I regularly receive e-mails from Dr William Tighe giving links to various bits of news and views about the Church and the moral state of the modern world. I was particularly struck by this title of an article Pope Francis allies claim Western Christianity ‘no longer works’. In a certain way, most of us living in towns, villages or remote places among ordinary people, not enthusiasts of closed associations, only relate to the Church through our inner life and set of beliefs and values.
What occurs to me is that those boring Jesuit cardinals, Pope and conniving groups are concerned first and foremost for their jobs. They are men of the institution and its bureaucracy and channels of command. My own experience is one of being a priest but unconnected with my Church except in a more interior way. I am subject to a Bishop, an Archbishop, and I maintain my canonical link through doing the right things, avoiding the wrong things and holding to a human relationship like in a family. Our Church (the ACC) has secretaries and people who manage churches and their finances, but the bureaucracy is far from stifling as it is in the big “mainstream” Church institutions like the Vatican, Lambeth Palace and your average diocese.
For the Jesuit Cardinal to call for decentralisation is quite remarkable because he is sawing off the very branch he is sitting on. Is he really calling for the bureaucracy to be folded up and local Christian communities to carry on quietly with as little Roman interference as possible? Very often, these agendas are other agendas in disguise, and motivated by political ideologies like Marxist critical theories. The Jesuits are specialised in “taking a knee” to the Chinese Communist Party!
Should Christianity be based in Beijing rather than Rome, Buenos Aires or somewhere in Africa? It is much easier to transform Christianity into a Marxist ideology than stamp it out. This is hardly news, and tongues have been wagging for decades about Liberation Theology and the use of Christian terms and vocabulary to promote the Revolution and empty all spiritual content from the message of Christ.
There is the problem of the relationship between a religion and culture. Village Christianity is crude and mixed with superstition, as it was in Renaissance England and suppressed by the Reformers. Christianity cannot breathe in a world of nihilism and materialism any more than a fish in air or a human under water without breathing apparatus. Perhaps this thought is in his mind. Alternatively, we can make Christianity express nihilism and materialism. For what?
Christopher Dawson wrote, “Every human culture must possess some spiritual dynamic, which provides the energy necessary for civilization. It is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture. A society which has lost its religion becomes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture”. Perhaps this view is outdated because Christianity has to be fitted into other cultures. And if Christianity is “over” and we need a “new Christianity”? That seems quite illogical, because something that is “over” is simply dead, a goner, deceased. Call it what you will.
Replace it with what? The neo-feudal dystopia? The “great reset” of the conspiracy theorists? Islamic totalitarianism? Perhaps even the repeat performance now going on in Germany?
If Christianity is over, then you simply close it down, sell its assets and apologise to the world that it ever existed! Then the Pope has to go into an old folks’ home and lots of bishops and cardinals are going to become job seekers and look for overpriced bedsits in cities! As it is, churches are bought by those who could make use of them in one way or another, not an easy thing, especially for homes and business premises.
So we have to give Christianity a new image? Nihilism and materialism? Political activism for all those issues calling themselves new? Bureaucracy like in modern business or government? The Idiotocracy of “groupthink”?
Fr. Tomáš Halík praised Pope Francis and the “synodal process” for seeing the crises as “not a failure of some individuals” but as “just a symptom” of “a sickness in the whole system.” Halík called for a reshaping of the whole system [sic] of Christianity in order to move forward.
OK, well just shut it all down and disperse all assets. Get honest jobs! Just tell the world that Christianity was only ever a fairy tale for children! Slam the lid on it. It just goes on and on.
What would I propose? Do away with the bureaucracy and “groupthink”. Let everyone go the way he wants, including traditionalists, monastics and those with a more spiritual view of Christanity. Tell the world that Leviathan is dead and that priests and lay people have to assume their independence. In our day, it means an Underground Church like in Soviet Russia, Eastern Europe and China. What does it all mean for each of us? It has to be something within each of us, and expressed to others through beauty, witness of life, symbolism and art. I keep banging the drum about a new Romantic Movement, but even that is deluded. We live in a world of advertising and propaganda. I always tell cold callers that I only buy what I need and actively look for, and not as a result of advertising. It is the same with Christian ideas and beliefs – commercial advertising just won’t cut it.
The contemplative approach needs to be encouraged, and each of us can choose among the diversity of monastic rules and writings from the Fathers and the Saints. In post-revolutionary France, monasticism had a tremendous influence on parish life. I saw some of the last remnants in the 1980’s and 90’s. Most of the old priests of Opus Sacerdotale are no longer with us, but they provided much of the inspiration behind the founding of the Institute of Christ the King in the old Villa Martelli at Gricigliano near Florence. Many of them had been country parish priests.
“Pastoral” does not mean bureaucracy and political activism, but celebrating beautiful Masses and the Office, visiting the sick, catechising the children, encouraging vocations and family life, getting round the parish and people’s homes, taking part in village life. It all sound so idyllic and simple. But, the priest had to be appointed by the diocesan Bishop, and that now means the bureaucracy and management. The tension and clash of opposites are engaged, and the parish suffers.
Christianity is now like a man with water in his cupped hands. As he opens his hands, the water flows away and cannot be recovered. I have written much on esoteric and inner Christianity, the disciplina arcana like in the early days when Caesar persecuted Christians for their “infidelity” to the pagan gods. Our communities need to assume their marginality and hide behind closed doors if necessary. We will see more churches and cathedrals neglected and left to rot, demolished or transformed into other uses. We can do nothing about it unless some of us have the money to buy a church – and then maintain it – and not be surprised if no one wants to come to services. Some of us priests are on our own and try to be faithful to our Mass, Office and a worthy life. Our Church, the inner and spiritual Church, the sacramental and liturgical Church, is not over. That is the Church that is indefectible. As for the Jesuit cardinals, it is of no concern to me what they do. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche! – Let them eat cake! May they assume their ideologies or return to Christ, the true Bread of life.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.