The Papal visit has been generally agreed to have been an outstanding success, as I have remarked before. The Holy Father sought to reintroduce Christianity into the public square, to encourage the faithful of these lands, to set a good example of prayerful liturgy and much else.
But let us not delude ourselves that things are all going to be fine from now on. Intelligence Squared, the people who set up the notorious debate when Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens wiped the floor with Anne Widdecombe and some poor African bishop, are staging another debate in which they have persuaded a Downside Benedictine to side with Matthew Paris and Geoffrey Robinson debating whether Christians' sense of opposition is in fact paranoia. Read about it here, on the Catholic Herald website. In other words, it's all beginning again, and we should not be surprised that it would do so.
Now, given that the visit was such a success, surely we should be several weeks into capitalizing on it, and consolidating what has been achieved. In some small ways, this is being done. People are reading and discussing the Holy Father's remarks in parish groups, and benefitting from what has been said, as is only right and proper.
But I haven't noticed any initiatives more widely. A pastoral letter or two have been written, but I was hoping that there might be some bigger operations to keep the faith in the public eye.
I think that part of the problem is the Bishops' Conference. I'm sure that all our bishops are excellent chaps one to one, but they have to wait for another meeting before they can discuss a common approach to things. Then it has to filter through all the various agencies, who have to produce reports, dunk hobnobs, and perform all the other million tasks of a bureaucracy. Then, five years down the line, someone will read a report to someone else, there will be a murmur of agreement around the table, and there may be a document produced, and, maybe, someone will read it.
The trouble is that the committee model is not the one on which Christ built the Church. It is built on communion and discipleship. I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but it strikes me that what really works is the sort of thing that Pope John Paul and, more recently, Pope Benedict do, if only, perhaps, because there aren't more Popes with whom they can form a committee. They have to lead, and, by and large, the Church likes to be led. We join in communion with each other to be taught and led by the Holy Father, but also with and by our own bishop. However, if our bishop needs to wait for approval from his colleagues, then we are waiting in vain.
I would like to see our bishops now encouraging and supporting our people
• to get involved in politics, local, national, and European
• to improve the standard of liturgy generally.
These things would mean the making effective of things like Justice and Peace groups. It has irritated me enormously to see the good will and efforts of these people in interfering with wrongs abroad, but refusing to see the wrongs under their noses. At one time, I tried very hard to get J&P to take on the Life issues, as part of their remit. They just would not agree. But to have a group in each diocese who would provide advice to Catholic MPs, local councillors and trades unionists on the real issues that they may be required to legislate upon, to be able to brief them when they are interviewed on local radio or in the newspapers, so that they can have real facts at their fingertips and make their Catholic voice effective; these would be most useful to the Gospel, and would enable us to join that public conversation that the Holy Father mentioned.
The liturgy is going to be a problematic issue, because the resistance will be so strong, not just from many of the liturgical establishment, but also, I suspect, from some of the bishops themselves. The matter will resolve itself in time, simply because things are slowly moving in what I consider the right direction, but it will not be noticed that these things produce better fruits until the lesson of Hyde Park really sinks in. People really are hungry for God, for prayer, for stillness and an encounter with the Divine, and liturgy that seeks simply to entertain simply doesn't spiritually nourish. You can fill a stomach with nothing but chocolate, but that it a way to die of malnutrition, paradoxically with a full belly.
A bishop of my acquaintance spent his first few pastoral letters writing of things that interested him, but without drawing much response from the people. Bit by bit, he began, uncomfortably at first, mentioning God, only to find that suddenly, he was drawing a response. Now he writes of God quite a lot, because it is what people respond to. I wish he would take that lesson more and more to heart. There is a bishop in the far West of the USA who writes letter after letter about the state of the salmon in a certain river in his diocese, and the attached environmental issues, but never mentions God, because he doesn't want to turn people off. Let us please grasp the lesson of the Papal visit, and see that people are in fact hungry for God, and that if we want to feed the starving crowd, there is no better time than right now when for the first time in quite a while, morale is good.
All the other issues, salmon, justice and peace &c will flow naturally and abundantly from a people who are adequately fed with the Word of God made Flesh. Putting the cart before the horse is a waste of time.