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Monday, 12 December 2011

Is it open season on Bishop Davies?

md
A couple of weeks ago, Bishop Mark Davies preached at a Diocesan Day of Recollection for young people in his diocese of Shrewsbury. He spoke about being distracted and not finding our way, about being diverted from the Lord because we are looking in the wrong direction. He said that
... a generation before you so often failed to pass on those directions, the fullness of our Catholic faith which in Isaiah’s words at every crucial turn of our lives tells us, “this is the way, follow it!”
Bishop Davies went on to meditate on the meaning of Sunday and the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, and offered encouragement to Youth 2000. He quoted the words of Pope Benedict at Marienfeld in for the 2005 World Youth Day:
...do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too … Let us pledge ourselves to do this – it is worth the effort!”
Then Bishop Davies continued:
For never since the days of persecution have so many obstacles been put in front of a generation to prevent you finding your way to Him. And it isn’t so much Sunday working, Sunday shopping, social lives which block out Saturday nights and Sunday mornings but losing sight of Jesus Himself which eclipses Sunday, not knowing where He is found which leaves it empty. It isn’t the incidentals of music or style which draws or deters you from finding your way to Him. Those things may help or hinder us but they’re not why we’re ever here. We are here because we know in the words of St. John Vianney that “He is here, the One who loves us so much He is here.” May we find our way to Him where we know He will always be found.
A jolly good sermon for young people, you might think. Not as far as the Tablet is concerned, it seems. In the print edition, the report of his sermon. Bishop Davies is criticised (by a fellow Bishop) for saying that we are “privileged” to have the biggest challenge ever. I don’t think that is quite what he said – he pointed to great obstacles, especially losing sight of Jesus himself. As though it were a contradiction of Bishop Davies, we are told that our society is indifferent rather than hostile. In fact, the good Bishop was contrasting persecution with “losing sight of Jesus.” Apparently previous generations
“learned their ‘faith’ in terms of catechism content, but can we say that they ever really understood and therefore were in a position to pass on their ‘faith’?”
Actually, I remember being taught the formulae of the penny catechism and what they meant. The process managed to pass on quite a bit more of the faith than the RE approach which is widely sanctioned today (though not in Shrewsbury) with its meandering stroll from the experience of birthdays and special places in the pious hope that sooner or later something transcendent will emerge.

But the present generation is more critical and independent apparently. Given the promotion of right-on mantras about climate change and pollution, and the restriction of history to a looped recording of the rise and fall of the Third Reich without any mention of Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot, I suppose young people might learn to be critical of the foundation of Western civilisation and independent of any classical influence that might promote original thought. Unless they are fortunate enough to come into contact with someone like Bishop Davies who could broaden their horizons beyond the OFSTED-enforced mental straightjacket.

The Tablet blog follows up the attack on Bishop Davies with a post (the Tablet calls it a “a blog” – one day they will catch up) with the heading A persecution complex certainly won't help. Bishop Davies has a persecution complex, apparently. Reading his homily with a critical and independent approach, it does rather seem to me that he is simply giving encouragement to young people who, I am sure, found much to inspire them in his words.

Bishop Davies said to the young people that a previous generation failed to pass on the fullness of the faith. So we are treated to the observation that "No generation ever alive has passed on the fullness of faith to the next. The fullness of faith is beyond us all." So let us distinguish. The kindly Bishop was not criticising a previous generation for failing to provide an immediate experience of the beatific vision. He was pointing out what is obvious to anyone willing to be honest about the life of the Church in the past few decades. Children, parents and young grandparents have grown up without clear teaching on the divinity of Christ, the infallibility of the Church, the real presence, the Sunday Mass obligation, the wrongfulness of artificial contraception, the existence of purgatory... to list but a few of the doctrines that have been considered too hard. That is what he means by the failure to pass on the fullness of the faith. He is unquestionably right and it is a grave injustice to the People of God if we pretend that it has not happened; and more so if we fail to rectify the situation with urgency.

If just one young Bishop can provoke this kind of opposition with a homily to young people, I wonder how things will be when there are one or two other like-minded Bishops appointed in due course to fill a couple of the many sees that are vacant or becoming so.

Ceterum autem censeo tabulam esse delendam
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