just like that?] that, at Mass we are astonished at the nearness of a God who comes to us disguised as our emotions, our bodies and our needy lives. [And there was I, foolishly thinking that it was going to say that God was disguised under the appearances of bread and wine] The Eucharist guarantees that every relationship is sacred; [Seriously - every relationship? Adulterous ones? Child abusing ones?] that no bitter tear or heartfelt wish is ever wasted; that nothing is ‘merely’ human any more; [That's the key - Rahner-lite - "everything is grace"] that no sin is ever left unredeemed; [Yep, more of the same - "all sin is forgiven". Except it's not - until you repent] that nothing is lost; [God does not will anyone to be lost. But Jesus did seem to say quite often that some would be] that everything, in the end, is harvest. [In fact, Jesus does tell us that everything will be harvested. But the tares will be thrown in the fire.]
But Father! You are being horrible and facetious about a booootiful meditation. Well no, actually, I'm deadly serious here. The reference to child abuse was not just a gratuitous swipe. One question that tormented Cardinal Ratzinger when the files came streaming across his desk was how these men could do such things and then go out and say Mass next day as if they were in a state of grace. The answer lies at least in part in this kind of spirichooaliddy in which God loves us all unconditionally, we are all weak and broken wounded healers, everything is grace, all sin is forgiven; and don't you dare mention mortal sin or the possibility of eternal damnation. For a comprehensive study of the link between the clergy scandals and the loss of traditional ascetical theology and practice, see the book After Asceticism which I reviewed for Faith Magazine a couple of years ago.

A headteacher, imbued with this spirichooaliddy once challenged me at a meeting, saying "Jesus did not impose conditions on his followers". I pointed out that according to the gospel accounts he did ("If anyone would be a follower of mine, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me", "If you love me, keep my commandments", "Unless a man is born again by water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" etc.) It seems to be a nice, child-friendly way to present the faith to remove all the difficult bits about sin and hell, and present a God who is a big fluffy teddy bear who magically transforms our broken vows into strings of pearls. The consequences on the ground are not so pretty. A while back, I wrote a little about an alternative approach: Defending St Alphonsus.

The failure to grasp Catholic doctrine on the real presence in a meditation after communion is the icing on the cake. Only this morning in his address to the Italian Bishops' Conference Pope Benedict quoted the definition of Lateran IV
"His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been transubstantiated, by God's power, into his body and blood."
I'm not going to name the Diocese whose newspaper this appeared in or the Bishop (and please don't try to put either in the comment box) because this kind of thing is endemic in many dioceses and picking on one diocese would distract from the point I want to make, that in addition to the liturgical and doctrinal life of the Church, the hermeneutic of continuity applies also to our teaching on the spiritual life.
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