Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Clarion Call

This morning, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has written a pastoral letter to his diocese. Quite rightly, he recognized in the Papal visit a clarion call to action. If the visit was nothing more than an uplifting occasion, then it will be an opportunity wasted.

Here is the whole text.

The first observation His Grace makes is liturgical. We should strive to achieve the 'beauty of holiness', he writes, and he means in the liturgy; perhaps he might have expressed it as the holiness of beauty. Anyway, he quite rightly praises the reverence of the papal liturgies (gosh, what a contrast to 1982!) and the profound use of silence, especially at the Vigil in Hyde Park, and suggests that our own liturgies try to reflect this.

The Archbishop goes on to admire the Holy Father's gentleness and courtesy when speaking the truth, and suggests that we should do the same. Can't quarrel with that!

We must, too, 'witness to the joy and freedom born of a living faith in Christ' by prayer and generous service.

We should be 'more confident in our faith, and more ready to speak about it and let it be seen each day'. He suggests that we do this by to tell others that we will pray for them (be careful if you're a nurse, he might have said!) and be prepared to say 'God bless you' to people, and make the sign of the cross more often.

Now, it is with this last paragraph that I take issue. Of course, what His Grace writes is quite correct; it just doesn't go far enough. We have become so accustomed in the Catholic Church to living in the shadows that it has become second nature. Back in Shoreham, due to some building works, we had to celebrate Mass in the local ancient Anglican Church, who were the very soul of courtesy and welcome. But some members of the Anglican congregation were amazed (and one or two aghast) at how many of us there were. 'I had no idea!' was said several times to me. All these practising Christians in Shoreham that nobody knew about!

There are very good reasons for this, of course. We have had centuries of persecution, and, as recent months have shown, anti-Catholicism is very far from dead. We have learnt to keep our heads down. In addition, I think, the last forty years have seen so much of the Church's energies going inwards one way or another—various liturgical ministries, sacramental instruction that used to be done in schools, groups, committees, &c &c &c, that the outward dimension has suffered.

In the 1950s, Catholics had begun to get involved in the world outside through Catholic Action (getting involved in the Unions &c) and the Young Christian Workers, but this seems to have run into the sand, perhaps because of all this internal focus.

In Westminster Hall and elsewhere, we have heard the Holy Father appeal to the state to let religion once more enter the public conversation and, what is more, we have seen with our own incredulous eyes him listened to with the profoundest respect by those from whom we least expected respect.

The possibility has been made now; the state may well now be prepared to engage with us, but we, too must be prepared in our turn to engage with the state, or it will all have been a waste of time and energy.

Now if at no other time, before the Holy Father's visit is forgotten or brushed under the carpet, is the moment for us to be prepared to enter into that public conversation, and this is not something that should be left to the Bishops' Conference, for it is the proper vocation of the laity.

Now is the time for Catholics to join political parties and become active in them. To join unions, to stand for election on local councils, to engage in the public conversation. In no other way is the climate (in any sense) going to be changed.

While he was with us, the Holy Father did not talk about abortion, euthanasia and other crucial issues. He knew he would not be listened to, that far more important ground work needed to be done first. The same must be true for us, I think. We should not hold aloof from political parties because many of the members hold (or indeed the party officially holds) rebarbative views on things we hold dear…… we should be prepared to dilute with our presence the strength of these positions and perhaps go about changing hearts and minds. Standing on the sidelines and shouting 'boo' will achieve very little but only entrench the opposition. The Holy Father has demonstrated with the most courageous voice just how our position might be heard if we are prepared to engage gently and courteously, yet firmly with others. And we cannot do that unless we, too, are prepared to join the conversation.


pelerin said...

I am trying to understand the comment about not standing aloof from political parties because their views are incompatible with Christian Faith.

This year was the first time I had ever abstained from voting in a General Election. I could not bring myself to vote for either the party I had previously supported, or for any of the others. I made my reasons for abstaining known both by email and to canvassers at the door.

What else could I have done? I agree that standing on the sideline and shouting 'boo' is not the answer - but what is the answer?

Pastor in Monte said...

Join 'em and change 'em!

pelerin said...

Father - are you saying that it would be quite in order to vote for a party which might support Abortion, Euthanasia, Embryo Research et al if we have no alternative? Surely by doing this we are saying that we agree with all these things?

The Bones said...

"Hello, is that the Green Party?"

Pastor in Monte said...

Pelerin: not vote for, join. Use your influence as a member to bring it round. Win the victories you can, don't attempt what can't happen yet, but might in the future. I think this is what the Holy Father is asking.

Patricius said...

"He suggests that we do this by to tell others that we will pray for them...."

Now that's what I call fighting talk!

johnf said...


Thank you for drawing this to my attention. I will copy it to my Parish Priest.

The advice at the bottom of the letter to ponder could be interpreted as an invitation to procrastinate. However that is at variance with rest of the letter, so I would think it might be unfortunate drafting.

Picking up the other points, I find it very difficult to exchange views courteously with some of the secularists / atheists I meet because they are almost invariably bullying, obnoxious and offensive.

The response I suppose is to take a deep breath and tell them not to be so offensive etc or it is not worth exchanging views with them.

With regard to political parties, it's worth while contacting one's MP, especially if you have one who will listen. We are lucky in the West of England with Oliver Letwin, who though professing to be an atheist is courteous and listens to argument.

Another advantage of joining the local party is that people get to know you and hopefully (!) respect you and when they find out you are Roman Catholic at least they can admit you haven't got horns and a tail...And from time to time you get to vote on the choice of parliamentary candidate.

Little Black Sambo said...

But some members of the Anglican congregation were amazed ... at how many of us there were.
One reason for that might be that a (Roman) Catholic parish normally covers the same area as several Church of England parishes. Where I lived recently there were at least a dozen Anglican churches serving the area of one RC parish.