A graph is worth a thousand words:On the flight home, I reflected about how gloomy it was. A woman dedicated to Christ – a woman who received from lay benefactors a lifetime of pay and benefits, the costs of formation and education – reducing her ministry to an epitaph fitting nicely if sadly on a tombstone: “I do not believe in doctrine, I believe in love.”In return for all the money spent on priests and religious, is it too much to expect that our benefactors receive the faith, the true faith, and nothing but the faith?
Last weekend we read out a Diocesan pastoral letter at all Masses and distributed leaflets outlining future plans for the development of the Diocese. The leaflet makes interesting and indeed, amusing reading in that it speaks of a diocese “founded on an immensely rich Christian heritage that has thrived and flourished over hundreds of years despite the many difficulties it has faced”. Directly beneath these words are two graphs showing the decline in Diocesan priests (from 360 in 1972 to 150 in 2013) and of Mass attendance (from 100,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 2014).Well formed lay Catholics always figure out pretty quickly if a diocese, religious institute, seminary, or other Catholic organization is squishy on doctrine or not. If they are, then those organizations die out from lack of money or lack of vocations. Where doctrine is solid, money and vocations are seldom a worry. This is empirically demonstrable, but still so many dioceses and religious communities cling to the humanist, subjectivist, relativist ideologies of the 1960s that have led them to the brink of ruin.If the Diocese flourished so well during the Viking Invasions and Reformation Persecutions but has dwindled in the last fifty years, we need to ask “what have we been doing that precipitated this?”. After all, we came through the Viking raids and Reformation in flourishing manner; why have we not overcome the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies of the 1960’s? Probably because the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies tap into our concupiscence; we are all too keen on self-satisfaction and aggrandizement.
I think Father is on to something when he blames our self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement. Many active priests and religious have spent their entire adult lives high on the spirit of Vatican II, and nobody likes to hear that their life's work, though perhaps a noble experiment, has been an unmitigated disaster.
Things are gradually improving to be sure, but we can't take that improvement for granted. Lay people must know the faith well enough to call Father or Sister out when they go off the rails. Father and Sister must know the faith well enough to be confident in their leadership and teaching. Whenever Father gives a good homily I always shake his hand and tell him so after Mass. If he gives the bog standard "Jesus was a nice guy so we should all be nice too," then I just scowl and shake my head. If we're outside, I spit too.