Tuesday, 26 January 2016

What is to be done?

The indomitable Red Maria (@dolphinmaria on Twitter) has tweeted at me: 
I think your analysis is rational and correct. The question is what is to be done?
As Marx said, "Philosophers have interpreted the world; the point is to change it." 
Initiatives like the letter in support of priests were excellent. Why stop there? What's next?
Well, appeals to the authority of Marx (whether Karl or Cardinal) are surely the way to get me going...

However, I am not by nature an activist, in the political sense, still less a leader. But that does not let me off the hook, of course: many of those whom God has called to lead decisively would have said the same, I am sure. But I am also keenly aware of the risk to those who lead political resistance successfully that they be corrupted by the process (history is littered with examples) and I am not convinced that I would have the strength and integrity to avoid that fate.

More significantly, my analysis of the problems we face is that they are primarily spiritual problems. They may manifest in political ways in some prelates and priests, but the roots are spiritual.

So I believe that the response must be primarily spiritual. At the personal level, that means prayer and fasting; a sacramental life, and a growth in faith, hope and charity. And on that journey, I have a long way to travel.

But I am also part of a larger whole, the Church, and my own imperfections do not let me off from making a contribution there.  However, if my analysis of the problems is correct, and that it is primarily a spiritual battle in which we are engaged, that also must inform our response. 

According to St Augustine (I understand - I am not a great scholar and get most of my knowledge second or third hand - in this case, if I recall correctly, from Frank Sheed) the faculties of the soul that distinguish men from animals are intellect, memory and will.

So one of the ways in which we oppose the malaise infecting the Church must be by the use of the intellect. We must study, and we must analyse, and we must share the results of that study and analysis. That is where the internet has proved such a boon. Previously, it was easy to be swamped by the approved narrative, and to imagine that one was alone in one's questions. Now, one can find other concerned and well-informed Catholics and learn from them - and (as I have frequently found) they are also good at correcting our misunderstandings and misperceptions.

Another way we must oppose the malaise is by the use of the memory. And here I am referring to the collective memory of the Church, which is Tradition. That is why I find it infuriating when people claim novelty as restoration - it is reminiscent of the wilful destruction of collective memory that was such a feature of Ingsoc in Orwell's 1984. Indeed, the more I reflect on this, the more I think that is why I am at heart a traditionalist. I refuse to discard the wisdom of the generations of saints who have preceded me, and the teachings of Christ Himself and His apostles which the Holy Spirit has inspired the Church to understand with ever-increasing depth over the centuries. I refuse to imagine that we in the early twentyfirst century are so much wiser than our forebears that we can discard all that has gone before that is out of sympathy with our present culture and sentiments.

Finally, there is the will. We are called above all to love. And that means to love even when we have been betrayed; to love even those who have betrayed us. I find that very difficult, and I am clear that if I were to engage in active campaigns, the risk would be that it would be bad for me. I reflect on some of my posts on ++Nichols, for example, and wonder whether my motives would stand scrutiny. I am always haunted by that great couplet in Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral:

The last temptation is the greatest treason: 
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Of course,  should I discern that I am called to something more, then I will strive to answer that call. But for the present, I think that living my vocation as husband, father and professional, living a sacramental life and seeking to grow in virtue, and contributing as I can to the intellectual, traditional and charitable life of the Church, is how I am called to oppose the malaise at present. 

I don't think that's quietism - but as ever, am open to correction.


Ttony said...

"But for the present, I think that living my vocation as husband, father and professional, living a sacramental life and seeking to grow in virtue, and contributing as I can to the intellectual, traditional and charitable life of the Church, is how I am called to oppose the malaise at present.

I don't think that's quietism - but as ever, am open to correction."

It's not quietism: it's your vocation (assuming you're discerning properly). But there are many gifts, as we have recently been reminded, and even if your response is right for you, it is one among many. St Catherine of Siena, for example, was a bit more robust and she is a Saint and a Doctor of the Church.

There are some dreadful problems in the Church in E&W: our Bishops have signed up unanimously to an attack on the Pope Emeritus through their wish to amend the Good Friday prayers. Now, they might each be either vindictive, or ignorant, or supersessionist, or any combination of the three; but if not they are at least spineless, and one might reasonably question their exercise of their authority.

That brings me to the heart of my problem with what you've written: our silence is taken as assent, or rather, our lack of noise is taken as proof that there is no opposition. The fact that Stourton and Longley are allowed to describe themselves as Catholic without any protest from the Hierarch means that either the Hierarchy shares their beliefs, or that the Hierarchy is spineless. These examples are relatively trivial: I'm sure the Pope emeritus can look out for himself; and Stourton and Longley pretending to voice orthodox Catholicism is no more dangerous (except to their souls) than a politician who doesn't care about something turning on crocodile tears for the cameras.

But what happens when the Pope decides to celebrate Luther's Reformation: to celebrate Schism and Heresy for the positive things they brought? We must speak out, or be complicit. We don't need to demonstrate, or chain ourselves to Tina Beattie, or interrupt clown Masses; but we must be prepared to be on the record in letting our Bishops know what we make of these things. And I'm afraid that might just be the first step.

Ben Trovato said...


I agree with all you have written here. In my narcissistic way, I read Red Maria's tweets as an exhortation to me, personally, to take a lead, and I responded accordingly. But you are quite right that we should not be silent when we should speak (and we have our bishop on visitation soon, so I hope to talk with him then); and I suspect that she is quite right that some organised action is called for. But who is to do the organising?