Anyone who has known me for any length of time will tell you that one of my many annoying habits is repeating a single sentence which I've practically adopted as a motto for how to live my life - It was written by St Francis de Sales, exemplified through the praxis and pedagogy of St John Bosco, indeed it's been intrinsic to the life of every saint ;and it encapsulates Catholic Theology, Spirituality and Morality. It's quite a simple phrase really, one that's prone to being misunderstood and quoted as if it's merely something found on the back of a cornflake packet or in a fortune cookie ; but as Dostoyevsky told us , there is nothing under heaven that cannot be twisted, distorted or debased by men of ill will . It goes like this :
"It is never enough to love someone ; that someone has to know they are loved."
Now Mother Theresa was always a controversial figure , and no end of abuse was hurled at her when , in this world of wars, terrorism, sexual profligacy, abortion, poverty and disease rife in the developing world she stated :
"Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand."
Communion in the hand ? Is she crazy ? Well let me put it to you that the blessed Theresa was anything but...because if you look into what she's saying a little closer you'll arrive at some startling revelations about what is truly in crisis within the church. I'll return to this later.
I once gave a sermon during my time as a Pastoral Minister in the US - it centred around a question:
"For a catholic, what is the greatest 'object' in the world ?"
After qualifying the statement that the Blessed Sacrament was not truly solely of this world, and a catholic had already received the waters of baptism ...and after a few possibilities proposed to me by the congregation which I rejected; I pointed to the little box room in the corner of the church and said :
"There - that's the greatest object in the world !" and proceeded to explain why the confessional is so intrinsically important beyond our wildest imaginings....let me move on...
Now I'm sorry to be seemingly chaotic , but I do have a reason for beginning something , then leaving it hanging and proceeding to something apparently unrelated; but you must be asking by now what the heck has this to do with the clerical crisis ? Well please bear with me for a moment - I'm getting there.
Chesterton was one of the most significant adversaries of the sin of Pride - read any one of his apologetic essays and you will invariably find it having the overriding virtue of Humility as its fundamental tenet - but he goes beyond this to a great psychological insight - that Pride , and all its manifestations in arrogance, presumption or despair are grounded in two things : Ignorance and Anxiety - In order to be humble [ and thus be virtuous in any way ] you have to possess a freedom of spirit and an openness to understanding - a willingness to confront the unknown and face your fear.
Now the majority of people think it was FDR who said 'we have nothing to fear but fear itself';
actually the president plagiarised it from my old hero St F-d-S... and if you haven't read it before , I urge you with the deepest sincerity to read St Francis de Sales' chapter on Anxiety from his 'Introduction to The Devout Life' - it's one of the greatest pieces of psycho-analysis ever written. I've posted it already on this blog : here's the link
Our Lord and Saviour spent his entire life telling us to 'Be Not Afraid' ; and we poor, weak-willed sinners do everything and anything but listen to those words....
Aside from objective sin, Anxiety is the most dangerous phenomena as it compromises and jeopardises our freedom to accept God's overflowing graces or to act upon them. Not only do we run away from God , from the world and our neighbour, we run away and hide from ourselves.
The only way for this anxiety to be overcome is through the iron will of patience and unconquerable strength of gentleness ; in other words the only way is through Love.
Now we're nearly there: only a few more steps....
Now despite all its terrors and consequences , its hiding in the shadows, anxiety still resides in the shadow of Truth - even when it has lost everything else and dwells in confusion and delusion ; it still confronts and admits the validity and worth of Truth.
One can sink to an even deeper level...to one of despondency where Truth or untruth is not even considered; one is so scared of addressing the possibility of anything's truth or falsity, of its reality or its being merely an illusion, that one both denies or dismisses the necessity of confronting anything remotely hinting at those concepts, and when confronted with these phenomena one runs away from them. In other words not only are you lying to yourself and fully aware of the nature of the lie ; you also become a fully-fledged coward.
Cowardice ? can it really be that simple or obvious ? That we're so scared of being scared , so scared of being wrong, so scared of it all being a delusion, or a lie, or a nihilistic nightmare, that we simply refuse to acknowledge anything ; and would rather run away and hide in the faux-security of self-delusion . That we're so scared that our belief in God might neither be validated by God's reality, nor corroborated by our Human will that it is a truly some , if only weak, form of faith - we'd rather dismiss the concept of believing out of fear that we might be unable to believe...never risk loving or hoping out of sheer cowardice that we'd be unable to love or hope or have what we love or hope for confirmed by actually being made manifest?
No, it isn't that simple..how could it be ?
because it's actually more simple than that...
I asked my elder son a few years what being a catholic was all about...
His answer ?
"God loves you !"...[he kind of spoilt the moment by adding..."get used to it !" straight afterwards with a cheeky grin ; but the more I reflect on his words, the more I feel that this is the message for the world of today... if there is one thing the world and all its members needs to know - it's that God loves them....]
But what of Universal Divine Revelation ? Natural Theology ? The Incarnation, teachings, actions, passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ...
Surely after all this we should be able to find the reflections of God through His Creation and the Truth in the Person of Christ in all our endeavours and interactions , surely we must see the working of the Holy Spirit in whom we Live , Move and have our Being in all we encounter and survey ?
No, because I truly believe for some of us the abyss has opened into an even deeper chasm where not only does the person not know they are loved, or believe they are loved, or even believe that they are in any respect lovable; No, they have sunk to the level where the concept of love as possessing any reality beyond genetic programming ,hormonal urges or evolutionary survival technique is beyond them.....
They don't believe in love...and truth be told, they don't believe in God.
So to return to the beginning... what can we say ? what can we do ?
Ensure that our neighbour knows they are loved - it's simple enough - but being simple it's also the most arduous, sacrificial , devastating , heart-breaking but ultimately rewarding thing we can ever do...
But What has this to do with the Crisis in the church and the clergy and the episcopacy ? and where does Mother Theresa's quote fit into this schema ? and what concrete implementations or policies can be actuated to remedy the situation...?
Well ? I'm coming to that...[to be continued]