Sunday, 2 January 2011

Five things to pray for in 2011

So to start the blogging year, I thought I might come up with a list of things to pray and work for this year.

Now it would be only too easy to make this a negative list.  But for myself at least, I think this is a good time to take a step back from some of the specifics, and look to the bigger picture. 

So herewith my list....

1.  That God might give us back our joy, and help others to escape from zombiedom!

One of my nephews has a disturbing identity picture on his facebook page of himself seemingly dripping with blood and gore, which I'm told came from a Zombie Walk event a few months back.  It's an interesting metaphor for the rootless lives he and many of his contemporaries live, as this great post by Fr James Farfaglia on the evangelizing effects of enthusiasm points out. 

The post actually reminded me of that great verse in the Miserere, Psalm 50, where the psalmist demands that God give him back the joy of salvation, and strengthen him with a generous spirit (Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me).

Taking it from the other side, Fr Farfaglia's post points the reader to St Thomas' designation of sadness as one of the deadly sins, as well as Dante's assignment of it to the lowest level of hell.  He writes words of America that are just as applicable to Australia or any Western country today:

"Sadness is certainly the epidemic of our times. I see a lot of people walking around without a smile on their face. Christianity is completely opposite to selfishness, self-absorption and narcissism. Christianity demands a radical reorientation of our personal lives. We must be empty of all self-seeking.

I must confess that I am very disturbed by what I see in America.  To me America has become, for the most part, a land of zombies. I see so many people walking around without meaning in their lives. I see so many people filled with sadness. So many people are sucked into a matrix of despair. I refuse to be a zombie and my New Year’s resolution for 2011 is this: I am going to do all that I can to help people escape from the land of the zombies."

So let's give it a whirl, and start at Church...

2.  For the rediscovery that some truths are self-evident...

Underlying the secularist attack on the moral framework that has held together Western society is the loss of the sense that some truths - such as the value of human life - are self-evident.  Pope Benedict XVI recently commented:

"The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfilment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm."

The Pope himself, even while urging us to fight the good fight, seems rather pessimistic about the prospect of a serious turnaround on this, drawing parallels with the collapse of the Roman Empire, and urging us to make our prayer for God's protection:

"The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats."

The parallels are certainly compelling (not least on the natural disasters front, with an area the size of France and Germany combined currently under water in previously drought-stricken Australia). 

Still, even in a worse case scenario where we cannot win this war, we do at least need to build a strong base from which something can be rebuilt in the future, and I'm personally still hopeful of the prospect of at least some countries waking up to the threats facing us, and taking action to combat them - if only to provide some 'mini-Christendoms' to preserve the essentials from which the next civilization can be built.  There is, after all, a reason the Pope took the name in honour of the Father of the first set of mini-Christendoms, formed around Benedictine monasteries...

3.  For a renewed sense of the duties of state of life   

One of the pervasive problems of the Church in recent decades has been the loss of the sense of appropriate roles and responsibilities in the Church, including the true dignity of the (genuinely) lay state.

On the one hand we saw last year the dreadful attacks on the Church on the abuse scandal.  Though they were opportunistic, unfairly targeted and often just outright wrong in their claims, they did draw attention to a real problem: the preoccupation of bishops from the 1960s onwards with protecting the institution and priests, rather than protecting their flocks.  As Scott Stephens argued on The Drum a few months back:

"For a start, it was not the Catholic Church's discrete use of canon law that provided a safe haven for paedophiles, pederasts and other deviants. It was rather the failure of the Church - and, in particular, the failure of bishops - to enforce canon law after the Second Vatican Council that allowed this rot to fester.

Canon law has always held sexual abuse of minors as loathsome crimes and grievous sins, the commission of which would necessitate a priest being permanently removed from the clerical state (in other words, be "defrocked") - this much is clear from canon 2359 of the 1917 Codex Iuris Canonici, which was reiterated in canon 1395 of the 1983 Codex Iuris Canonici. The severest penalties also applied to those bishops who failed to deal with priests according to canon law.

But it should be remembered that the zeitgeist of the early-1960s condemned the Church's so-called "punitive approach" to cases of clerical sexual deviance as being both medieval and altogether ignorant of the restorative possibilities of psychotherapy. Consequently, although the proscription of the 1917 Codex for dealing with clerical sexual abuse had remained unchanged since 1917, in the supposedly open, inclusive climate after Vatican II (1965) - which, in fact, became outright lawlessness in many quarters - far too many bishops resolved to take the supposedly pastoral, therapeutic approach of restoring abusive priests through counselling and relocation."

The rhetoric of the last decades has been about the promotion of the lay role in the Church - but the reality has been quite otherwise. 

Quite aside from the sexual abuse scandal, bishops have cared more for the protection of their priests than the building up of their flocks with orthodox doctrine and sound liturgy. 

Bishops and priests promote lay ministries, sending out a subversive message: that the laity are only important when they take on pseudo-clerical roles. 

When the laity exercise their right and duty to make their views known on matters affecting the Church, or when they request the right to be assisted from the spiritual riches of the Church, they receive abuse and bullying for an answer.  Yep, we just ain't got no respect....

And instead of building up and supporting lay action in the public square, many bishops (and religious) seem to think that progress in achieving social justice is best measured by the number of press releases they personally put out, the number of letters to the Government that they write, or the number of Government committees they are on, regardless of their actual impact.

If we are to make any progress in the Church and in society we must recover a proper sense of the dignity of our respective states of life.  And since change requires leadership, change must start with our priests.  As Pope Benedict XVI suggested in his curia address last year, we must take forward the lessons of the Year of the Priest:

"We realized afresh how beautiful it is that human beings are fully authorized to pronounce in God’s name the word of forgiveness, and are thus able to change the world, to change life; we realized how beautiful it is that human beings may utter the words of consecration, through which the Lord draws a part of the world into himself, and so transforms it at one point in its very substance; we realized how beautiful it is to be able, with the Lord’s strength, to be close to people in their joys and sufferings, in the important moments of their lives and in their dark times; how beautiful it is to have as one’s life task not this or that, but simply human life itself – helping people to open themselves to God and to live from God."

4.  For vocations to the religious life and the priesthood

The proper ordering of the Church depends on there actually being priests and religious!

We should pray for vocations, and for new foundations to be made.

But here prayer is a good start, but it is not enough.

If we have children, we should make sure that they actively discern whether they might have a vocation, and support them if they choose to pursue one.

We should work in our parishes and communities to ensure everything that happens supports vocations rather than undermining them.  Let me give a little list:
  • persuade priests and parents not to allow girls to serve at the altar, since we know it will discourage boys from doing so;
  • arrange for children to attend retreats at the sounder monasteries and convents;
  • encourage our priests to wear clericals (preferably even soutanes!) as a sign of their commitment, because yes, though it might constitute a 'white martyrdom' in these difficult times, it does make a difference;
  • and above all, encourage our priests to 'say the black, do the red', to consider celebrating ad orientem, and to take responsibility for the ministerial functions of their parishes - we all instinctively know that the manifestations of priestly narcissism that we have all become accustomed to repel; but sending a message that it is all about God, not me, works!
And to the extent that we are able, we should give financial and spiritual support to those religious orders and priestly societies obediently serving the Church.

5. For the fruition of the Pope's commitment to true ecumenism

Ecumenism  - and inter-religious relations - must surely be one of the greatest blackspots for 'spirit of Vatican IIism' in the Church. 

No wonder then, that this Pope has devoted himself to developing a more healthy version of it, going back to the numerous attempts to reconcile the Eastern Churches through the middle ages.

When Vatican II first opened the doors to a more open approach to other Churches and ecclesial communities, it was surely a great positive that protestant and catholic children, and their parents, should stop (literally) throwing stones at each other, and engage in more positive social relations.  Unfortunately, ecumenism quickly became a bandwagon for the watering down of the faith altogether, and instead of working to bring our separated brethren back to the fullness of truth, it was often turned into a reason for actively discouraging conversion altogether!

Pope Benedict XVI has worked hard to refocus the effort, concentrating on those groups closest in doctrine and practice to the Church, namely the Eastern Orthodox, traditionally inclined Anglicans, and the SSPX.  And his efforts are bearing fruit, with the first ex-Anglican bishops quietly received into the Church just a few days ago, and rumours that the SSPX will not be far behind.

How significant too (Rorate Caeli blogs murmurers notwithstanding), that the Pope has announced that he will return to Assisi on the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's unfortunate visit there, for a meeting with world leaders of religions.  This is the Pope, who, as a Cardinal, was highly critical of Pope John Paul II's actions at Assisi, insisting that "this cannot be the model".  How fitting then, that this great promoter of Christian unity will have a chance to symbolically re-sanctify this important shrine, and show once again how ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue is really done.

No comments: